Editor’s Note: Before he tells his own story, I want to welcome the passionate Phil Shore to Lacrosse All Stars. Phil has spent the past decade covering primarily professional lacrosse and in 2019 he published his first book on the subject, Major League Life: Why Major League Lacrosse Players, Coaches, and Fans Share a Passion for a League that Often Goes Overlooked. This is Phil’s story.
I am an avid reader. One low-key thing my wife and I like to do to get out of the house is go to Barnes and Noble, walk around, and see what’s available (this trip included getting ice cream afterwards). Whenever I would go, I’d hope to find a book about lacrosse, but I never found one outside of Lacrosse for Dummies. I knew lacrosse was a niche market, but I felt I couldn’t be the only one who would love a book about lacrosse. Was anyone going to write one? One of my favorite writers is Shea Serrano, and a tweet he frequently posts says “Someone is going to do the thing you want to do. It might as well be you.”
Lighting the Fire
My lacrosse reporting started in 2010 with New England Lacrosse Journal, covering Boston Blaze games for the website and doing a monthly Q & A for the backpage of the magazine; my roles with the magazine grew, and stories included year-long Top 10 lists of the best New England lacrosse rivalries, players from New England, and coaches from New England. I also worked at The Boston Globe and helped with the high school lacrosse coverage during my final two years at Emerson. After graduating, I started my own live online radio show/podcast with Lacrosse Radio Network called Lacrosse Lounge and started writing for US Lacrosse Magazine in 2012, mainly covering Major League Lacrosse.
At different points in time, both New England Lacrosse Journal and US Lacrosse remodeled their websites. During the remodel, much of the archived content no longer was accessible. It was a fresh start for the webpages, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. I put a lot of work into my stories, but now, they no longer existed. This was the catalyst for acting on finally writing a book; I wanted to do something that had a longer shelf life, that I eventually could pass on to my children.
What would people pay money to read about, though?
I remembered when I was young, my grandpa would tell me stories about the professional baseball players he followed when he was growing up; he would talk about how they worked second jobs in the off-season because they didn’t make enough money playing baseball. His favorite player, Stan Musial, sold Christmas Trees in the offseason. At the time, I didn’t understand it. The players I saw made millions of dollars. That concept wasn’t fully realized until my introduction to Major League Lacrosse, where players had other careers from Wall Street to school teachers, amongst other occupations, to make ends meet.
Working Man’s Game
When thinking about the MLL players, I couldn’t help but think about the facts. They were college graduates, many from the most prestigious universities in the country. They weren’t making a lot of money. They didn’t have millions of adoring fans. They had to work out and prepare like a professional on their own time and dime, often after long days at the office. They had to give up weekends, their only free time with families, to fly to games – even home games – and they weren’t immune to canceled flights or lost luggage. So, with the negatives in mind, and knowing these individuals probably could do anything they wanted, why were they so committed to playing in Major League Lacrosse?
That was my idea. It’s easier to do something when you make a lot of money and are famous, but I wanted to talk to the players and find out why playing in the league was so important to them despite the lack of fame and fortune. I wanted to travel to the games, and do these interviews face-to-face as opposed to the majority of phone calls and emails I was used to. I felt I needed an extra piece to justify the travel, however, something I couldn’t get just by doing phone calls.
What made each city and organization unique?
That’s where the superfan idea came into place. Why did these fans care so much about something that many of their friends and families didn’t even know existed?
As I researched teams, venues, and players, and sketched out ideas to feature, some news broke that I thought would derail my book idea. The birth of the Premier Lacrosse League led to over 100 players leaving the MLL. My idea to feature someone like Scott Ratliff and how he grew up playing in Atlanta, a non-hotbed, to eventually star for its pro team, would not work. Eventually, three MLL teams folded. That meant I couldn’t feature the Hound Legion, a fan group in Charlotte, or Fortress Obetz, the stadium built specifically for lacrosse and the Ohio Machine.
But where there are setbacks, there are also opportunities.
With many of the high profile players leaving the MLL, I could tell fresh stories of previously unheralded players; players like Boston Cannons defender James Fahey, Atlanta Blaze attackman Tommy Palasek, and Chesapeake Bayhawks midfielder Nick Manis would all have larger roles for their respective teams. Additionally, a number of players had the option to leave and go to the PLL but opted to remain in MLL. That only added to my previous premise. Now, they could be part of something where the buzz and salaries were potentially bigger, yet they still wanted to play in MLL.
Proud of the Product
I felt my idea was vindicated from the very first week of the season.
Prior to June 1, the MLL was often denigrated on social media. Lacrosse “fans” continuously bashed the league. While it wasn’t without its share of problems, which are well-documented, saying the league had no talent now that All-Stars like Paul Rabil and Kyle Harrison were gone seemed like a truly uninformed opinion. So, while people on social media believed this was the beginning of the end for MLL, Boston proved otherwise.
I showed up the Cannons season opener in a newly renovated stadium two hours prior to the start time of the game, and the block party feel was real. Youth games were played on the turf, a band played on stage, and the beer garden was crowded. A sold-out crowd was heavily invested from before the first whistle until the last players walked off the field signing autographs. It was an exciting day.
While not every game matched the enthusiasm I saw in Boston, there were still plenty of players whose voices needed to be amplified with stories worth sharing. Major League Life: Why Major League Lacrosse Players, Coaches, and Fans Share a Passion for a League that Often Goes Overlooked, published the stories of passion, dedication, and grit to be shared with lacrosse fans and, hopefully, create new fans as well.
Many of the stories in the book are about doing what it takes to chase a dream. Writing this book was my version of that.
Major League Life: Why Major League Lacrosse Players, Coaches, and Fans Share a Passion for a League that Often Goes Overlooked
New for $10.99 on Amazon!