Category Archives: Sports columns

My World Turned Upside Down – What Hamilton has done for my daughter and me

As a kid, my family would occasionally visit my mother’s younger brother and his wife in Greenwood, S.C. Transplanted Minnesotans alike, my mother and Carl found the American south a welcome home. These trips usually included cold Coors Light for the adults, Carl’s homemade salsa for all, and, at times, an awakening for me.

Some trips would include a visit and a show nearby at the Abbeville Opera House. Tucked in a bucolic southern town square, it’s hard for me to remember which shows we saw there over the years and visits. But I do remember always enjoying the live theatre, whether I understood Neil Simon’s jokes or not, and watching with awe as the actors would come into the neighboring bar following the show, breezing past our table with confidence, charm and all eyes on them, ready for the nightcap and congratulatory salutations.

Years and adulthood later, I find my greatest joy is seeing my own daughter on stage. This precocious little girl – now, somehow, she’s 13 – starved for a spot on stage for years until she finally turned 8. That’s when Sanford, N.C.’s Temple Theatre allowed her first opportunity during a summer conservatory. Half a decade later, we find we have to redesign Allison’s resume. We can’t keep every role on one page.

I can look back on those trips to visit Carl and Gail and recall how much live theatre moved me then, as it does today through Allison. Although I could never be moved enough to perform myself, I have great admiration for those who can, and while speaking in front of a group is OK, acting in front of them offers me a window into terror.

And then there is singing.

Not only can I not carry a tune unless it’s housed in an iPod, nothing terrifies me more than the prospect of singing in front of other people.

I can’t sing. Everyone in my beloved extended family, though, can. My daughter, my lovely wife, my sister-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, the nieces, their dogs, cats, the wind outside their homes – it all comes with a lovely voice. Meanwhile, not only can I not carry a tune unless it’s housed in an iPod, nothing terrifies me more than the prospect of singing in front of other people.

Not that this would ever happen. In fact, going on 40 years now, it hasn’t. And I can’t imagine a time and place it ever will. That something I’ve never experienced remains perhaps my greatest fear, though, makes it no less relevant to me. While beautiful and soulful voices can move me to chills and to tears, I cannot be moved to join them, unless under my breath in a toneless whisper reserved for the empty car I drive.

Then came Hamilton.

Seeing Allison perform in everything from “To Kill a Mockingbird” to “The Music Man” to “A Christmas Carol” has helped add some cultural weight to my admittedly thin repertoire of knowledge, which before Allison, centered primarily on Chicago Cubs losses. And through her rehearsals and work on lines with her tireless “momager,” Allison’s talent has allowed me entry into a world I truly never knew. That said, my singing has always been out of the question.

Hamilton, though, has been different.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t to say I can rap – I can’t. Oh, oh, oh how I can’t.

But I can recite. And I can pick up and rip through a line or two – or three, four, or entireties of “My Shot” and “Yorktown”with Allison. Or with my wife. Or at the top of my lungs in the car with the sunroof open.

Hamilton has given me a voice.

We blast this incredible cast album on every ride to school, on every trip to Grandpa’s, between every dance song at her 13th birthday party a week ago.

I, like the rest of the world not named Ron Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda, knew little of Alexander Hamilton beyond the $10 bill before 2015. But history speaks to me, and Chernow’s book, this show and Miranda’s couplets and genius all speak to me.

They speak to Allison, too. Allison and I trade lines from Hamilton every single day. I write a verse on her coffee cup at 6:40 every morning. I fill in the historical context from my study of the brilliant founding father for her. We blast this incredible cast album on every ride to school, on every trip to Grandpa’s, between every dance song at her 13th birthday party a week ago.

We share Hamilton. In words, and in song.

Finally, this week, we saw Hamilton. My wife and I bought tickets months and months ago, sat on our secret until Christmas morning (see the video above), and since have counted down the days. Now, finally, we’ve had our moment.

I had chills. I had tears.

And I sang…with my daughter.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Sports columns

What Fayetteville State meant to me

BY ALEX PODLOGAR

I have a recurring dream that I’d wager is not unlike one many people have.

It’s the same every time. I wake up in a UNC dorm room, and realize within seconds that a class I thought I had dropped in the semester’s first week is actually still on my schedule. This isn’t my fault, necessarily. I had dropped the class, and thus hadn’t returned to it for the remainder of the semester.

But apparently there was a glitch, and I am still on the active roll.

And it’s the day of the final exam.

Panicked, I don’t know what to do. There’s no way I can pass the class, and there’s really no use in attempting to take the final. Yet I fly in eight different directions trying to get ready and dash out of my room, trying desperately to remember what building the class is in, what room number, and how to even get there.

The dream usually ends here. I never see the exam, and I never know what the subject is. I don’t know why I have this recurring dream, or what it says about me, my psyche or, well, anything. Nothing like this ever happened to me while in college, and I don’t usually feel this overwhelming sense of dread in my daily life, whether at work or at home.

And yet I occasionally find myself anxiously sitting up in bed, dead of night, my lovely wife of nearly 14 years sound asleep beside me.

What’s odd is that for much of my professional life, I’ve been surrounded by people who go back to school for a master’s degree, or whatnot. And I’ve been steadfast in my claim that I have no real desire to ever go back to school, despite knowing what I know now. Some sort of term paper doesn’t frighten me, what with my career spent in writing, to the point that I’d either throw one together in the 5 minutes after the assignment is issued or do exactly what I always did – wait until the last minute and write it overnight. Who knew such procrastination was really just practice for a life of writing on deadline?

And I had a lot of practice.

What I failed to realize until recently was that I indeed, while feeling stuck in a career and an industry that seemed to be falling in on itself in a way only Stephen Hawking could appreciate, found new promise and hope in doing exactly what I said I had no earthly desire of doing.

I went back to school.

My lovely wife can tell me now that two years ago, she could read it all over my face. The drain of being a small town sports editor for a daily newspaper for over a decade had taken its toll on my countenance. I needed something new to reignite the engines, and needed to find an industry that hadn’t been crippled by the emerging media age.

I found that at Fayetteville State University. And I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity granted to me by Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations Adrian Ferguson and Director of Athletics Edward McLean. Their patience with me as I learned the ropes of sports information – essentially the other side of the coin from my previous profession – has enabled me to grow as a person in ways I could’ve never imagined.

I found a renewed fervor in my writing, and a passion for helping media members in any way I could. I might have been passed over when applying for an open position here and there in the past, but I took great pride in getting reporters the information they needed – and getting it to them when they needed it (if not before) and exactly how they needed it. I understood all along where they were coming from, and aimed to be as helpful as I could. When that small detail or statistic I gave a reporter surfaced in a story, I beamed as though my byline was on it. The masses may not have known where that stat came from, but the reporter did. I reveled in that.

I’ve taken great joy in following the student-athletes at Fayetteville State, in all sports. I smiled at the sight of Richard Medlin returning to Capel Arena after signing an NFL contract, and I stood when John Herrington’s heave from beyond midcourt rattled home to beat Elizabeth City State.

I’ve cringed at the fumbles, and ached at the last-second losses. I’ve shut my mouth and cast a downward gaze in silent locker rooms, and high-fived behind closed doors in jubilant celebration after a buzzer-beating Sidney Evans 3-pointer on the CIAA’s grandest stage.

I’ve put in long hours, and I know at times I’ve made Adrian Ferguson’s worse hours feel even longer. Still, I’ve never once felt like an outsider since stepping foot on campus, and the camaraderie and support felt in these offices overlooking the hardwood of Capel Arena are unique.

These kids you root for here are one thing. The people you meet are another. To list them all and their impact on me as a person and a professional would weigh this down even more, but it is my sincere hope they know who they are. Should they have any doubt, they need only to refresh the athletic department staff directory on FSUBroncos.com. They are all listed there.

To come into a new field and be accepted immediately despite what had to be the frustration of dealing with the new guy is something that is truly rare. The sports information directors of the CIAA – I include Eric Moore and Shera White as well – is a group whose talent, ability, reputation, doggedness and iron will should never be questioned. To have worked with them has not only been a great pleasure, but a staggering learning experience in the fine arts of teamwork and professionalism.

(In addition, allow me to thank FSU Chancellor James A. Anderson, who would often take a moment to send me an email after he had read something by me he liked. It meant a lot, every single time. Every. Single. Time.)

And so it is with equal parts excitement and sorrow that I’ve come to a point where I am leaving Fayetteville State Athletics. I’ve accepted a position as the Content Manager for Pinehurst Resort, home of Donald Ross’ famed Pinehurst No. 2 golf course and host of the 2014 U.S. Open and 2014 U.S. Women’s Open.

It will be a big step for me professionally, not unlike the step I made when I left behind newspapers for Fayetteville State a little less than two years ago. But it is one in which I know I am ready and capable of excelling.

Were it not for Fayetteville State, though, I know I wouldn’t feel so confident.

Though I said I’d never do it, I went back to school. And it’s the best thing I could’ve ever done professionally.

Of course, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen at colleges and universities around the country.

And, clearly, it happens at Fayetteville State.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sports columns

Butch Davis should return to Heels’ sidelines

Butch Davis should not be fired.

I was one of the first to say it. Allow me, then, to be one of the first to say I was wrong.

When the NCAA violations and player-agent relationship revelations were coming to the surface at the beginning of this football season, and I was in the “Fire Butch Davis” camp. You don’t cheat at our University. Not at North Carolina. Maybe Davis didn’t know what was going on, and maybe there was nothing he could’ve done about it had he known it was going on, but the head coach of a major college program is the face of that program. And it was his signature hiring of the shady assistant coach, the one who brought these violations onto the University in the first place.

Maybe everybody is doing it, and maybe the system is broken. Those are points that can be argued, and have been throughout a tumultuous NCAA vs. College Football season. The problem was North Carolina found itself not merely in the middle of it, but at its epicenter. And that’s not the kind of scrutiny proud Tar Heel alumni will stand for.

Until now.

Davis’ job at UNC still probably isn’t on the firmest ground even after a trhilling Music City Bowl 30-27 double-ovetime victory over a .500 Tennessee team on Dec. 30. And, for all of the reasons mentioned above, maybe it shouldn’t be. If Davis is let go, I as one UNC alum will understand. It’s the price he and the University would have to pay for the ugly repercussions that led to 14 Tar Heels’ players being suspended — seven of them for the entire season — because of the NCAA problems. Winning is nice, but not at the cost of shame and rules-breaking.

But it was that win over the Vols that was emblematic of what the Heels were like as a football team — as a direct, highly-visual representative of the University — that enables those aforementioned proud alumni the opportunity to consider moving past the Season That Coulda Been with an ounce of actual pride in the process. Yes, there were injuries, quite of few of them, in fact, but every team every year deals with significant injuries. And the depth and talent issues in any given week that the Heels faced were brought on by none other than the program itself.

Still, UNC played the season with a vigor and relentlessness that we all want to see out of our teams each time they step onto the football field — and the composure they showed in a chaotic fourth quarter and overtime against Tennessee was stunning. There is one thing worse than a team allowing its vast talent to waste away and string fans along through a season of underachievement. And that’s a team that licks its wounds, shrugs its shoulders and turns it back on trying because it feels defeated the moment the opening kickoff is in the air.

The Heels never gave up on a season in which its promise was derailed for good before the opening game. Through the tumult, through the harsh stares and hard questions, the Heels kept on playing football and going forward through the season with a fight and a manner that can make fans and alumni, if not proud, then at least appreciative.

The players booted from the team for various reasons may have been the story of UNC Football this season. But at the end of the season, they weren’t the faces of the program.

And for that, Butch Davis deserves a second chance to rebuild North Carolina Football — the right way.

1 Comment

Filed under ACC, Alex Podlogar, College Basketball, Designated Hitter, North Carolina Tar Heels, Sports, Sports columns, UNC Tar Heels

A handshake, a smile and a conversation with my hero, Ron Santo

RIP, Ron Santo

September 1999. The Cubs are out of it.

But we — my best friend Mike and myself — are in it. “It” being our longtime destination of all time — Wrigley Field.

A throwaway late-season series between the Cubs and Cincinnati Reds was meaningless for much of the baseball world. Two teams going nowhere, even if Sammy Sosa was having another monster year after an MVP season in which he led the Cubs to the playoffs.

Looking back, the Cubs, with too many September roster expansion players who had no business on a Triple-A field, let alone in Wrigley (Ruben Quevedo, anyone?), treated the series for exactly what it was. After a towering Sosa three-run shot onto Waveland Avenue in the first game on Friday — Mike and I could trace the ball’s flight from 20th-row seats behind home plate for our very first Wrigley experience — the Cubs didn’t score again for the rest of the weekend. Our first trip to see our boyhood beloved Cubs, and they go the last 22 1/3 innings without touching home plate. We were swept out of our first Wrigley visit.

Honestly, that didn’t matter so much to us. We got to see the cathedral, the Church of Baseball, and despite the long faces that appear in a couple of postgame photos we had taken of us behind the Cubs’ dugout, Mike and I look back fondly on the trip.

And Ron Santo was a huge reason why.

Sunday’s game was an ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” game, for reasons probably lost on the network itself. Ryne Sandberg sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the Seventh-Inning Stretch (Caps are necessary for this at Wrigley) and we had a great view of him leaning out of Harry’s window. Mike and I had seats along the third base side, low in the upper deck, between third and home. It was a beautiful Chicago night (if you don’t count the baseball), with a brilliant view of the North Side skyline beyond the ivy and bricks.

After the game, Mike and I lingered in our seats. We had to leave at 5 a.m. for the drive home the next morning, but wanted to soak as much of Wrigley in as we could. We were two of the last the leave.

Ronnie always said what we fans said -- only he had the microphone.

A great thing about Wrigley is that the stadium is so simple. Even the bathroom troughs have some charm. The concourse, especially at that time, was the only way for fans to get to the upper deck, or for the media to get to the pressbox. We watched Sandberg walk out after the 7th, in fact. And, if you are early enough to the ballpark, you might catch a player on his way into the clubhouse.

Finally, with the brightest lights dimmed, Mike and I left our seats and walked toward the breezeway. We make the first turn on the way down, and here comes Ronnie.

Santo is my biggest baseball hero. By far. Of course, he’s one of the greatest Cubs of all time. In fact, though Cooperstown is less of a shrine without him, he’s one of the game’s greatest third basemen. But that was before my time. I loved Ronnie for a lot of the reasons people my age loved Ronnie — he is a Cubs icon, as much for his playing days as for his radio broadcast career on WGN Radio. Ronnie can’t just be called a homer, which he was, because was the ultimate fan, only with a microphone in front of him. When Brant Brown missed the easy fly ball that would have put the Cubs into the playoffs a day earlier in 1998 (thank you Neifi Perez), Ronnie said what the rest of us said: “OH NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!”

But Ronnie was more than that to me. My mother fought juvenile diabetes for most of her life, as did Ronnie, in a time when few people, not to mention doctors, really understood the disease. When Santo played ball, he didn’t always treat his diabetes with insulin; many times he ate a candy bar and drank a coke. For six years, even his teammates didn’t know he played with the disease. Knowing all that, go back and look at his numbers again.

And so Santo’s unbelievable charity work for diabetes hit home with me. My mother went through two major heart surgeries, a kidney transplant in 1985 (she was her surgeon’s 50th transplant patient), numerous eye surgeries that still couldn’t save her sight in her left eye and intense pain in her extremeties. She eventually lost her fight four years ago, but along the way, Santo had his own heart trouble, had both legs amputated, and finally, on Dec. 3, 2010, lost his fight to bladder cancer.

Neither were ever known to complain about the illness. Ever.

But 11 years before this sad day, Ronnie was walking toward us, striding, I can still see through my teary eyes this morning, on his own legs. There’s no one around us. No one. It’s that late after a sold out baseball game. Somehow, we muster up the courage to say hello to Ronnie.

And Santo stops cold. “Hey guys, where ya from?”

One of us: “North Carolina.”

Santo: “Really? That’s great. You came all the way here from North Carolina?”

Me: “We even drove it.”

Mike: “Yeah, we were here for the whole series.”

Santo: “No kidding? Wow. Sorry we couldn’t have played better for you boys.”

Mike: “That’s OK. It’s nothing new.”

Santo: “Well, you got that right.”

Me: “Thanks, Ron. Thanks so much.”

He shakes both of our hands. “You guys be safe going home, OK?”

“Yes, sir.”

If only Ronnie had some clue as to what I meant in saying thanks. If only I had the time or the nerve to tell him why I had to say thanks.

But hell, I could barely breathe.

Mike and I still talk about that moment, and we laughed and cried with Santo for the next several years thanks to the beauty of MLB broadcasts on XM Radio. (“Hey, did you hear Santo when we couldn’t move the runner over in the fifth?” “Yeah, he was still groaning about it and saying, ‘Geez!’ in the 11th.”)

Today, though, we’re mostly crying.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to shake my hero’s hand. I didn’t need a picture. I didn’t need an autograph.

I had a moment with the man. And, on his way home, he was kind, generous, engaging and actually interested in what my best friend and I had to say.

Just because we were good fans.

Ron Santo, I will miss hearing your voice when the days are warm.

But I will never forget what it sounded like.



I'll miss you, Ronnie.

7 Comments

Filed under Alex Podlogar, Chicago Cubs, Designated Hitter, Major League Baseball, Ron Santo, Sports columns

Donnie Baseball is back in my life — again

I have this poster, too. Of course I do. It's my favorite of all time.

It’s official. I’m officially a partial L.A. Dodgers fan now.

The Dodgers announced Friday that Joe Torre would be stepping down and Don Mattingly would be taking over, finally ascending to a managerial job he seemed destined for in New York three years ago.

It didn’t happen then, but it’s happening now, and, as I was then, I’m torn. I wrote about this three years ago. Here it that column, from October 2007.

 

I’m torn.

Oh man, am I torn.

I always had a feeling something like this would happen, and now it appears as if it may.

Hey, I like and respect Joe Torre. And anybody who has read my blog knows that I think the guy got about as raw a deal from George Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ brass as anybody in The Boss’ blustery tenure.

But now it looks like the leading candidate to replace Torre is Don Mattingly.

And for me, that’s great.

And terrible.

Every kid who grows up playing baseball has a favorite ballplayer. But for every kid who thinks working on game-time situations in baseball practice is the greatest thing since the annual arrival of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, well, having a favorite ballplayer is something different entirely.

It’s the root of fanaticism. Of hero worship. Of idolatry.

And for me, the diminutive middle infielder who could barely hit his weight but could bunt his butt off, my guy was Donald Arthur Mattingly, New York Yankees first baseman. No. 23 in pinstripes, No. 1 in my heart.

I was that kid. In my room growing up, two of my walls were dedicated to Donnie Baseball. Posters, Beckett Baseball Card magazines. Newspaper clippings. Cards. T-shirts. Anything and everything Mattingly, it went up on the walls.

I can’t explain this. Honestly, I can’t. It should have been Ryne Sandberg. It could have been Mark Grace. I’m a Cubs fan, one in a generation that was brought up on WGN and Harry Caray and 2 p.m. summer baseball games on 24-channel cable systems. That was me.

But it was Mattingly who did it for me.

Guts. Grit. No complaining. Just play ball, and dammit, play it well.

I can try to explain it, but I don’t ever get very far. I didn’t play first, though I did always play infield as a kid. But I was right-handed, and I sure as heck didn’t hit with the kind of thunder the Hit Man did before a back injury brought both him and me to tears. And I was never big enough to wear No. 23 on my back, not with little league jerseys being sized according to number.

But I did hit left-handed. That came from my dad, who, after a rather ignominious senior year of high school baseball at the plate, turned lefty for the first time in a playoff doubleheader and started clobbering the ball, even belting a home run.

His coach told him never to bat right-handed again, and when I came along, dad was foresighted enough to teach me the game from the left side. With a whiffle tee ball set, dad made sure I batted from the left side from the time I was 3, knowing that once kids started to throw curve balls, the ball would break into the strike zone to me. Not only wouldn’t I be scared, I’d be able to hit. This actually worked for a time and helped me onto a couple of all-star teams.

The stance -- and crouch -- that made him who he was at the dish. It also wrecked his career -- and prolonged mine.

And I can remember one time in high school, struggling badly with the bat, eschewing my stand-up batting stance for one like Mattingly’s low crouch, the one that eventually wrecked his lower back and derailed his rocket ride to Cooperstown. Leaning back into that crouch, moving my left shoulder back and down toward the catcher, I saw the ball a split-second longer and actually started making contact again.

Donnie Baseball was there for me, all along.

And now, more than 15 years later, he’s back in my life. He was the bench coach for Torre last season after serving as the Yankees’ hitting coach for three years. But in those roles, the pressure wasn’t ever on my guy, and the Yankees’ success or lack thereof didn’t necessarily have anything to do with him.

The Yankees are the Evil Empire now, though, which they weren’t when Mattingly was playing there. They are the towering symbol of all that is wrong with baseball’s economic structure. They are the franchise that accepts winning and nothing else. While that always sounds good on paper, it translates to a sour climate that has no real joy, only frustration at anything short of a championship and mere relief when it all comes together. What fun is in that? Who wants to be a part of that?

His time. My worry.

Except Mattingly may soon be the focal point of that monster. Should he get the job, every single little thing he says and every single little move he makes will be debated, dissected and, possibly, destroyed.

While Mattingly may be willing and able to take that kind of incessant heat, I’m not sure I can, and I’m not even a fan of the Yankees. It’s something deeper, really, something a shrink could probably have fun with.

Donnie Baseball.

What it comes down to is that I don’t want my favorite player to look bad. Not ever. It doesn’t matter that Mattingly is just a ballplayer, a guy I’ve never met who, for all I know, might in reality be the biggest jerk the world has ever known (although that’s unlikely, what with Barry Bonds still around). Why I should care about Don Mattingly’s legacy or reputation, I don’t know. I just know that I do. I imagine Mickey Mantle fans, cognizant now of Mantle’s alcoholism and his womanizing, feel the same way. Something you held dear from your childroom gets shaken, and when you look back, it all feels so phony, like such a colossal waste of time.

With Donnie Baseball at the helm, I realize that it would be his best shot at getting that elusive ring, and knowing my luck, it would come against the Cubs. But while it could mean undeniable glory for my main man, I also understand that the Yankees could destroy him, and that would get to me.

At the same time, I realize that I could never truly root against the Yankees.

At least not until they ran my guy out of town on a rail like they did Torre.

And then I would hate them, hate them like I’ve never hated anything in my life, and that would include the St. Louis Cardinals.

And so you could say I’m torn.

After all, I’m the guy who, at 23 years old, named his beagle puppy Mattingly in 1999.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alex Podlogar, Designated Hitter, L.A. Dodgers, Major League Baseball, New York Yankees, Sports, Sports columns

The ESPN Nerds commercial

I love this commercial. Love it.

I bet Keith Law, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan, et al, do, too. As they should.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alex Podlogar, ESPN, Major League Baseball, Sports, Sports columns

Stop the presses! For me, anyway

I'll miss you.

Nine years old. 1984. It’s been a big summer for my new favorite team. After moving to central South Carolina, my family got this thing called cable. There is a box that is actually connected to a long cable, or wire, and it has about 30 buttons on it. This thing changes channels.

One summer day a year before, I went through all of them, starting with 2 and going up.

I stopped at 9. Baseball was on. I love baseball. It was here my love affair with the Chicago Cubs began.

A year later, I’m getting ready for school. It’s morning, and it’s September. The Cubs are in a pennant race, and I’ve got to know.

No internet. No web. Heck, no time for ESPN.

Thank goodness for the newspaper.

Cubs win. Right there in black and white.

Middle School. Seventh grade. An avid sports page reader, I clip articles about all of my favorite athletes and post them on my bedrom wall. Don Mattingly. Ryne Sandberg. Kirby Puckett. Larry Bird. Art Monk.

I already know what I want to do with my life. The middle school doesn’t have a school paper. I ask if we could start one. One teacher, Mrs. Satterwhite, says we can use her planning period and classroom to get it up and running.

Myself and three other students join in. One of them is the one girl every 7th-grader wishes would just talk to him, much less hang onto him at the school dance. Way out of our league. Turns out she’s just a normal kid, and kind of a dork, like the rest of us. Interesting. Anyway, the L-E Post is born (for Lugoff-Elgin Middle School). It’s more newsletter than newspaper, for sure.

But it’s ours.

I’m hooked.

Senior in high school. 1993. My third year on the school paper. No other Pinecrest student had ever done that before. Maybe nobody wanted to. The teacher, Mrs. Boyer, had to get a special exemption to make it happen, since there was no Journalism III class.

But it was my year to be a Co-Editor, after being the Sports Editor my junior year. Paula B wasn’t going to take that away from me.

A friend has a fantastic idea. James Moore has been the girls’ basketball coach at Pinecrest for eons and has a couple of state championships in his hip pocket. Beautiful man. Pinecrest’s gym isn’t named for anyone, but it should be.

I agree. I write a back page column, “The Senior Voice.” Coach Moore doesn’t want any fuss, won’t comment.

But Felton Capel will. He goes to the Moore County School Board and the ball is rolling. You don’t turn down Felton Capel. Not in Moore County. His presentation includes my column.

A year later, I come home from Chapel Hill for “James H. Moore Day” at Pinecrest. I sit on the dais and even get a moment to speak. Coach Moore’s name adorns the gym’s wall now.

It wasn’t necessarily my idea. Credit my buddy Neil Oakley.

But I had the pen and the keyboard.

The future is now.

A part of freshmen orientation at Chapel Hill. Parents are invited, and we go to a discussion catered to our prospective major. Naturally, we’re in the Journalism and Mass Communication hall.

After a brief presentation, we mingle with professors and such. My dad and I strike up a conversation with one. We talk about the future. The man says one day we’ll all be able to have newspapers in our hands on small electronic devices. There may not even be paper involved anymore.

This is 16 years ago.

I go cold.

"Shoe," patterned after, "Shu."

Summer school after sophomore year. Done with my general college requirements, I jump into more J-School stuff. Who do I draw for Newswriting? Of course. Jim Shumaker.

“Shu,” the inspiration to the comic strip “Shoe,” is about 4,372 years old. He cuts an intimidating figure still. But it’s his sandpaper voice and fierce red pen that get you. Day 1, he tells us nobody will get an A in the class. “I’ve done this 50 years,” he growls. “There’s nothing you 20-year-olds can do that I can’t find fault with.”

There are 20 of us. One day he asks the room, “How many of you want to do TV?” Half the hands go up. “Uh-huh. And how many of you want to go into PR?” The other half go up. “Jesus H. Christ. Anybody here still want to go into newspapers?” My solitary hand goes up. “G-dammit, at least there’s one of you.”

Wish he was still vertical.

Shu gets me two summer jobs at Chapel Hill newspapers over the next two years. Not internships. Jobs. He gets the papers to pay me as a correspondent.

Newswriting with Shu. The proudest A-minus of my life.

The good ol' days, I bet.

I’m gonna marry this girl. She’s amazing. I’m young, but I don’t care. God, she’s the one. No semblance of doubt.

But it would be nice to have a job.

The Daily Courier in Forest City, N.C., obliges. Of course they do. I have a pulse. Football season is 15 days away and they need somebody. The football preview edition has to be done in 13 days.

But I’m enthusiastic. And it’s a sports job. Not bored of education, or cops and courts, or general assignment. And as a one-man sports department, it even comes with a Sports Editor title. Done deal.

I arrive with eight days to get the preview section done. Eight pages. Three high schools. Terror sets in.

Somehow I get through it, and the next six years.

That great woman has given me a wonderful little girl. We’re looking at bigger houses. One night at work, the past managing editor asks if I had checked the job sites lately.

The Sanford Herald has an opening for a sports editor. That’s half an hour from my hometown. And mom has been sick.

And it’s a two-man sports department.

No-brainer.

The news.

It’s been a helluva ride for the last six years. To say that I’ve loved every single minute of it would be something less than the full truth, but when I look back on this time down the road, I’m sure I’ll view it exactly that way.

About a week after I got to Forest City straight out of college, a spectator at a football game told me I had big shoes to fill to match my predecessor, who had been there 11 years. I had hoped when it was time for me to leave The Courier, someone might say the same thing about me.

I’ve heard that happened, but I don’t know if it was true. Hard to believe my buddy Fisher sometimes. And, I will admit, fully aware how selfish it is, that I do hope someone may say something close to that again now.

More News.

Because I am leaving The Sanford Herald.

And, for now at least, and maybe forever, newspapers.

I’m not sure what Shu would think. Then again, he had to realize one day that teaching was the right avenue for him to take. And so that’s what he did in the last years of his life, until the retort, “Still vertical” could no longer be the answer to the question, “How are you, Shu?”

But I am staying in media, just in another capacity. I’ve accepted the position of Assistant Sports Information Director at Fayetteville State University, and I am thrilled about the opportunity to serve that proud institution.

There are too many people to thank personally for fear of leaving someone out, but they range from Mrs. Satterwhite to Paula Boyer to Jim Shumaker to Wister Jackson and Jim Brown at The Courier to Bill Horner III at The Herald. But to every person who has ever said something to me — good or bad, agree or disagree — about something I wrote, I owe you all the most precious and heartfelt of thank yous.

There is something about newsprint. Thumb through a newspaper, and the newsprint’s coal-like sheen will effortlessly cover your fingertips.

But it takes soap, water and some scrubbing to wash it off.

If only it were really that easy for me.

Alex Podlogar has been The Herald’s sports editor for six years and five days, since Aug. 16, 2004. Continue to read his blog at designatedhitter.wordpress.com and follow him on Twitter @alexpodlogar. The Herald will continue to publish a periodical column by Podlogar.

11 Comments

Filed under Alex Podlogar, Designated Hitter, Sports, Sports columns, The Sanford Herald