Creating a ghost-shaped news hole

I thought that I should write about the Texas Rangers winning the American League pennant, since fanboy Bobby Ross, Jr., is probably still sleeping off a serious Ginger Ale hangover. Now, if you don't get the Ginger Ale reference then you haven't been paying attention to slugger Josh Hamilton and to one of the biggest and most dramatic personal stories in the recent history of professional sports.

That's OK, I understand that.

This is why, when covering major events, journalists are supposed to add just a dash of background material to make sure that the average reader can understand what is going on. Hamilton's roller-coaster ride with Satan and then with his Savior has been told, and told well, more than once. That's not the point. The issue is how to deal with the faith element of his story in a few clear, accurate words, so that average readers can understand the drama of what is currently happening with the Rangers.

Here's an example from the Washington Post that will show you how to do it -- not.

At 10:09 p.m. Central time, when Alex Rodriguez watched Neftali Feliz's curveball for strike three, the Rangers streamed from the dugout and pig-piled by the mound as red, white and blue confetti fell and Pat Green's "I Like Texas" blared. They sprayed ginger ale on one another and celebrated both the greatest moment in their history and a fitting ALCS finale. They thrashed the defending champs all week, and Friday night was no different.

There's plenty of background, as there should be, on the story of how the luckless Washington Senators became the Rangers of today, under the leadership of Nolan Ryan, he of the legendary rocket arm and Texas-sized toughness. Later on we read:

As Ryan, now the team president, watched from behind home plate, all that changed this fall. They have managed to pair the best outfielder (Josh Hamilton) and the best left-handed pitcher (Cliff Lee) on the planet. They have a bedrock third baseman (Michael Young), an electric young shortstop (Elvis Andrus) and an underrated force in left field (Cruz).

When it ended, Hamilton stood on a podium and accepted the series MVP award. Not long ago, his life and career was nearly derailed by a consuming drug addiction. He was, in his words, "a man with no soul." That he will now play in the World Series had not yet sunk in Friday night.

"All throughout the game, I was tearing up," Hamilton said. " 'Is this going to be it tonight?' Thinking about where I was and everything I went through."

OK, so there you have it -- ginger ale and a superstar who has been through rough times, or something like that. Obviously, the assumption is that readers already know this story or that they don't and it isn't worth giving them another phrase or sentence to clear things up.

Over at ESPN, the ginger ale was in the Hamilton lede and, later on, there was just a hint of context.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's a good thing Josh Hamilton likes ginger ale.

The Texas Rangers slugger got yet another shower of the non-alcoholic bubbly after the Rangers' 6-1 win over the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series clinched the franchise's first World Series berth.

Then later:

Hamilton, who has battled alcohol and drug addiction, doesn't want to be around the smell of champagne. So before his teammates popped corks on the traditional celebration beverage of choice, they sprayed themselves -- and Hamilton, of course -- with ginger ale. ...

When the Rangers won the AL West in Oakland, Hamilton did not take part in the clubhouse celebration. He hugged his teammates on the field and then showered and changed clothes to keep an appointment to speak to church groups in the stadium as part of Faith Day. His teammates tried to douse him with water bottles, but by the time they found him, he was already dressed and ready.

In Tampa Bay, his teammates made sure he couldn't get away. They planned in advance the ginger ale celebration, ordering large plastic bottles of the drink along with the champagne. It was the same thing on Friday.

OK, that is subtle and gives a few hints at the larger Hamilton story. I realize that there is rarely room to baptize readers in all of the religion details in a story written on deadline, late after a playoff game. However, we are talking about the series MVP. He gets a sidebar.

For example, back at the Washington Post, the following Associated Press story ran online.

What I want to know is if this ran in the dead-tree-pulp edition. I won't know that until I reach my office on Monday (since I do not live in a rich neighborhood on the south side of greater Baltimore, the kind of zip code in which one can subscribe to the Post). Hey readers in DC Beltway land! Care to check on that for me?

This MVP story by the AP's Jaime Aron is direct and to the point:

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Josh Hamilton fought off the tears, just in case the last out came his way.

Then Alex Rodriguez struck out and there was no holding back. His 11-year odyssey from teenage, No. 1 overall pick to drug addict to clean, sober superstar had finally reached the point every little boy dreams about: He's going to the World Series. ...

"All throughout the game I was tearing up -- is this going to be it tonight? -- and thinking about where I was, and everything I went through, and how God was just faithful and to bring me out of it," Hamilton said.

A team player and a devout Christian, Hamilton was more interested in sharing the success than taking any individual glory. "I'm so excited for this team, for this city," he said. "To be part of something like that means the world. It's something that nobody can take away from you."

You see, if you are going to use that kind of language -- the "everything I went through" stuff -- readers have to know something about what that means or they feel left out. I mean, no one needs the whole story again, complete with Billy Graham-esque altar call at the end. This is sports journalism, not evangelism.

But readers need the basics, with enough background to be able to understand the words they are reading in one of the nation's top newspapers. Right? I mean, there's no need to avoid the religious details or to be afraid of them. Right?

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