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Inside VPR

You Asked, We Answered: Mitch's Sports Report

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Courtesy of Mitch Wertlieb
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VPR's "Morning Edition" host Mitch Wertlieb at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts back in 2009.

Mornings just wouldn’t be the same without Mitch Wertlieb and his enthusiastic 6:45 a.m. sports report. Many of you asked for a way to listen again in order to relive a favorite moment or share his insights (and occasional rant) with friends. Well, now you can! Mitch's sports reports are now available online.

To celebrate, we sat down with Mitch to talk about the sports report and how it came to be.

How long have you been doing your sports reports?

I've been doing a regular VPR sports report since about 2004, not long after I began hosting Morning Edition. That's the same year the Boston Red Sox forced me to re-think my "glass isn't just half-empty, it's bone dry and likely stay that way forever" mentality.

What inspired you to start a regular sports report?

VPR didn't have a regular sports report on Morning Edition when I started, and I felt strongly (and still do) that VPR, and public radio in general, had to stop ceding delivery of sports news to talk radio, ESPN, and the other usual suspects.

Public radio listeners are sports fans. They just need a way to access it that doesn't resort to raised voices or a boring listing of final scores. They want color, passion, HOW a final score came about, and maybe once in a while, a little opinion.

Who or what helped shape the way you deliver your reports?

Bill Littlefield, host of NPR's Only A Game, a show that breaks all the rules about sports (and that I was fortunate enough to fill in for once when Bill was away); Frank DeFord, whose commentaries and opinions are beautifully written and delivered, and John Updike's classic essay on Ted Williams' final game at Fenway "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” which should be required reading equally for sports casters and English majors. And the games. Always the games!

"Public radio listeners are sports fans. They just need a way to access it that doesn't resort to raised voices or a boring listing of final scores. They want color, passion, how a final score came about, and maybe once in a while, a little opinion. " — Mitch Wertlieb

Any favorite moments from sports reports past you'd like to share?

Recapping the glorious 2004 baseball playoffs, having watched every game of the historic ALCS between the Yankees and Red Sox (during which the Red Sox became the first and only team in history to overcome a three games to none deficit and vanquish the Yankees much in the same way Skywalker destroyed the Death Star).

Many of those games finished well after midnight, but it was worth every bleary-eyed minute of 2-3 hour sleep I got to talk about those games later that morning. Ditto the 2004 World Series. Double ditto the Boston Bruins winning the 2011 Stanley Cup.

I also really got a kick out of reporting the huge upset of UVM over Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA tournament!

Anything you want our listeners to know about sports?

I want people to know that what happens in the sports arena can and should be fun, even while what happens off it can and should be taken seriously. That while there is no intrinsic value in whacking a ball with a bat, there is an almost superhuman ability in being able to whack that ball when it's being thrown in excess of 90 miles per hour from sixty feet away and the batter has less than a second to decide whether the pitch is a ball or a strike and then has to swing and actually make contact with that ball to produce a hit.

"Caring about sports (in the right way) can make you feel like a little kid again and keep cynicism at bay." — Mitch Wertlieb

That watching a hockey player skate and accelerate across a sheet of ice while manipulating a small rubber disc with a stick while also avoiding large people trying to physically keep him from that pursuit can in its own way be as beautiful as watching a ballerina leap into the air with power, and descend to the stage floor with grace.

That the people who say sports aren't important and are just a distraction should remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said about the importance of Jackie Robinson to the civil rights movement.

That caring about sports (in the right way) can make you feel like a little kid again and keep cynicism at bay.
 

Any interesting facts or words of wisdom you want to leave us with?

I'd only add that I try to get as much jammed into the sports report as possible, but the world of sports is ginormous and time constraints often make it impossible to get everything in.

I do appreciate hearing from listeners who let me know about local events and sports they'd like to hear about, so emails are always welcomed (even from Yankees fans) and I do endeavor to stay even-handed about criticism for my own teams and to give credit where it's due to teams I don't much care for (i.e. when I had nothing but nice things to say for Derek Jeter when he retired.)

When I say sports should be fun, I'm talking about that wearing on my sleeve the devotion to teams I've been cheering for since I was a kid. For that, I ask our listeners a little leeway!

Listen to Mitch's sports report every weekday as part of the 6:44 a.m. newscast, or listen online!

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