If you’d told me a month ago that I’d be covering a couple of the White Sox-Red Sox games at Guaranteed Rate Field, I’d have responded, “Yeah…and Leury Garcia will command one of the headlines with a walk-off home run.”
Yet, there it is (below), my September 13th story in the Daily Herald on the third and final game of the Sox-squared series here in Chicago. As a Boston-area native and lifelong Red Sox fan (as well a fan of the White Sox these past 35 years since moving to Chicago), that was one bittersweet story to chronicle.
But really, the outcome of any given game pales in comparison to this tremendous opportunity to report on it. After a roughly one-third century hiatus from game coverage–and those were college games–it has been an absolute blast resuming what had been a fledgling sportswriting career as a teen.
Snagging interviews on the field before games…asking post-game questions (albeit via Zoom)…crafting a game story on deadline. I haven’t had those experiences in over 30 years, when I wrote for The Daily Northwestern, first about a variety of sports programs before securing the top two beats: the Wildcats’ football and men’s basketball teams. Great memories, even if neither Northwestern team experienced an overwhelming amount of success.
Coming out of college in 1990, I encountered a very tight newspaper labor market. Rather than hold out for something in sports, I looked for any kind of journalism work that I could find. If it happened to be for the sports section, great. If not, so be it.
When my first job offer called for covering a couple of towns in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs, that’s simply what I did. I chased a (very modest) paycheck. My journalism career thereafter took me in all sorts of directions, mostly “hard news” such as criminal courts and municipal coverage. Along the way, only on a rare occasion would an athlete or a game become the focus of my reporting and writing. I enjoyed doing it, but by and large I let go of my sports writing dreams…though they never really let go of me.
SI For Kids & Time Assignments
Over a 33-year span between 1988 and this August, I was on press row or in the press box a grand total of four times.
Twice was in 2000, for Sports Illustrated for Kids, when I was at U.S. Cellular Field and then Wrigley Field on separate assignments for the numbers column that I prepared for each issue. For the first, in which the White Sox hosted the Orioles on April 24, my task was tracking the whereabouts of every ball that went into the stands, whether by foul ball, home run, or some other means (such as an on-deck batter flipping the ball to a spectator).
For the second excursion that year, in which the Cubs hosted the Braves on June 1, I interviewed players on a few topics—the one that stands out in my memory was their perspective on who were the league’s fastest baserunners.
The occasions were memorable in part for interactions I had with future Hall of Famers each time: O’s shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. was stand-offish in the clubhouse, while Braves pitcher Greg Maddux was warm and friendly as we chatted pre-game in the dugout for several minutes.
All told, though, the assignments were little more than fluff.
My other two occasions on the sportswriting frontlines came in 2003, reporting on LeBron James as a high school senior in January and then as a rookie for the Cleveland Cavaliers in November. Both times, I wrote detailed accounts. Both times, not a word made it into print, consigned to cutting-room floor status by Time magazine writers.
Getting the Call
So last month, when Daily Herald sports editor Mike Smith asked my availability to cover a game between the White Sox and their crosstown rival Cubs, it didn’t take me more than a few moments to reply in the enthusiastic affirmative. Over the past four weekends, twice at the ballpark and twice monitoring Sunday road games (in Kansas City and Texas), I have chipped in with game coverage.
This new role is an outgrowth of my “Go Figure” baseball statistics column, which I began penning for the Herald 18 months ago. With the White Sox headed for the playoffs in a few weeks, it’s unclear how this all plays out. For now, this adaptation of a cliche from the movie Bull Durham may just be the best way to sum it up:
“I’m just happy to be here. Hope I can help the paper.”