It was 28 years ago this week…
The date is easy to remember, because I had become a father about 10 weeks prior. I was still pulling photos out of my wallet every 5 minutes, and I couldn’t wait to show them to my friends at the Ithaca Times. I had done a few freelance assignments for the paper, I had known Jim Bilinski (the Publisher) for a few years, and I had been asked to stop in for a meeting with Managing Editor Claudia Montague.
“You may have heard that John Ettinger (then the lead Sports columnist) is relocating,” Claudia told me. “I am wondering if you have any interest in picking up the column on an interim basis.”
“Sure,” I said, “ I’ll do it for a few weeks and we’ll have another conversation.”
I wrote one or two columns, picking my way through the volumes of press releases that arrived – via the U.S. Mail – from the Sports Information departments at Cornell and Ithaca College. I could do this for a few weeks.
In early October, I looked at my Ithaca Times mailbox and did a double-take – thinking it might be April 1st. According to a very official-looking letter from Major League Baseball, the Ithaca Times had been selected to receive press passes to the 1992 World Series. I checked in with JB (Bilinski) and he informed me that the paper had indeed been applying for World Series press credentials for a number of years, and that yes, it was legit.
I immediately started paying closer attention to the teams in the playoffs, as I knew that, while I would not be able to travel to an Atlanta vs. Oakland matchup, I would be able to attend a game in Pittsburgh or Toronto. When the Blue Jays took down the A’s, I was thrilled. I would be attending a World Series game in Toronto.
On October 20, 1992, I proudly wore my Ithaca Times World Series Press Credentials into Toronto’s SkyDome and walked onto the field prior to batting practice. I had conversations with active players like Dave Winfield, David Justice and Joe Carter, and had long and fulfilling conversations with legends like Johnny Bench and Ernie Banks. I was a 12 year-old boy in a 36 year-old man’s body as I was nearly hit with a Joe Carter home run, witnessed a near-triple play (the umpire blew the call) and watched the home team pull off a thrilling 3-2 win in the bottom of the ninth inning.
I combined my love of baseball with my sincere interest in people and their stories, wrote the story entitled “Eye in the Sky (Dome)” and I was honored when I got so much great feedback. I appreciated it when former Ithaca Times Editor Kenny Berkowitz said to me, “You are really starting to find your voice.”
I am still deeply honored – approximately two-thousand stories later – that any of you have any interest in my voice. I have a vast treasure trove of memories related to the hundreds – maybe thousands – of people with whom I have interacted, and I value each and every one – be they a Pee Wee football star, a Mini Mite hockey player or a Super Bowl champ, an Olympic Gold Medalist or a Stanley Cup champion. They all have a story that deserves to be told, and told well.
I love the fact that I have written about different generations in the same families, and I am very moved when friends contact me to let me know that they still read my column online, many years after moving away from Ithaca.
When I am asked if 10, 20 or 28 years is long enough, I fondly recall the time I spent with the late, great Kenny Van Sickle, who wrote about sports for the Ithaca Journal for well over 50 years. Kenny and I would sit in the press box at Cornell and watch the Big Red football games, and we would talk about the people about whom we had written and the cherished relationships that grew out of our story telling. I always appreciated how much those connections meant to Kenny, and although my 30 years (including freelancing) falls far short of Kenny’s half-century, I am proud of my status as an elder statesman of sorts. I’m not sure I will get to that 50-year milestone, but I will sure as hell try… Thanks. Love y’all.