My beginnings as a sports writer came when I was pretty young. They came as I took refuge from the turmoil in my house.
Many nights I closed myself off in my parents’ basement, hiding out with only my thoughts. I lost myself in a world of fantasy sports, long before fantasy sports became a national obsession. My fantasy sports all took place in my imagination.
I had a table-top hockey game—Phil and Tony Esposito’s Action Hockey—that used magnets to move the players around. One person used magnets from the bottom, while the other had the top so nobody’s arms got tangled. I spent hours with that game, playing by myself.
Next to it I kept a spiral notebook. Inside I tracked the “results” of my games, using the boxscore template from a copy of the Hockey News I also kept down there. I wrote brief summaries, too, but I don’t remember any of the actual entries anymore. I’m sure they had something to do with how awesome Mike Bossy and the New York Islanders were, though.
I didn’t limit my games to hockey either. I played football down there using a small Nerf basketball. Haven Moses, a wide receiver who played for Denver in the 1970s, was the star of many of those games, but I’m not sure why. I think I just loved that name. Haven Moses. Only now can I connect that he was Haven in my haven.
The sports writing thing took hold. I remember going to high school and college hockey games at the Duluth Arena when I was in grade school. Like my friends, I imagined I was on the rink, skating past the defenseman, wristing a shot past East’s goalie—who was always a sieve—and giving Cathedral the victory.
But just as often my gaze drifted from the ice to the press box jutting out across several sections. I always wondered what was happening in there. Who were those people that were allowed to sit up there? More importantly, how could I get inside?
Little did I know I would end up being one of those people sitting in that very press box. While at UMD I was the hockey writer for the campus paper. I learned the place was nothing special. Yet it was the coolest place in the world.
Since then I’ve been in press boxes from Colorado to Texas to Chicago. Old Mile High Stadium. Folsom Field in Boulder. Kyle Field at Texas A&M where the press box is on the ninth storey and sways in unison when the fans link arms to sing the Aggie War Hymn during games.
I got choked up when I sat in the one at Notre Dame Stadium, needing to quickly pull it together because – as all good sports journalists know – there is no cheering in the press box. No crying either.
But somewhere in recent years that excitement waned. It wasn’t because I was spending most of my time in high school press boxes, or because I was disappointed my career never brought me inside Wrigley Field despite working in the same market.
No, it was the realization I was spending most of my time covering games I no longer had interest in. Once that took hold, I couldn’t shake it.
At the same time, the newspaper industry was imploding. My dreams of moving to a larger paper dissolved as quickly as the jobs did. Then the layoffs started coming. The Chicago market flooded with unemployed sports writers and journalists in general.
When it became apparent more layoffs were coming in the wake of Sun-Times Media Group’s March 31 bankruptcy filing, it seemed the right time for me to call it quits, to let go of what was and to begin focusing on what will be.
About two weeks ago I made it known to upper management that I wouldn’t be upset if my name was on the list of job cuts needed at the Naperville Sun. On Friday morning I was among five reporters laid off by Fox Valley Publications, a group of STMG papers that includes the Sun and Beacon News. More followed later in the day, but I’m not sure how many.
So now I begin this week as an unemployed sports writer. For the first time in 10 years I won’t be going to work at a newspaper. I never imagined wanting to do anything else. I loved being a newspaper man.
I’m going to miss it. I’m nostalgic like that. I still miss that damn hockey game. But it’s time to move forward and see what’s in store for me next. Right now I think that means lunch.