From my sophomore year in high school, I was always headed that way. Maybe you could trace it to when I was 4 or 5, back in Holland, when it was obvious I was going to be a sports fan/nut.
It was a long road from Holland to Fort Worth, and career-wise, from Shreveport to points far west (Honolulu) and east (Jacksonville), with a few more stops, and finally a home for 10 1/2 years at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
As I've written previously, at the end of my career, I was satisfied that I always did the best I could. I can't say it was a "great" career because I screwed it up so many times, had too many conflicts and made more mistakes than I wanted. But I got the chance to do something I loved, to be involved in something I loved.
Let me clarify that.
|A still-young sportswriter in Honolulu|
covering the Aloha Classic in 1982.
My dream job: Running the New York Yankees. That's right; I wish I had the job Brian Cashman has now: general manager. I'm a few billions short of owning the team. But if I could have put together the teams to win 15 consecutive World Series titles, I would've fulfilled my dream.
I was never going to be an athlete, I didn't have the skills to be a coach. I could've involved in running, say, a city recreation program or a kids' athletic organization.
But where I ended up was in sportswriting. From early on, I always had a skill for keeping statistics and for reading -- studying -- books on sports history. I learned to score baseball games when I was 10; one of my parents' greatest gifts to me, at age 12, was a typewriter. I soon learned to type -- correctly, by the book, not hunt-and-peck -- and that would be invaluable.
From the September 1960 day that coaches Ellace Bruce and Leonard Ponder handed me a letter from The Shreveport Times making me the correspondent who called in results of Oak Terrace Junior High's home football and basketball games, my career path was set.
The summer after my sophomore year at Woodlawn High -- where I phoned The Times with the box scores and highlights of basketball and baseball games that weren't covered by a writer -- my first newspaper job became writing stories on top players in the SPAR summer baseball program.
That was arranged through Jim McLain and Ed Shearer, The Times sportswriters I'd gotten to know when they covered Woodlawn games. In my junior and senior years, they also took me with them several times to Louisiana Tech when they covered games in the old Tech football stadium.
Along with three of the coaches on the Woodlawn staff, those were my first connections to what would be four wonderful college years at Tech. But the most important part of that connection was the sports information director, T.H. "Pete" Dosher, who gave me a job there and taught me more about journalism -- and life -- than just about anyone. (Pete will be the subject of a future blog.)
As mentioned in a previous blog, I made my first visit to The Times and got my first bylines in the summer of '63 with those kids' baseball stories. Still have the clippings and realize that, even after editing, they were the work of a 16-year-old. (To my friends, save the smart remarks here.)
Later that summer, when Ed Shearer went for his two-week Army Reserves duty, I filled in for him covering American Legion baseball at SPAR Stadium -- my first Legion bylines.
For the next 11 years, I covered Legion ball ... it was one of the earliest (and most fun) parts of my days with The Times. Four games every Saturday -- 2, 4, 6 and 8 -- and we had to fill out box scores by hand, then call a cab to take the boxes from the first three games to the newspaper. After the final game, it was a rush to get to the paper and wrap all four games in one story.
(No cellphones, no computers, no telecopiers, no fax machines, no time to phone in and dictate the boxscores, which had to be set in type on the old linotype maches in the composing room downstairs. Yes, the old days of newspapers.)
In my junior and senior years at Woodlawn, I wrote sports (and edited stories) for the school newspaper and was co-sports editor of the award-winning yearbooks. Great experiences, but not the same as working for the morning newspaper, and dealing with daily deadlines.
From there it was four years in the sports information office at Tech, the last three years of which I ended up running the office when the SID left before the school year ended. Before I graduated, Bill McIntyre -- The Times sports editor and certainly one of my mentors -- offered me a fulltime job ... they expanded the staff (five fulltimers) to make a place for me.
A fortunate break for me. It was already home, and I wasn't anywhere ready to live in the world on my own.
You might surprised to read this: I did not love newspapers, I did not love writing. I do love reading newspapers and great writing, but -- unlike many people I worked with -- I didn't get great joy from working for newspapers or from writing.
My passion was for sports, being involved some way with sports and sports people. Newspapers were just a venue for that; I wouldn't have wanted to work in any other department. I was people get transferred out of sports to, say, the state desk -- and I hated that for them.
As for writing, I felt I improved a lot. Early in my career, I was far too statistics-oriented, too caught up in play-by-play. I didn't pay enough attention to the "people" aspect of writing.
I spent far too much time researching sports history (on microfilm, for instance) and wasted too much time just reading newspapers from the past. Should have been working on how to improve as a writer.
And I never found it that easy. Now, I could write on deadline, and write quickly, compose routine, fact-oriented stories in a hurry. But to write what I consider deep, analytical, think columns, or outstanding "feature" stories on people, that wasn't me. I worked with many, many people I felt did that better, and more easily.
So I wasn't going to be a big-time writer; I knew that early on. I did get to cover many good events -- a Super Bowl, an Ali fight, good college bowl games and NCAA basketball and baseball tournaments, some NFL -- but I was just as happy covering North Louisiana colleges and especially covering high schools in a number of states.
I never wanted to be outworked. Started out as a workaholic (didn't have much of a life then), but I burned out, had to pull back and I reformed. I learned it was more important to work smart than to work all the time.
I did aim to become a good all-around journalist -- editing copy, writing headlines, designing pages (formerly known as "layout"), reporter, columnist, statistics keeper -- and I'm satisified I did that.
I'm not looking for plaudits; this is more self-analysis. And while I don't want to do any more newspaper work, I would be open to editing sports books (I edited a couple of Louisiana-related books last year for friends).
That is, unless Brian Cashman calls and wants me to take his job with the Yankees, or make me his assistant.