Memories of a sportswriter

The first game I ever coveredfor The Eagle was in the winter of 1974. The guys who assigned coverage in those days, Rod Smith, was in a pinch. I had just been hired to work on the phone crew, an unglamorous job in which my function was to answer phones and type up box scores. And to keep my mouth shut.

No, it wasn’t like that. My recollection of those early days at the newspaper are wonderful. There were a bunch of good guys in the sports department at the time and we all got along well. As a rookie, I was treated mostly with total indifference by the veterans on the staff.

Anyway, the first game I covered was Andale at Cheney. Or Cheney at Andale. I can’t remember the location, but I remember the teams. And for me, it still resonates above most of the other assignments I’ve had at The Eagle over the past 38 years. And that’s because it was the first.

I think The Eagle ran about six or eight inches of my story, which was barely a story. Let’s just say it wasn’t my best work. But it was the first, so it meant a lot to me and to my parents, who were just happy that I was gainfully employed. I’m pretty sure they thought I was the next Jim Murray (look him up) after that Cheney-Andale prose appeared in print. If so, sorry mom and pop – I vastly underachieved.

Murray’s columns were one of the highlights of the old Wichita Beacon back in the day. From when I was hired through about 1980, I believe, I worked for both the Eagle and the Beacon. Talk about fun times.

After writing a story for the morning paper, The Eagle, those of us who covered events would come in early the next morning to write a different story about the same game or event for The Beacon. It was especially challenging in 1977 and 1978, when I covered the Wichita Aeros, our town’s Triple-A baseball affiliate.

To this day, when I think some assignment might be taxing, I remember those days when I had to somehow find two angles for one game.

Working on The Beacon, even with the added duty, was a lot of fun. It was interesting working on a paper with a morning deadline. My recollection is that ours was somewhere around 10 or 10:30 so that the paper could start running on the press around noon. As a kid growing up in Derby, my parents took both papers. The Beacon arrived around 5, if I’m remembering correctly. And there’s no guarantee I’m remembering correctly.

It was big news when The Beacon folded, and those of us who worked for the two papers at the time were concerned. But we were also relieved, in a way, to have the operation streamlined and to focus our attention on just one newspaper.

One of my vivid memories about The Beacon was arriving in the sports department pretty early in the morning, between 8 and 8:30, and seeing a bunch of people already hard at work on a product. Newspaper people are notoriously bad about sleep habits and I don’t too many people in the business who cherish the notion of getting up at the crack of dawn.

But with an afternoon paper to produce, we had no choice.

Every morning that I walked into the sports department, I had to walk past Bill Hodge. At the time, he was the most prominent guy in the department and maybe at the whole paper. Hodge, a grizzled veteran by the time I started, had done it all. He had been the sports editor, the beat writer for Wichita State and the columnist.

The image you have in your head about a grizzled sportswriter fits Hodge, who died several years ago, perfectly. He was a boxer in his youth and he didn’t exactly embrace this new kid on the block with open arms. And since I had grown up reading his work and perhaps even aspiring to be like him someday, I didn’t push the envelope.

During a slow process, though, we started to have conversations. They were brief at first, probably no more than a couple of words. But over time, Hodge started to accept that I was not just some clown off the street (something many of you have still not accepted, by the way), and we began to develop a relationship.

I really came to like the guy and we even played golf together a few times over the years. He was crusty as all get out, but he had a good sense of humor and he got really upset with himself on the golf course when he hit a bad shot. I found that to be an endearing trait.

This was fun. I enjoy doing the Wednesday blog and thinking back to times like these. I appreciate you indulging me.