In the seventh grade, Greg Spalding became a full-fledged baseball fan when his dad got season tickets to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He began listening to Bob Prince, the colorful radio baseball commentator and his father got him a subscription to The Sporting News.
When the Pirates won the World Series in 1972, every kid within a 60-mile radius was probably a fan. But Spalding was so devoted that he put together a 250-page book about the Pirates from 1971-1975. The book was a compilation of write-ups of each game, including player information and game highlights. He contacted some of the local sportscasters, including “Wild” Bill Curry of KDKA, noted for his southern drawl and loud suits. Spalding asked him and others about publishing. “It was kind of a real adventure, calling around and discovering the sports publishing business,” he says.
After all his efforts, Spalding’s book wound up in a box for the next fifteen years.
In 1991, Spalding heard about a 20-year reunion of the 1971 team at a Pittsburgh area card show. Deciding it was now or never for his book, he pulled it out, made 250 copies, and went to the show. The event included a dinner, so Spalding went with enough copies of his book for each player. He brought another copy that he had each player sign so he would have all their autographs on one book. “It was neat because I got to meet all the guys I looked up to,” he says.
Spalding decided to turn his book into a trilogy–one book for each of three unique teams of Pirates. “The ‘71 team won the world title against the Baltimore Orioles, the ‘72 team lost (the National League Championship) on the wild pitch to the Cincinnati Reds which was a devastating loss. After that, the team really changed. The team from 1973 to 1975 retooled after the loss of Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski. They were called the lumber company because they were all such great hitters. They were the envy of the baseball world.”
After years of submitting to publishers but only getting rejection slips, Spalding decided to go out on his own. He got a buyout from his job and created City of Champions Publishing to realize his vision. “I published the first book and started marketing it,” he says. “It’s a tough road to go but it’s better than not getting there. When you have a vision, if you have a strong enough will to see your dreams come to fruition, it’s one of the most unbelievable feelings in the world.”
While Spalding certainly would have liked to be published by a traditional publisher, he says self-publishing has been a tremendous opportunity. “Just to have the opportunity to pursue your vision, there’s nothing like that. It’s a passion. You don’t do this unless you have a passion.” And the advances in technology have helped. “It’s much easier to do this now than it would have been ten years ago. You can make contacts very quickly now. The technology as far as publishing is a lot cheaper.” Ten years ago, you had to publish 2,500 copies. But now you can do shorter runs which means less financial responsibility. “It’s easier to be successful,” he says.
People don’t realize the importance of marketing, says Spalding. He does book signings for local bookstores and anywhere else he can. His wife and son help with mailings. “Basically, it’s a matter of making as many contacts as possible. I just got a letter from a sports writer in Kentucky who wants to review two of my books. You never know who’s going to want to see the books, what contact is going to lead to what.”
City of Champions Publishing published its first book in 1994 and Spalding has created a line of books. Besides the Pirates trilogy, he is the author of Run Your Own Race, another book he started in high school. The book uses sports analogies to communicate what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Another project in the works is a book about his experience as a basketball missionary in Latin America. Although Spalding can’t yet live off his books, he’s getting there. His latest book is the first one that will probably make a profit, he says.
Spalding’s writing career wasn’t just a youthful whim. He attended Grove City College for business administration and communications. “I’d always been told you can’t make a living as a writer by itself. My goal was to always at least have writing as a part of my existence.” He also believes having passion for what you write about is critical. “I would not be a good political correspondent. I think it’s very important that you’re passionate about whatever you’re writing about. I don’t see how you can really bring the excitement and the insight without that passion.”
The public relations director for the Pirates in the seventies encouraged Spalding. When the teenager sent his articles to the team, he wrote back saying, “I hope your efforts materialize. I’m amazed at your knowledge of the Pirates ball club.” Spalding went to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his vacation in 1991 and found that the Pirates’ former public relations director was now the public relations director for the hall of fame. “I got a chance to meet him face to face, talk to him, and give him a copy of the book,” says Spalding. “I got to meet the guy who really encouraged me. Those letters really had a lot of power of encouragement.”
The feedback of anyone connected with the team has been the most meaningful to Spalding over the years. One of the 1971 Pirates told Spalding he found his book helpful and would refer to it often. “It means a great deal to get a good review in any magazine but I think it really means something when the people that are connected to the team in some way acknowledge your work.”
Beth Easley holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s degree in communication studies. She has been a communications professional at a Washington think tank, a national trade association, and a community hospital. She has spent the past four years writing newsletters for a healthcare regulations and compliance publishing company, where she received an honorable mention from the Newsletters & Electronic Publishers Association in 2003.