“‘Grit’ is a catch-all term for any baseball action writers deem ‘hard-nosed,’ or physical, or dogged,” Schur observed in an email. “Grit is crashing into walls, sliding hard, hustling on an infield grounder, diving for a line drive. Grit is Aaron Rowand breaking his nose on the wall, or Dustin Pedroia’s always-dirty uniform, or Paul O’Neill smashing a water cooler after a strikeout. Which reminds me — grit is also nearly always a term used to describe white players.”
In 2014, Deadspin parsed online NFL draft scouting reports, allowing readers to look up how frequently different terms were applied to white and black prospects. “Grit” or “gritty” appears nearly twice as frequently in scouting reports for white players (1.9 times per 10,000 words) as black players (1.1 per 10,000).
In the NBA, there may not always be the same element of racial coding. After all, African-American Tony Allen coined the “grit ‘n’ grind” moniker that has come to define the Grizzlies’ run of contention in the Western Conference, as well as their relationship with a diverse Memphis fan base. Still, even “grit ‘n’ grind” reinforces the notion that grit is the domain of less-talented athletes.
“I think Steph is gritty,” Redick concurs. “I would put him in that category. As many superlatives as you can talk about with him, he’s definitely gritty.”
Rene Van Hulle is 88 years old, in hospice, and watching the Cubs play in their third World Series of his lifetime. Courtesy of Wright Thompson
Rene grew up on the corner of Racine and Waveland, a block from the ballpark. His dad was a janitor, and he became one, too. As a boy, he’d climb the fence and sneak into Wrigley Field. He spent four years in the Navy, repairing submarines; she waited three years, 11 months and 26 days for him to do his time and come home to get married. During that time apart, he’d mail her Easter corsages to match her outfit. The boy she met all those years ago is still in there; he loves roller coasters, stamp collecting and Wile E. Coyote. Sometimes he still holds a book above his head, with his arms locked, a kind of muscle memory from laying on his back with a wrench. Tonight, he’s wearing a T-shirt from his ship, the USS Orion. There’s a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label in the other room.
Theo Epstein walks to and from Wrigley, eats lunch in the empty bleachers and wants Chicago to see the ivy turn red in October. The Cubs president may be nearing middle age, but his love of the game is shining through more than ever.
Welcome to Game 3 of the World Series, to be played for the first time in 71 years in the shadow of the reddening ivy in the Friendly Confines.
“If we win,” his daughter Christine says, “we’ll have a shot out of your bottle.”
“We’ll do that,” he says.
He closes his eyes for the national anthem, gripping the oxygen tubes with both hands, tapping his left foot, mouthing the words. Soon he’s tapping both feet. When he nods off a few minutes later, his daughter touches his knee gently. He wakes up as the game begins, and everyone is telling stories, about the trouble the girls got into and about how Rene sent great gifts home to Helene while they were dating — the key piece of his strategy to win her over.
“It’s still working,” she says, smiling. “I still love him.”