One day, Jorge Soler may become a star for the Chicago Cubs.
But for today, I'd like to brag on a couple of OUR stars -- Night Photo Editor Patrick Kunzer and Copy Editor Sean Stangland.
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Soler, as area sports fans know, reached an agreement Monday to sign with the Cubs, reportedly for $30 million spread over nine years. This ended a high-profile auction for the 20-year-old Cuban outfield phenom and also served as a euphoric metaphor for the new direction of the Theo Epstein-led Cubs. They were dancing in the streets down at Clark and Addison despite the major league squad's dismal record.
This was a big story -- a significant national sports story, but in Chicago much more than that. Here, it easily was the sports story of the day.
We turned to our primary source for national and international photos, The Associated Press, to obtain the necessary image. Lo and behold, AP dropped the ball the way a Cub left fielder might drop a fly. AP had no picture of the subject of so much hot stove scuttlebutt over the past several weeks. How so still befuddles me.
But whatever the case, we set out to find one.
We said (actually, I said), "We're not publishing a print edition of the Sports section tomorrow unless it has a photo of Jorge Soler in it. And we want to get one as soon as we can to post for our online audience."
We all believed that if we were going to do a story about a future cornerstone of the Cubs franchise, Cubs fans were going to want to see what he looked like and try to determine for themselves if they could see greatness in him.
But in issuing my declaration, how little did I appreciate the difficulty of the challenge. I assumed it would be a matter of turning to one of the other photo services and paying more than I'd want to spend but at least coming up with a picture.
But Kunzer and Stangland, two passionate editors who go through walls, took up the cause. Let me provide a little behind-the-scenes glimpse at what they went through to land the photo that Night Sports Editor Don Friske so eloquently splashed across the front of Tuesday's Sports front.
They checked with Getty, as Web news outlets were featuring a Getty-credited image purporting to be Soler, but even as they were doing that, Stangland noticed that the player in that image was wearing a numeral that differed from the one Soler presumably wore. It turned out that image wasn't Soler, but instead a Cuban player named Leslie Anderson.
They found other images online that were said to be of Soler, but those in fact were of even another Cuban player, Yoenis Cespedes, another star who signed earlier this year with the Oakland Athletics.
They tracked down an email address for Barry Praver, presumed to be Soler's agent and emailed him but without a response.
They checked with Reuters via a newsroom Web portal.
Finally, Stangland found a YouTube video that featured what was believed to be Soler at bat in the 2010 World Junior Baseball Championships in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. That same YouTube video was featured in an MLB Network report on Soler that Stangland found on cubs.com.
But of course, just because we found an image didn't mean we had the rights to reprint it.
Kunzer went to the Web address associated with the YouTube account and found the "Contact Us" page, where a phone number was listed for Warren Philip, the executive director of the 2010 tournament.
He called and left a message asking if the batter was indeed Soler and if so, whether Philip or the organization had a still frame of him to feature with our coverage.
And then Kunzer and Stangland and Friske waited.
An hour later, there it was -- an image of Soler in our email basket, compliments of Warren Philip.
In the print editions Tuesday, Friske built the Sports front around that photo. The Chicago Tribune
built its story around a photo of Epstein with a postage-stamp sized image of Soler sandwiched in. It provided no credit or hint of where the paper got it. The Chicago Sun-Times ran no picture of Soler at all.
Ultimately, I think, our readers were the winners.
But fundamentally also, I think our guys showed the hustle and relentlessness that is a hallmark of our staff.
I'm so proud of Patrick and Sean, which is why I'm gushing here in public so much. They deserve all my appreciation. I hope they've earned yours too.
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