From an early age, I thought I wanted to write about major sports.
I was just a kid, scouring the newspaper for info on my favorite teams and players every day, reading Sports Illustrated from cover to cover every week.
I was just a kid, two weeks away from graduating from college, when I got hired as a sports reporter at The Frederick News-Post — a stepping stone to what would no doubt be a long career covering big-time beats the nationwide.
Early in my first year, I accompanied my boss to the Baltimore Orioles’ season finale in October 2000, back when the FNP still covered some pro teams, back when the Internet wasn’t in everyone’s pocket.
I was just a kid. The only place I’d seen major league ballplayers up close was on TV, in those periodicals I read and on the baseball cards I collected. But THERE THEY WERE. Right in front of me in the pregame clubhouse.
I mean, there was The Iron Man, Cal Ripken, leaning against the wall during a chat with one of my peers.
I was just a kid, but with a media credential dangling from my neck like a seal of approval, I’d arrived.
Arrived at Scowl Central.
There was Albert Belle ... scowling and daring reporters to approach him, as if they were some damn trick-or-treaters. (Google it.)
There was Delino DeShields ... scowling, shirtless (and more ripped than I’d imagined a middle infielder could be), seeming bothered and hardly bothering to look at the nerdy scribes as they congratulated him on being voted, by them, Most Valuable Oriole.
There was Mike Mussina ... scowling and using colorful language to tell the media that, no, he certainly would not be talking to us about his impending free agency, before brusquely turning around and never looking back.
There was manager Mike Hargrove in his office, informing the media that, no, he certainly couldn’t wait to get far, far away from “you [expletives]” after this lousy fourth-place season.
I was just a kid, but I should’ve known better.
I should’ve realized earlier that many pro sports figures distrusted and disliked reporters — the outsiders, the wannabes, the pests, the infiltrators.
So, there I was: just a kid, having arrived. And for the first time since I was maybe 11 years old, I doubted that I wanted to be there.
And that’s odd to recall, coming to a crushing career conclusion so soon. But it’s something that I thought of a couple of times recently when asked why I’ve stayed at the News-Post so long (apparently folks want me to go?) and why my talented staff has settled in, too.
Well, not everyone in this business gets to cover major league sports.
And, actually, not everyone in this business wants to.
After that initial Orioles experience — and similar others over the succeeding five years — I stopped doubting where I wanted to be or go. Because I knew.
I knew great stories didn’t only exist at grand places like Camden Yards. I knew they were in every nook and borough of places like Frederick County. And there wasn’t a horde of media clamoring to tell them, not to mention fewer scowls from the folks we try to tell them about. And there’s no better feeling as a journalist than telling a good story that no one else has told — until, perhaps, a larger, more well-endowed media outlet notices and tries their hand at telling it later (see: The Washington Post and ESPN recently featuring Walkersville’s Brittni Souder).
We get to chronicle the Baltimore Orioles’ Branden Kline (TJ) and Los Angeles Rams’ Rob Havenstein (Linganore) long before they become professional athletes. We get to detail why someone like the late Don Boyer was so important to the Middletown community, or explain what it means that FC Frederick is developing a soccer complex on the outskirts of the county.
As my staff embarks on another high school sports calendar, I can’t wait to see what stories will sprout around the county that we’ll get to deliver and follow. We don’t do it to provide pats on the back, and certainly not to receive any ourselves. We do it because they’re stories worth telling, because they matter to the local community — no matter how minor the sports scale may seem.
I was once just a kid who wanted to write about the sports I watched on TV and read about in national publications.
Eventually, though, I learned that I didn’t need to cover the big leagues to really write about the majors.
Joshua R. Smith is the News-Post sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @JoshuaR_Smith