I’m really going to try not to make this as cliche as it feels like it’s going to be, so I’ll just go ahead and rip the bandage straight off.
(Takes a deep breath)
Friday, April 27, is my last official day as The Chronicle’s sports editor. Even now I’m not sure if I should capitalize sports editor or not, and that’s fitting. Since early 2009 it’s been more an explanation of who I am than a formal job description.
Before we go any further, though: I have not been fired. (That’s the first thing I assume when someone’s leaving their job. I AM still a reporter, sort of.) There’s no scandal brewing. Security hasn’t stood watch while I box up my soup bowl, the 489 business cards I never seemed to have handy, my April 2009 copy of Maxim magazine and the 48-inch BigHead fiberboard cutout of my unkempt face.
I got a new job. I’ll leave out the gory details, but it doesn’t involve journalism or sports. I’m not moving, so I’ll still do a little part-time sportswriting and show up at games and probably spell your favorite player’s name wrong. I’ve also been asked to bring back my weekly news column (um, this one, I guess), so here’s a Power Rankings of career favorites or whatever.
Sports: Real hot take there, huh? I moved from the regular ol’ newsroom to sports in the fall of 2008. (I wasn’t all that into sports in high school, unless you count golf. I played in the state tournament my senior year and The Chronicle printed not only that I missed the Day 1 cut but that I finished dead last. I vowed to get revenge on Sam Bakotich for that and instead I just got his job when he quit. Life’s pretty weird.) It’s been an awesome run and I’ve always tried to take it seriously — because, to plenty of people, sports is a very serious matter — while bringing levity to the situation. If you can watch a slam dunk or a home run with a sense of awe, then you can laugh at a missed dunk or a kid nearly falling down while legging out a triple. At the end of the day it’s still a bunch of kids doing something fun.
Twitter: Look, part of the reason this job’s been so much fun has been this dumb app. I started an account in November of 2010 and I’ve tweeted 37,000 times since. Maybe like 10 of those tweets have been good, but the recurring jokes with unofficial Lewis County Sports Twitter Club have been great. I’ve been recognized based on my Twitter work more than my actual journalism work over the years, which is both cool and depressing. One time someone told me he signed up just to follow me, which I took as a compliment until I realized every time this poor guy opened the app he probably just saw a list of my thoughts and Twitter, to him, was just the “What’s Aaron Think?” box. And, for the last time, sorry about all the bad tweets.
Football: Confession time! I didn’t know a lot about football when I started in sports. I spent a lot of time on the Internet looking up football terms and how to keep stats and living in fear that someone like Bob Wollan would stop me in the middle of a question. “What do you mean you don’t know what a bubble screen is?” he’d ask, and then gather his 17 assistant coaches to call me a nerd and stuff me in a locker. I still don’t know a lot about football, really, but I can sniff out a fake punt and do the quick math for the gain on a 37-yard swing pass and recognize when someone’s playing a good game.
Highlights: Ivor Hoglund always brings pie to W.F. West’s home games and dishes it out to the press box crew at halftime, serving slices with ice cream and going into detail about where he acquired the ingredients. A group of red-blooded men (myself included!) going from talkin’ FOOTBAWL to fawning over homemade pie in a matter of seconds has never failed to crack me up. “Yeah, he should have decapitated him, but — oh RHUBARB! Ivor this is phenomenal, you’ve outdone yourself! — like I said, we’re getting absolutely murdered on the line.”
Baseball: If you want to see a future pro athlete in the Twin Cities, your best bet’s a baseball game. The odds aren’t GOOD, of course, because the chances of anyone going pro are still minuscule, but covering baseball has been a ton of fun. There was a stretch where the W.F. West-Centralia game had something like four future draft picks and about a dozen future college players on the field at the same time, which leads to some high-level competition. And this year’s W.F. West pitching staff is the best I’ve ever seen, which makes bailing on the whole sports editor thing kind of tough.
Highlights: Keeping with the “I don’t know what I’m doing here” theme, I had to learn to keep a scorebook when I started covering sports. (I mostly watched over Norm Forsyth’s shoulder in the W.F. West press box and listened to Norm and Snelly, the official scoreboard operator, debate hits and errors.) Now I can’t watch a game without a book in my hand or I won’t have any idea who’s winning, and in my head I determine whether or not every ball put in play in my 9-year-old kid’s Little League games is an error (the answer’s always yes).
Basketball: I stumbled into journalism just to watch basketball, and that’s part of what’s kept me around. I’d been on the job, officially, for less than a month when Bob Peters called and asked me to help with teams and MVPs for the SWW Senior All-Star Games and I was floored. “That’s part of my JOB?” I thought. “I have MADE it!”
I still love basketball. We started the “Let’s Take About It” podcast because Matt Baide and I were arguing about basketball in the office every day anyway. I’ll still try to finagle my way into covering the state tournament in Spokane, because that’s the one perk of this job I probably would have done for free. (Sorry, management, I mean that I probably would have done for mere hundreds of dollars. Silly me, another typo!)
Highlights: Just Ron Brown in general. The only time I was legitimately bummed out that I coach retired was when Ron hung up his tie and jacket. He was always polite, he was subtly funny and I appreciated how seriously he didn’t take the outcome of games.
The People: I know, I know, I said I’d ditch the cliches and here I am throwing “I’ll miss the people the most” in there like I’m retiring from teaching after 50 years. But — and, look, it’s not like I’m about to cry over it — I’ve met a lot of great people over the years doing this weird job. Pete Caster, Brandon Hansen and Matt are awesome guys to work side-by-side with on the sports desk and at a game. News editor Eric Schwartz, for the last few years, was great about leaving the sports department to its own devices. I’m not even going to attempt a list of great interviews or funniest coaches or best players or anything like that, because there’s too many to count (I’m trying to hit for the cliche cycle at this point) and, let’s be honest, they already know who they are.
It’s been fun. I’ve got another week of this and then someone else can take over, and I’ll either have a crippling identity crisis or adjust to a regular schedule and get a hobby. If you’ve got suggestions for either of those, drop me a line.
Anyway, take it easy, and keep in mind it’s only sports.
Aaron VanTuyl is sports editor for The Chronicle and an occasional columnist.