May 2, 2003

Stepping Outside Of the Box

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“Alex Fineman had little skills, couldn’t skate and had no shot, but when I needed someone to go out and check the best player on the other team, he’s who I sent out. You know why? Hard work, determination, the little things, he did those better than all of you.”

I couldn’t have been more proud to hear that quote from my former teammate when I was sitting in my dorm room my freshman year. It came from a pep talk my old high school hockey coach gave to my old team. I was a year removed from high school hockey, and my coach — who praised his players about as often as the sun appears on a February day in Ithaca — was using me as an example to fire up his troops.

I was just as proud when my baseball coach called me one of the most valuable players on the team after my senior year, when I spent the season as a backup catcher, charting more pitches than I caught and stealing more signs than bases.

I never scored a varsity goal in four years of high school hockey. My varsity baseball stats were 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. And that’s why I called this column Outside the Boxscore. Because that’s the only place I made a difference.

When athletes make that difference, it doesn’t show up in the paper. It may not even mean a win for a team. But the people who make that difference are some of the athletes I admire most.

I’m talking about people like Jeremy Roenick, who obviously shows up in the boxscore all the time, but makes as big an impact in the locker room, where he fires up the team or when he signed with the Flyers and energized a city to believe its team was bound for the Stanley Cup finals.

There’s someone like Mateen Cleaves, who was a star at Michigan State, but found himself on the bench for the Sacramento Kings in the NBA. He’s making hundreds of thousands of dollars to sit courtside, but he’s the first guy in every huddle, and he’s probably the most vocal Kings fan in the building.

At Cornell, I could point to Pete Carroll ’02, who was a co-captain of the basketball team last season. He rarely saw any time on the floor outside of mop-up duty, but every time I wanted to interview head coach Steve Donahue, I had to compete with the noise of Carroll shooting in a gym where the three of us were the only ones present.

Or there’s junior Greg Hornby, who normally makes his appearance on the stat sheet in the penalty minutes column. But Hornby is more impressive in the fact that he can have a shift where he hits every opponent on the ice, fires up the crowd, and sparks his teammates out of a sluggish stretch. Of course it’s not all his doing, but I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that the hockey team was 28-2 when he played, and 2-3-1 when he watched from the stands.

That’s what Outside the Boxscore is all about. The Alex Rodriguezes, the Randy Mosses, the Stephen B