I’m on to the next one: Thank you, SW Minnesota

I have three things at my desk that have become permanent fixtures of my work life.

My computer background has something related to Chicago to remind me that home is truly where the heart is. Although my heart is inching further away — I’ve taken a job as a sports reporter at The Forum in Fargo, N.D. — I know Chicago will always be waiting for me.

I also have an e-mail from a person (let’s call her Kris), thanking me for the work I do and for “putting smiles on people’s faces.”

Finally, I have a renewal form for a Daily Globe subscription in which the person who renewed their subscription wrote, “Your Sports Section (Sucks).” Although — according to grammar rules — I technically don’t have to read what was in parentheses, I did and always will.

I used to think for every thank-you there were 10 complaints. The idiots always seem to win because they are louder, and there are more of them. But through my time in Worthington, I’ve learned it’s the quiet ones that will always keep me coming back.

For every parent that has no understanding that we use human beings and cars to cover things, not 24-hour working robots and hovercrafts, there’s WHS’s Angela Robinson or K.C. Riley asking with pure excitement, “Did you get that?” about a play, as I stand with a camera at their softball game.

For every parent who calls in to ask if I have a vendetta against their child, there’s E/E’s Devin Hulstein or SWC’s Zach Huisken, who have a good enough sense of humor to discuss their playoff facial hair to some creep with a recorder.

Parents, if I had a vendetta against your child, I’d publish what they put on Twitter or Facebook. I don’t because your annoyance isn’t worth me ruining their future. Plus, what they write is often times hilarious.

For every parent that calls in to say, for example, the gymnastics article wasn’t big enough, and then calls back to say there weren’t enough gymnastics pictures, and then calls back to say who we should and shouldn’t take pictures of, there’s the family of Ellsworth’s Casey Schilling, who, for some reason, felt the need to thank me for doing my job and coming to his signing.

As another side note, parents, do not attempt to campaign for a newspaper to not interview or take pictures of an athlete based on some kind of trouble they got into. I know your child is a perfect angel, but that doesn’t mean he/she is going to get enough playing time for us to get a picture of him/her or validate interviewing him/her after a game. Let the game decide who gets interviewed and who gets pictures in the paper.

For anyone who might e-mail me to remark on the three typos in a 1,500-word story, there’s WHS’s Mitch Weg, who might be the funniest athlete I’ve covered, WHS’s Jonah Oberloh, who might be the nicest athlete I’ve covered, and WHS’s Mubarik Musa, who … well, let’s face it, Mubarik is just awesome.

For anyone who might forget all sense of common decency and feel the need to come up to me to tell me how to do my job when I’m walking into a gym nine hours after finishing the previous night’s work on my 42nd straight day at the office, there’s WHS’s Mackenzie Gerber, who always smiles and asks how I’m doing when I’m at Hy-Vee getting caffeined up to stay awake for another day of work.

For a person who might call disguising demands as requests for things like baseball standings a day after there was an all-local sports section, there’s WHS’s Dan Wetering — unable to stand, barely able to talk, after a tennis match that lasted over two hours —  thanking me for staying for his whole match in Redwood Falls, WHS’s Kate Lesnar, who does more charity in one day than most do in a lifetime, or WHS’s Alex Purdy, who is the greatest bench commentator in all of prep sports.

From here on out, the notes from my Worthington desk will be taped up at whatever desk this career hands me. They remind me why prep sports will always be dear to my heart. The athletes, coaches, athletic directors and secretaries don’t want or need any recognition, but they deserve it. There are no scholarships or contracts, but, instead, an unmatched obsession and love for sports. It’s not for the raving idiots in the stands, who apparently know how to ref, coach and even, on occasion, put together a sports section, yet never touch a whistle, clipboard or pen.

They are the loud ones. They only win because they’re too busy yelling to pay attention to the scoreboard.

Thank you for putting up with me, southwest Minnesota. Thanks for giving me stories and a platform from which to write them. You gave me a team when I couldn’t get a tryout, and I’ll never be able to repay you for it. My heart may be moving on, but part of it will take you along.

Don’t ever thank me for doing my job. I thank you for giving me stories to justify having this job. I do what I love because you allow me to.

Finally, thanks to the subscriber I mentioned earlier who made the wise choice to renew. It’s safe to read the sports section now.

Sing along with sports

There is something about sports that makes it a perfect ying to music’s yang. Whether it’s the poetry in motion almost begging to have a background guitar chord shatter the rim along with a basketball player or throttle a running back alongside a linebacker or how the exact mixture of violin strings can mesh with a hockey player weaving through traffic. No matter what the taste in music, there’s just something about the two that make pure perfection.

Music was meant for sport, and sport was meant for music. We release ourselves in both. In both we use every bit of emotion we have at an attempt of perfection.
There’s a reason there are at least four athletes with headphones doing the pregame stare into space before any athletic event.  The music is motivation.

Even though AC/DC is one of the most overrated bands of all time, seeming to do nothing but yell some horrible rock cliché or a weather forecast, “Thunderstruck” can’t be listened to without wanting to knock the snot out of someone on a football field.

With fall sports upon us, here are some songs outside of the regular “Hero” by Foo Fighters to get jacked to. If any high schooler dares to call me old due to not knowing these, I may snap. You’re the ones allowing Justin Bieber to have a career, so back off. I’ll take responsibility for allowing Limp Bizkit to make money, but you should be ashamed of yourselves for Bieber.

“On to the Next One” by Jay-Z, “Summer Overture” by  Clint Mansell, “First Breath After A Coma” by Explosions in the Sky, “Everyday” by Carly Commando,  “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Metallica, “Bulls on Parade” by Rage Against the Machine, “Til I Collapse” by Eminem and “List of Demands” by Saul Williams, “So Whatcha Want” by the Beastie Boys and “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin do the trick. Enjoy.

The stories no one wants to write, but must be told

We in sports talk a big game and act as though we have a toughness that comes with covering athletes pummeling one another. We write about hits as if we’re the ones taking them.

The truth is we cover sports to stay away from real life. The hardest thing that comes with the job description is the interview after a loss.

The difference between losing a game and losing in life is there is always another game to play. There’s always another at-bat, always another snap and always another shot to take. There is no scoreboard in life. There is no touchdown dance. There are ups and downs, and the final down is unavoidable.

Mike Greenburg, known for his sports radio show on ESPN, wrote a book titled “Why My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot.” In it, he talked about how he wanted to be a “real” journalist until he stood outside the house of Andrew Donatelli.
Donatelli was headed to college on a football scholarship and was the valedictorian of his high school class. On prom night, Donatelli and some friends were drinking beer and allegedly smoking pot on the beach. Somehow, Donatelli’s girlfriend ended up in the water, and he drowned trying to save her. Greenburg, an intern reporter at the time, was sent to the house to interview Donatelli’s parents.

Greenburg wrote:
“I couldn’t ring the bell. I had all my questions written in my yellow reporter’s pad but I couldn’t ask them; I knew it was my job but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t ask a woman I’d never met how it felt to go to Malcolm and Brothers Funeral Home on Worth Avenue at five in the morning with a football uniform and a navy blue Brooks Brothers suit because she couldn’t decide which her son would have wanted to be buried in. I have all the respect in the world for people who ask that question, but I can’t.”

After that experience Greenburg wrote that his adviser asked him if he thought about covering sports, and the rest is history.

We cover games. We write about athletes. What we do is not life or death. We don’t plan on ever having our hands shake profusely as we look up whether or not to refer to dead 5-month old as an infant in the Associated Press stylebook or take a deep breath before calling someone whose 20-year-old best friend just died in a car accident.

It’s part of the job, and it’s disrespectful to the deceased to avoid the story. Their voices have ended, but their story can be told through friends and family.

Without them, there is no story.

Those friends and family members who have lost someone, however, have all the right in the world to hang up the phone or slam the door before a reporter can even begin to utter what media outlet they are from.

I was lucky enough to write a story about Worthington 2010 graduate Mitch Benson, who died in a car accident on Aug. 3,  thanks to Mitch Jensen, Kyle Hain, Gary Brandt and Dennis Hale not hanging up the phone on me.

They told the story. All I had to do was write it.
And I can never thank them enough.

SPOILER ALERT: Media outlets report news

Ah, cyberspace. It’s a place where the possibilities and the annoyances are endless.

It gives everyone the freedom to write about anything and to tell us what they are doing every two minutes regardless of how little we care.

There is no such thing as deadline and it can be used to do such things as break open a story about the University of Miami athletic program or tell us how short of a skirt Miley Cyrus wore each day this week.

In journalism, it means the quicker the story, the better. No longer does the public trust the byline. These days, unfortunately, the public trusts whatever they see first.
We’d rather read some Yahoo! Sports “writer” commenting on a story he or she found from a news source rather than the actual story itself simply because it’s thrown in our face and it comes with an over-the-top headline like “You could die if…”

Literally, as I write this, there is a Yahoo! Sports story headlined “Gabby Douglas’s hair sparks raging debate” based on idiotic comments on Twitter made about the gymnast’s hairstyle. Get your Pulitzer ready for that one. 

But I clicked it. And I’m sure you will, too.

Media sources have come under fire for “spoiling” people’s Olympic experience by reporting what happens.

Yes, media outlets are getting yelled at for reporting the news before people get a chance to watch the replay of what happened on television.

If you can’t keep your fingers from double clicking on your browser then, I hate to break it you — you’re going to find out things that happened.

Mike Kellams, the managing sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, tweeted, “Reader: ‘You really shouldn’t post Olympics results on the front page of the website… You’ve ruined several events for me.’”

We, in the media, apologize for bringing you your news as quickly as possible.

You asked for it.

Penn State: To cheer or not to cheer

There’s an interesting tie between a fan and their team. It’s fascinating to hear a normally logical person lose all sense of reason when speaking about the quality of their favorite team on and off the field, court, ice or stadium.

It’s like listening to a mother speak about how good their kid is, while visiting them in prison.

The NCAA came down hard on Penn State. Bowl games, tens of millions of dollars, 111 Paterno victories and the warm, fuzzy feeling Nittany Lions’ fans had when using the “Success With Honor” motto PSU generously bestowed on itself were all taken away.
I’m not here to question the penalty. I’m here to ponder the idea of cheering for a program which has committed such atrocities.

Before we crucify any fan who continues to cheer on Penn State, one must ask what it would take for their own beloved team to be so despicable, cheering for them to win would hurt.

Could the Minnesota Twins do something so awful, it would require backs to be turned on them? After all, they are responsible for one of the most horrifying acts in all of baseball. The Twins allowed Nick Punto to have a career and people still keep showing up.

I digress.

But, honestly, is the Nittany Lion uncheerable thanks to an athletic department becoming blind and deaf for a couple decades?

College is a whole different ballgame. Fans not only see a team, but a place where they found a calling, grew up and called home for four or so years. It is tough to suddenly stop cheering for the success of something like that.

I know of people who wouldn’t say, “White Sox” because they lived during the Black Sox scandal, but I wonder, if they were alive to see the 2005 World Series, if their voices came back.

It’s one thing to make sure a team does not get a dime out of one’s pocket by not buying merchandise or going to games. But to say fans shouldn’t want a team they loved for years to win is easier said than done.

The joke that is the MLB All-Star Game

The pessimists have life branded as a giant high school cafeteria. Judgements are based on whispers and glances, and the beautiful people are invited to the best table while the misunderstood are banished to the corner.

The MLB All-Star Game is no different. Numbers are forgotten and replaced with which players “SportsCenter” has shown the most or what character they’ve been branded in ESPN’s play.

A.J. Pierzynski gets the part of the villain, although he’s done nothing but play the game correctly with a cocky smirk. David Ortiz is the good guy, although he’s been tied to performance enhancing drugs, because ESPN loves showing pictures of him smiling.
Despite numbers, Pierzynski has no chance of making the All-Star Game thanks to his smile being a smirk.

It’s a beauty pageant which counts for home field advantage of the World Series.
There are some intelligent sports fans, but, as a whole, sports fans are ridiculous with unjustified reasoning behind their ideas. Being a good fan of a team does not mean throwing logic in the closet and believing things that are not true.

These people are in charge of putting the starting lineup of a game that will judge what team gets an extra home game in the World Series?

One game should not be the judge of something as important as the World Series. Fans should not be in charge of putting the starting team on the field for that one game, and players from teams that have no chance of making the World Series should not have to be part of deciding the fate of the World Series unless they are great players.

If you’re going to make the game count, the fans should not be voting, but the game counts, so people watch and the fans vote, so even more people will watch the players they voted for and every team gets represented so even the fans with nothing at stake watch the game.

It’s not good enough for the people to get to watch the show they want, but they get to watch their favorite episode.

Unfortunately, no one has told MLB that ratings have gone down in fine fashion since 2008.

Ratings were at a 9.3 in 2008, 8.9 in 2009, 7.5 in 2010 and 6.9 in 2011. There were more than 14-and-a-half million viewers in 2008 and 11 million viewers in 2011.
The only number MLB cares about, it is ignoring.

I guess it makes sense to put the fate of the World Series in the hands of fans who don’t pay attention to the right numbers, either.

Stop making top 10 lists for sports

It’s a pretty simple formula. Say something over and over again and sooner or later it becomes fact among the common public. The more people believe something, the more they drown out the logical ones who question it.

If you continue to show Derek Jeter needlessly cutting off a ball on its way to home plate and Jeremy Giambi idiotically refusing to slide in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on “Top 10” lists above walkoff homers in the World Series, and people begin to believe it was one of the greatest plays of all time.

The more people see the clip, the more people overrate Jeter’s defensive ability. The more people overrate Jeter’s defensive ability, the more undeserving awards he gets and so on and so forth.

It all starts with making a list. All media outlets are guilty of it. There’s nothing easier for a person to read than a list; no information or reasoning, but rather just a list. The power of a list is incredible. Nothing will make a fan more irate or give a fan the “I told you so,” fuel like a list.

I, for one, have given up on the sports’ lists a long time ago. I will look at them, sigh and move on with my life. Although my fingers will shake over the keyboard with the want to scream at the overrating of Curt Schilling pitching seven innings with some blood on his sock or Jeter taking 10 steps to dive into the stands or David Freese using Nelson Cruz’s horrible defense to tie a World Series game, I stop myself. I will resist throwing things at my television listening to John Kruk, Skip Bayless or Steve Berthiaume drooling with words like “clutch,” “gutsy,” “scrappy,” and “grinder.”

These lists do nothing but force stereotypes on fans. A “web gem” doesn’t mean a player is good defensively. A good defensive player doesn’t necessarily need to make a “web gem” because he or she gets to a ball without the need to dive or can throw the ball to first without having to jump in the air.

So we should not respect the players who make athletic plays look easy because they are more talented than the athletes who have to dive for everything?

It’s disrespectful to sports to narrow the entire history to a few plays or performances and try to state that a certain play is the greatest play or a certain performance is the greatest performance as if it’s a fact.

They sure are easy to read and write though.

State track is proof I do have a soul

People with red hair and freckles aren’t the only ones who question their souls.

As a journalist, it is incredibly easy to question whether or not there’s anything in our heartless cave filled with gossip, rumors, dirt, memorized responses to complaining phone calls and a few facts.

With every cheesy headline or cliché sentence written — or the thoughts of calling a coach to question him or her about something, or talking to an athlete in tears about ending their sporting careers — it gets harder and harder not to hate oneself.

After state track, I’m happy to report that I may have found a soul.

I thank Adrian’s Austyn Thier — who, thanks to autocorrect in Microsoft Word, has the biggest nightmare of a last name in the history of prep sports (Thier automatically changes to “their” each time used) — for helping me find my soul.

Although, I will say the fact you Minnesotans haven’t figured out whether or not you want to go with “on” or “en” to end your last names is a far bigger pain.

I digress.

Thier ended her high school running career Saturday at the track and field state meet at Hamline University in St. Paul. She added medal No. 13 for both track and cross country to the trophy case, with a third-place finish in the 800-meter run.

With temperatures in the 90s, Thier, who also ran in the 4×800-meter relay earlier, crossed the finish line, walked to the grass of the football field and slowly went down to the ground.

The newspaper is a pest in the sense it never goes away. Every day it’s empty, and every day it needs to be filled. There is no pushing work aside. You’re constantly thinking of ways to fill it, so you’ll sacrifice your soul a little to fill those sections.

A camera is the best way to fill it. Nothing draws the eye to a story like a picture, and there’s no better picture than those that show true emotion. You look for that blank stare after a loss or that unmistakable smile and embrace of victory.

Thier was the last area athlete I needed a picture of, so I had waited for that emotional arms-raised picture after her final high school race.

But she went down.

There was my chance to get a picture of struggling, but, instead, since no one from the medical tent felt like leaving the shade, I handed the poor girl a cup of water.

Then, some brilliant person asked if the girl who had been laying in the fetal position for five minutes was OK and brought her a towel.

See. We aren’t all terrible people in the media.

I probably should mention, before nominating me for a Nobel Peace Prize, I did tell Thier I wasn’t going to be able to take a picture of her getting her medal if she stayed on the ground.

Like a true athlete who had put up with the media for years, she apologized and struggled to try and get up.

It was a joke, Austyn. Drink your water, so I can pat myself on the back and forget for a second that I’m a sleazy journalist.

There are bounties in all professional sports

I hate to be the bearer of bad news to all those wholesome thinkers out there, but athletes in contact sports get paid to do horrible things.

A boxer gets paid to literally knock a person unconscious, a hockey player gets paid to smash another person’s body against glass and football players get paid to knock one another to the ground.

What is the difference between a hit meant to hurt and a hit meant to…well…hit?

The New Orleans Saints have gone a tad overboard what with having a ledger apparently commending players for “cart offs” and “whacks” in their bounty scandal. Didn’t they learn anything from “Casino” or “The Untouchables”? Never keep a book.

Nevertheless, is a safety or linebacker really thinking, while a play is developing, whether or not the tackle they are about to make is going to get them a “cart off” or a “whack”? These are split-second decisions and moves by NFL players, not mobsters planting a car bomb.

It’s sick to think that people would get paid for hurting other people, but what if that’s your job? Athletes do things the average person physically cannot do or mentally can’t stomach, so where do we draw the line between an athletic play and a play meant for pain?
The whole Saints scandal smells like it is going to go around in circles with pointed fingers and players saying, “Hey, it wasn’t me,” just as the steroids issue in MLB has played out.

So, let the long annoying games begin.

Players involved in the Saints scandal would be smart to follow their roided brethren and deny, deny, deny until proven guilty.

If proven guilty, and for some reason you believe you still have a chance at the Hall of Fame, see Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds for further instructions on how to lie in a court of law.

If you’re insane, speak another language and feel you have a chance to get in the Hall of Fame, see Sammy Sosa for further instructions on how to forget the English language. Bleach may be required for that transformation.

If you’d like to just own up to your mistake and move on with your life, see Andy Pettitte or Jason Giambi on how to just admit to doing something wrong.

Either way, I’m sitting this one out. I’ve seen this movie before.

Wood retires: The Final K

He began his career with a strikeout, he ended his career with a strikeout and he gained the love of a city and 1,580 strikeouts in between.

Seeing “former major league pitcher” next to Kerry Wood’s name will never seem right to those who grew up in the steroid era. With a blazing fastball, nasty curveball and a slider, Wood was the guy striking out those over-sized men, starting in 1998 and ending Friday with one final strikeout, a tip of the cap to people Wood referred to as “the best fans in the world,” even though he’s played for the New York Yankees, and a hug from his son Justin, who squeezed his dad with the intent to seemingly never let go.

Chicago Cub fans could relate to Wood’s son, for they also never wanted to let go of the guy, who was not only talented enough to be a star, but had the personality that made people want him to be a star. Cub fans never let go of the hope a 20-strikeout game in just his fifth career start brought.

Wood was just the third pitcher (Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson) to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. Wood was the quickest to 1,000 strikeouts, taking just 134 games and 853 innings pitched to do so. He struck out over 200 batters in four of his first five seasons.

There’s a blind hope which comes with being a Cub fan. The hope in Wood looked to be a clear sight.

What comes with the blind hope of being a Cub fan is seeing reasons to be hopeless. It is one thing to see losing when you expect it to happen and use pessimism to shield any feelings toward a team, but it is a completely different ballgame when you have an unquestioned dedication to a team no matter what all logic tells you.

After becoming the fastest pitcher to 1,000 strikeouts in 134 games and 853 innings by 2004, it took Wood 312 games and 527 innings to strike out 582 batters by 2012.

It was the usual sight Cub fans were used to seeing behind eyes brawling with tears. Wood had collapsed. This wasn’t the normal Cub collapse the outside world laughs at. Sure, we mocked Cub fans for stupid nicknames like “Kid K” or shirts which said, “We Got Wood” on them, but to watch Wood go through injury after injury wasn’t funny.

He missed a month in 1998 for elbow soreness, missed all of 1999 for Tommy John surgery for a UCL tear in his right elbow, came back strong only to be run into the ground by Dusty Baker in 2003, which was followed by missing two months in 2004 thanks to a strained tricep, only to never pitch more than 66.1 innings again.

Wood had the talent. In years filled with loud steroid users owning the spotlight, Wood quietly went about his business. Mix this with the fact he raised money for children’s charities (over $2.5 million) and you have the perfect guy to cheer for.

Unfortunately, he had an arm neither coaches nor he himself, seen in his mechanics, knew what to do with.

And to add to everything, when it was his turn to use and abuse free agency, after sporting a 3.13 ERA  in 46 innings out of the bullpen, including going 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA in 24 games with the Yankees and setting up Mariano Rivera in the postseason with a 2.25 postseason ERA in 2010, Wood turned down millions of dollars ($3.5 million from the Chicago White Sox) just to come back to the Cubs.

His fastball was loud like the streets of Chicago, his curveball was deceptive like Chicago politics and he handled his business with no need for recognition just as Chicago sits silently between the obnoxiously loud cities of New York and Los Angeles.

It’s not often a soft-spoken Texan can become a symbol for the city of broad shoulders, but Kerry Wood was and always will be Chicago.

After all, if shunning the White Sox doesn’t make you part of Chicago, nothing will.