Home run journalism

By Trevor Ballanger

by Trevor Ballanger

Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

The smell of popcorn and beer wafts over the bleachers. The roar of the crowd heightens as the lights over the stadium flicker to life. As the scoreboard details the progress of the team, one thing is clear. Chicago is nuts about baseball.

Chicagoans are often torn between local rivals the White Sox and the Cubs, which is why Solomon Lieberman, a designer and journalist, and Jonathan Eig, a New York Times best-selling author, created ChicagoSideSports.com to promote and report on the city’s sports culture with neutrality. The site offers features ranging from podcasts and videos to investigative reporting.

They wanted to know what goes into making a fan of either team and are currently producing a Web series called “Sox or Cubs” to document the process. Lieberman said it was a way to authentically exemplify the spirit of Chicago’s interest in sports.

“We were sitting at a bar commiserating about the industry, and we sort of came upon this frustration of the state of sports media, particularly in Chicago,” Lieberman said. “It’s a world capital. How could the journalism not be the same? We think there’s definitely a need [for] sports content that’s localized.”

From Feb. 23–24, they hosted an open casting call at Second City, 1616 N. Wells St., to find someone to host the show. Lieberman said they were looking for a man who is at least 21 years old with a good personality and humorous disposition, but who hadn’t yet chosen

his team.

The role isn’t an acting job, he said, so the interview process was relaxed and more of a way to get an idea of what the people are like, where they are from and what their interests and skills are. All the applicants had the freedom to be themselves and give a presentation focused on sports.

Out of the 15 people who auditioned for the part, Sam Roos was selected because of his relaxed disposition and comedy experience. Eig said Roos is going to be put through a series of situations that he will subject him to various forms of persuasion to get him to choose a side.

Roos moved to Chicago in 2009 and, despite being a sports fan, has not sided with a particular team because he wasn’t planning on settling here. He said his friends have teased him about the subject, but he always tells them he isn’t sure which team he’s leaning toward.

Many factors complicate Roos’ decision. He said on paper he probably looks like a Cubs fan because he lives and works near Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison St. However, since the Cubs seem to have a bigger following, he said he could be more inclined to choose the Sox.

“I’m kind of a contrarian, always have been,” Roos said. “I’d say it’s a dead heat, more or less. I’m fighting myself to remain open, and I’m sure the people I meet along the way are going to have a stronger influence on me than my biases.”

The ChicagoSideSports website will let fans of the Sox or the Cubs vote for whom Roos should choose. Later, he is going to be bribed by the staff of a pizza parlor willing to give him 10 free pizzas if he chooses their favored team.

Negotiations are in place with the Sox and Cubs to see what they will offer Roos to endorse their team. According to Eig, they may offer him a chance to throw the first pitch at a game or sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

“We’re going to make it as difficult as possible for him,” Eig said. “It’s a tough choice, and we want to make sure that he understands all the different aspects of both teams.”

The series will follow Roos as he explores different bars around Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field, 333 W. 35th St., and interact with fans.

Eig said there are important differences between both teams that Roos should understand, including what the stadiums, players and local nightlife are like. According to Eig, Sox fans are more dedicated to the game, while Cubs fans are more inclined to be there for the party.

All content is done on video and media, including man-on-the-street testimonials, and will be posted periodically on the site depending on what the content entails. Lieberman said he’s on a mission to get President Barack Obama, a White Sox fan, to make a 15-second video telling Roos to support the South Side. Clips will be posted each week.

The series will lead up to April 7, the first Saturday after the opening of Major League Baseball, during which Roos will participate and perhaps moderate a live debate at a bar Lieberman chose to not yet disclose. After the debate, Roos will announce which team he has chosen to root for.

While he will not be paid for his participation in the series, Lieberman said Roos will receive a large “goody-bag” for his efforts. Chicago Side Sports could possibly decide to option the series as a larger ongoing show depending on its success.

“I’m extremely excited,” Roos said. “It’s really kind of a dream gig for me. ChicagoSide [has] some really interesting ideas. I think they’re going to bring out a fresh take to local sports journalism. I’d like to bring that energy to the Web series, too.”