After 22 years, it’s finally time to stop playing with the toys

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 16, 2008

At 5 years old, I would stand in the old pressroom of the Peekskill Evening Star and stare at the old machine churning out daily editions of the hometown paper. Dad, the editor, after making sure he made deadline, would scan the paper for mistakes.

I followed the pressroom golden rules of never getting in the way and never touching anything. Anyone who has ever been in a real pressroom knows that if you get a splotch of ink on yourself it will be spread to all of your clothes in seconds.

Dad had been in the business for years and I, his middle son, had the bug. When Gannett bought the Evening Star and Dad left the business, a weekly paper opened in my hometown. I wrote my first Little League Baseball All-Star game story at age 12 — about players who were my age.

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The first story I wrote occupied three legal-sized sheets of paper, handwritten and single-spaced. It went through every pitch, every foul ball and every coaching trip to the pitcher’s mound. Boy, was I proud; the first step toward being the next Red Smith.

“What do you think, Dad?” I asked.

He glanced at the first sheet, handed it back to me and said, “Get it down to one page and bring it back to me.”

Taught me some great lessons. It taught me that simple and short is better. It also taught me to handle honest criticism, even though in my mind I believed I held a Pulitzer Prize winner.

That story appeared in the Peekskill Herald more than 22 years ago. It marked the start of a career in sports writing for which I believed I was destined.

I was at home in the toy department, the nickname given to sports departments at newspapers everywhere. When he worked in New Haven, Conn., as a cub reporter, Dad said a tour group had showed up one day. When they got to the sports department, all the children were chuckling and gawking. Someone had taped a hand-written sign reading “Do not feed the sports writers.”

Dad eventually moved out of sports into larger newsrooms in upstate New York, then to editor of the Evening Star. After Gannett’s purchased the paper he went into public relations, but still can reel off amazing tales of the newspaper business from his past. At times he still misses being a sports writer, but he got to the point where it was time to stop playing with his toys and move on.

Sports writing is the only thing I have ever done. My first interview for the college paper at Southern Miss was with current Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, then a standout linebacker with the Golden Eagles. I’ve interviewed Heisman Trophy winners, Hall of Fame quarterbacks and 9-year-old youth baseball players. I’ve joined others in air-conditioned press boxes covering LSU-Ole Miss football games and complaining about the free meal.

Which brings me back to that sign about feeding the sports writers in the toy department. Sooner or later, you’ll have to stop playing with your toys.

That time is now.

Hope to see you again sometime.