Rosenberg: When sports writing is a symbiotic relationship

Benjamin Rosenberg, Daily Senior Staffer

Graduation Issue 2021

I was the only print reporter in the Sharon J. Drysdale Field press box on April 25, 2018, as Northwestern softball hosted Loyola in a midweek non-conference game.

That wasn’t a shock. The Wildcats were playing well at the time — and they kept up their winning ways that day — but it was a relatively meaningless game on an unseasonably cool weekday afternoon. Coach Kate Drohan was, of course, fully aware of this, and she made sure to thank me for being there after our postgame interview.

Counting briefs, I’ve been fortunate enough to write about 15 of NU’s 19 teams during my time at The Daily, including football and men’s and women’s basketball. But softball was the team that kept drawing me back in, and I’ve come up with a few different explanations for why.

First, the game itself is extremely compelling. The field dimensions are small compared to baseball, so every play on the infield is close. And the energy is always high, both in the dugout and the stands. But what made it such a fulfilling experience was the people.

Everyone I met around the program loved the sport and was excited to share that passion with a young reporter who was barely aware of softball coming in. This team was never short on storylines, either. As many of them as I was able to tell, there were so many more that I just didn’t have the time for.

The story of NU softball is the story of Sabrina Rabin, who used a deadly combination of speed and bat control to become one of the Cats’ most decorated players. It’s the story of Sammy Nettling, who was such a great leader as a senior catcher that interviewing her felt like talking to another coach.

It’s the story of Rachel Lewis, who is so athletic that she picked up bobsled on a whim and tried out for the U.S. national team. Of Emma Bartz, who returned for a fifth season in 2021 even though she knew she’d still be just a pinch runner and backup outfielder. Of Morgan Newport, who quickly became one of my favorite players for both her kindness and versatility — even before she put together a career year as a fifth-year senior.

Take just about any so-called non-revenue sport at Northwestern, and you’ll find plenty of stories like these. But unless a team is having a truly historic season, hardly any professional media will bother to tell them.

That’s what has made being around this group so rewarding for me. I’ve felt like a professional beat reporter and a valued source of information on the team, and I’ve been treated like one. And I have plenty of memories to prove it.

The first game I covered in person was in mid-April 2018 against Ohio State. Then-sports information director Doug Meffley, who I credit for helping me feel comfortable around softball and the Cats during that season, described the weather as “Disturbance in the force.” The translation: temperatures barely in the 40s, with gusting winds and occasional sideways precipitation.

A few weeks later, I covered a Wednesday game at DePaul, which was delayed mid-game by a thunderstorm for an hour or so. The storm resumed as I dashed back from the train station to the newsroom to write my story, and at one point I tripped and fell, scraping my knee.

The following year, I practically lived in the Welsh-Ryan Arena media room during the 2019 NCAA Regional. Weather delays forced Saturday’s nightcap to begin close to 9:30 p.m., and it ended after midnight. I filed my story around 2 a.m. and had to come right back early the next afternoon. It was exhilarating.

This was good training for what I hope will be a lengthy career as a sports journalist. I’ll have to cover plenty of games at odd hours and in bad weather. But it never stopped being fun. College athletics, at Northwestern and everywhere, is big business, but somehow, covering softball seemed much more pure compared to football or basketball.

Maybe it’s the intimate atmosphere, maybe I’ve just done it for long enough to feel like I know the coaches and players as more than just coaches and players. Either way, I’ll always be grateful to the team that made me love sports writing all over again.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @bxrosenberg