When I was a kid, I only wanted to be a baseball player. That was not just the biggest dream I could come up with, it was more or less the only dream. I played other sports, of course, and I did other things, but I did not dream about them. I did not dream that I could be a professional magician or a comedian or an NFL quarterback. I did not dream that I could be President or a rock star. There was always a realism cell patrolling my mind like a policeman twirling a nightstick on a beat, stopping and frisking any dream that lacked validity.
“All right now, you, move along now before someone gets hurt,” the cell would say (in a cool Irish accent) to any dreams of being a movie star or an NBA point guard.
The only dream that ever got through was that baseball dream.
Funny, the baseball dream was no more realistic than the others … but my mind allowed it. I would fall asleep to visions of me making diving stops while playing second base at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. I would wake up with those visions still fresh in my mind. And all through the day, I would get lost thinking about it. There was something about baseball that slipped past the rational side of my constantly pessimistic self-evaluation. I couldn’t do much. But I could play ball. At least that’s what I believed about myself.
That was all a long time ago, and a million things have happened to me, the vast majority of them good things, impossibly good things, unreasonably good things. I got a sportswriting job while I was still in college trying to figure out what to do with my life. I got a columnist job in America’s golf mecca when I was 24 years old even though I knew nothing about nothing and even less about golf. I was hired again and again by brilliant people whose kindness and strength just happened to perfectly fit my life at that exact moment … I was like Mr. Magoo, walking aimlessly and blindly through a dangerous world and having construction beams move beneath my feet to give support. I couldn’t tell you what I did to have such karma. I can only imagine that my soul did some seriously selfless acts in a past life.
My life has been so lucky, that at some point I lost count — lost count of the number of Super Bowls, the number of World Series, the number of Masters, the number of Olympics. “A lot,” I would say when people asked. I covered sports on six continents, man! I saw just about every great athlete of this generation play and talked with almost all of them, man! I wrote cover stories for Sports Illustrated, and I worked on the best sports staff in America at The Kansas City Star, and I won an Emmy for NBC Sports, man!
And if this is beginning to sound like an obituary, like I’m about to tell you that I’m dying, well, no, I’m just overdoing it because I never feel like I have said thank you enough.
I’m not dying … quite the opposite … I’m going back to the beginning.
Starting in the new year, I’m going to write baseball for a living.
And I feel like that kid again.
You may note that I have bounced around jobs a bit the last few years. I certainly have noted that. It isn’t my nature, but I don’t need to tell you that the business I’m in is volatile. Staffs shrink. Advertising dies. Everybody looks to see how to make the future work.
I loved working at NBC. It was an absurd honor for me to work with such talented people — nobody, in my mind, does better sports programming. Those guys took a chance on me four years ago; and they did not have to do that. NBC is a television network, not a place for written storytelling, but they changed that just for me. There was no real money in it for them; they knew that the day they hired me. They hired me anyway because they believed in my writing. They stuck with me because they believed in my writing. I will forever be grateful for that and for them.
But there are realities at great television networks too. And here I am, approaching 50 years old, two daughters that refuse to stay 10-years-old no matter how many times I ask them, and I found myself asking: What do I WANT to do? Do I want to keep spending half the year on the road? Do I want to cover more Super Bowls and more Olympics and more World Cups? Do I want to keep living the way I have been living for 30 years?
Sounds like a pretty great life to me.
But I realized, no.
I realized that what I want — what I really want — is to write baseball.
And, one more time, I was given this wonderful gift, the latest four-leaf clover in a life filled with them. I will write baseball. I will talk baseball. I will live baseball. I won’t go into the details now. But it’s baseball.
I’m a very different person now than I was at 9 or 10 — at least I hope so — but you know what’s crazy? That dream, the one I had then, it never really went away. I’ll never get to make that diving play at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, no, because the Stadium is gone and my knees are gone, and I never could hit the curveball anyway. But this, writing baseball, this is the grown up version of that dream. And the policeman in my mind twirls his nightstick happily and smiles just a little smile.