The kid plays hardball
Alex Reimer, age 12, has strong opinions about sports, and, on his popular blog, he isn't afraid to share them
Alex Reimer practices his hitting on a device attached to a basketball pole in his front yard in Natick. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
NATICK -- Steroids saved baseball. A TV network would be smart to hire loose cannon Mike Tyson as a boxing commentator. ESPN baseball analyst Joe Morgan is boring. Sportscaster Joe Buck is a robot. College basketball analyst Dick Vitale is an idiot. And one more thing: ''True fans can't get into Fenway Park anymore, because stupid bandwagon fans bring their bimbo girlfriends and leave by the fifth inning."
These are among the many, many views of Alex Reimer, a 12-year-old sports savant and multimedia pundit of sorts. If you want to debate him, you'll want to get your facts straight first. And buckle your seatbelt.
''I wanted my voice to be heard," Alex explains in his family's dining room, a few feet away from the computer where he writes the blog that shot him to quasi-fame. ''I wanted people to know that a kid can know as much as an adult."
Just a few months ago, Alex's encyclopedic knowledge of sports was known only to family and friends. To his frustration, the sixth-grader had been rebuffed in his efforts to get on the air of a local sports-radio station. But as a child of the Internet age, Alex knew that when the doors of the old media are closed to you, you turn to the new media.
So in February he launched ''Alex's Sports Blog," an online forum (journals.aol.com/alexredsox076/Alexssportsblog) where he began to draw a following by opining on everything from the NFL draft to NCAA basketball to the declining fortunes of the New York Yankees. Then, a few weeks after he entered the blogosphere, Alex called AOL's ''Sports Bloggers Live," a new Internet radio show with a national audience. The show's hosts reacted with baffled amusement to the high-pitched voice on the other end of the line, but then they heard a torrent of opinions -- carefully reasoned, historically informed, eloquently argued -- pouring out of their preadolescent caller.
''We were all taken aback by it at first," recalls Jamie Mottram, a host of ''Sports Bloggers Live," which airs Mondays from 7-8 p.m. ''It was the first time one of our callers was younger, not even a teenager. But he was so knowledgeable and speaking so quickly it was hard to keep up with him. Between the laughter and the jaws dropping on the floor, we were able to talk about sports. He was an instant smash hit."
Listeners began inundating Mottram with instant messages about the wunderkind. ''Is this kid for real?" queried one. ''He's Howard Cosell reincarnated." Another declared that Alex was ''the Freddie Adu of bloggers." He acquired the nickname ''Alex the Phenom." One listener wrote in to say: ''The phenom rocks. It's like Dan Patrick on helium."
In March, ''Sports Bloggers Live" (www.SportsBloggersLive.com) named Alex its first ''Rookie Blogger of the Month." Numerous other 12- and 13-year-olds from around the country -- some of them inspired by Alex -- have created their own sports blogs, according to Mottram. For instance, he notes, there is ''Zack from Philadelphia. He wants to be the next Alex." Sometimes, one of the other young bloggers calls in to the show, Mottram says, but they seldom ''quite capture that magic in a bottle that Alex has."
''You've got to be comfortable on the air," says Mottram. ''He seems to have a comfort level where he can speak intelligently and quickly and in an animated fashion that is fun to listen to. That's not as easy as it looks."
Eager to make Alex a regular on the show, the hosts arranged for him to call in each week, at which time the hosts introduce him with considerable fanfare. Prior to each Monday night show, he will e-mail Mottram. ''He'll be like, 'You know, I'd love to talk this week about the demise of the closer role in baseball, or the effect the steroid policy is having on home-run production,' or 'I'd like to shoot holes in the ''Moneyball" theory,' " says Mottram. ''Somewhat advanced notions. I'll say, 'Sure.' "
To be sure, not everyone is charmed by Alex's precocity. One of the show's engineers -- whom Mottram describes as ''a pretty abrasive guy" who doesn't ''like being talked to by a 12-year-old" -- has been known to growl at the youngster on the air. Alex is unfazed. Nor does he shrink in the presence of big names. Take the on-air colloquy between the youngster and sports journalist Buster Olney. After conceding, somewhat grudgingly, that Olney's book on the Yankees was ''pretty good," Alex then took strenuous issue with Olney on a variety of issues. ''We thought it would be kind of a feel-good thing," Mottram says with a laugh. ''But actually we were concerned that Buster would be offended, because Alex came on and didn't seem to be impressed."
Olney took it in stride, which is how Alex seems to be reacting to his growing celebrity.
He takes pains to stress that he is not simply a stat geek. He pitches and plays third base in Little League (though he believes his tendency to ''think too much" brings on slumps), goes swimming with friends, does regular kid stuff. ''I'm not just Mr. Statistical," he says. ''This is an interest of mine. But my reputation in school is not being Mr. Sports Smart. It's more being Mr. Loudmouth."
The blog and the audio webcast are showcases for the opinions, curiosity, and critical-thinking skills he has been honing for years. ''The minute Alex was born, he was like this," says his mother, Renee Reimer, swiveling her head to simulate a child looking everywhere at once. By the time he was 5, says his father, Matt, Alex could identify the national flag of every country in the world. At age 8, he began writing sports predictions for a homemade newsletter that his parents distributed to friends. In his spare time, he would pretend to be a general manager and tackle the challenge of assembling a hypothetical 25-player team with a total payroll under $40 million, sometimes by dipping into the farm system. During Red Sox games, he would turn the sound off on the family TV and do the play-by-play himself, dazzling his parents with the amount of arcane detail he had amassed about each player. He even did the sound-off play-by-play during the Red Sox' triumphant ride through the World Series last year.
Alex is compulsively blunt; even his praise can have bite. For instance, to illustrate his contention that part of baseball's glory is that it doesn't require a certain physique, he says: ''Look at David Ortiz. He's in terrible shape, and he's still really good." Though he has found other outlets, Alex remains annoyed that WEEI has declined to let him on the air (like many other call-in stations, WEEI has a policy against taking on-air calls from listeners under 18). ''The people that call in are such idiots," Alex fumes. ''I don't know why they don't let me call in."
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, he wants to be a sportscaster someday, but his goal is to host what he calls a ''Jay Leno show."
He does not back off from his assertion -- made on his blog and in a phone call to ''Sports Bloggers Live" -- that steroids have been good for baseball. His argument is that no number of pitching duels could have renewed baseball's popularity the way the home-run bonanza of the late 1990s did, and since steroids are widely believed to have played a role in increased home-run production, it stands to reason that steroids were good for baseball.
''You can attest to this," Alex says with a confiding air to a reporter four times his age. ''As a journalist, sometimes you have to take the unpopular position if you want to get attention. And I happen to believe this."
His uncanny self-possession can sometimes make him seem like an older observer studying his own life. After making an impulsive remark, he comments: ''Oops. That's the kid in me." He speaks in complete sentences -- make that paragraphs -- and does not punctuate his remarks with the standard juvenile place-holder ''like." Nor is he exactly bedeviled by self-doubt. When an adult wrote on Alex's blog that the youngster should spend more time studying and less time blogging, the youngster fired back that the grownup was ''an absolute idiot and a jerk," pointed out that he gets straight A's in school and has plenty of friends, and challenged other critics to write in so he could ''rip your opinion to shreds and I'll be right, like I normally am."
When this tirade is brought up, Alex sheepishly explains that he wrote it in the heat of the moment and didn't mean to imply that he's ''better than everyone else." It's just, he says, that he got ticked off by ''an older guy making an extreme negative remark on a 12-year-old's blog. Maybe I came across as a little arrogant, but you have to be a little arrogant to be a success."
He stops to think. Is there one more thing he wants to say, one more opinion he wants to share? Why yes, there is. ''I haven't heard from that guy yet, so I feel I won the argument," he says.
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the blog of Alex Reimer:
New faces rule the All-Star Game
You can wave goodbye to Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Curt Schilling, and Randy Johnson. The old faces are out, and the new faces are in. It's a great thing for baseball that new players are playing in the All-Star Game. Baseball has great young talent, and it's good that some of that young talent is going to play in the All-Star Game. Guys like Derrek Lee, Carlos Lee, Brian Fuentes, Chad Cordero, Felipe Lopez, and David Eckstein are just a couple of the many first time All-Stars. The All-Star Game is about the best players in the game all on the same diamond, and guys like Sosa and Palmeiro simply aren't the best players in the game anymore. The new faces of the game are guys like Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Dontrelle Willis, and Johan Santana. Time changes, and so does the All-Star Game.
I used to go into the baseball chatroom a lot, but I don't go in very often anymore. I've been extremely busy this week, I've been invited to do something with friends every day, I also had my pool party on Thursday. Anyway, I went into baseball chat tonight and I was surprised that nobody knew what they were talking about. The conversation was so terrible and incredibly stupid. The whole chat consisted of Yankees stink and I hate the Yankees. What kind of chat is that? A bunch of bandwagon fans were in there telling a Royals fan to go hide. That Royals fan is a true fan though, true fans don't jump from team to team and they respect the sport. Bandwagon fans don't respect the sport. AOL baseball chat is a place I'll never visit again. If you're a bandwagon fan, please reply and tell me if you respect other teams and if you respect the game of baseball. True fans can't get into Fenway Park anymore, because stupid bandwagon fans bring their bimbo girlfriends and leave by the fifth inning. I hate bandwagon fans, they are embarrassing to true sports fans like myself.