“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” — A.A. Milne, "Winnie The Pooh"
In December 2010, I walked through the doors of the MASN web studio on the fifth floor of the Camden Yards warehouse and into the best job I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a few jobs, from cleaning the bathrooms at a Dunkin’ Donuts to years in newspapers as a reporter and editor to a gig as a public relations executive and a soul-crushing stint in a publishing house, from which I was laid off as the economic downturn of 2008 was just beginning.
That exit from the publishing world, where I edited everything from travel guides to a compendium of lawyers and law firms in Philadelphia, was especially painful. It came out of the blue; I had misjudged the landscape, thinking that our three-person editorial staff that handled about 80 projects a year was safe. But with profits cratering and no one advertising, something had to go – and that something was me.
To make ends meet for most of the next three years, I retreated into baseball, my part-time vocation since 1993, working for anyone who would offer a job and a few bucks – The Associated Press, MLB.com, out-of-town daily newspapers. I worked all of spring training on my own dime and 13 of every 14 days during the regular season, praying that the paychecks arrived in time to cover the mortgage, car payment and health insurance bills. Most times they did, but I had to be creative.
Creativity has never been a challenge for me. Nor has following the national pastime, which was always my intended path, even if I took a roundabout route to get there. But the 14-year-old kid who went to junior high school an hour early to pore over the box scores in the morning paper, the youngster who played APBA Baseball and then in Rotisserie leagues, the guy who made his major league press box debut at 33 and marveled at the opportunity to step onto the field of a big league ballpark and talk to managers and players wasn’t deterred.
For nearly three decades, I’ve been proud to call the ballpark my office and respite. No matter how bad a day I had in the hospital public relations world, no matter how challenging the grumpy lawyers who missed the publication deadline were, no matter what was happening in the media world, the ballpark was my happy place. I mean, c’mon – I was being paid to watch baseball games, talk to players, and write about what I saw and heard. I watched no-hitters, sparking defensive plays, covered locker room celebrations and witnessed Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,130 and 2,131 games, plus Ryan Zimmerman’s entire career with the Nationals, from the day he was drafted to his final at-bat.
But all good things must come to an end, and today marks my last day as the managing editor at MASNsports.com. The choice to leave was mine, born of a desire to spend more time enjoying life, trading 17-hour days and 80-hour weeks in front of televisions and computer monitors for a bayside condo in Ocean City, Md., and the opportunity to spend time with the friends I’ve too often had to put off. Soon, my biggest decision will be whether to go north or south when my feet hit the sand.
Though I still love baseball, I’m looking forward to the next chapter. I’ll still go to the ballpark, although they’ll more likely be minor league games where the next generation of players are honing their skills. And unlike the last 30 years, I can leave early if and when I want. No more waiting out rain delays and games that reach the fourth inning at the two-hour mark. No more late night West Coast games, for which I mainlined Diet Coke to stay awake. No more extra innings.
But it will be an adjustment. As the A.A. Milne quote atop this post suggests, I’ve got much to be thankful for. And there will be much – and many - that I will miss.
For so many years, I’ve been blessed to work with some of the best people I’ve ever met. Dave Ginsburg was my boss with the AP in Baltimore, and he became equal parts friend and mentor, teaching me how to efficiently and effectively write about baseball. Ben Walker, the AP’s baseball editor for many years, was always in my corner, kicking me in the ass when I needed it and challenging me to be creative and have fun while doing it. The late Joseph White was the AP sports editor in D.C., and he entrusted me with a new baseball team in town and gave me free reign to deliver Nationals news to the wire. I've been working with AP since 1980, so my roots are deep and they've always made me feel more like a teammate than a freelance writer.
MASN has been a rewarding place to work, an office where I was allowed to do what I do best – let some of the most hardworking ballwriters in the business do their thing while I took care of the mundane details like editing their copy and choosing the photos that accompanied their stories. I’ve traveled the Grapefruit League for years with longtime D.C. radio voice Craig Heist and Bill Ladson, for many years the Nats’ MLB.com writer. We debated, argued and laughed – sometimes in the same conversation. I’ll always remember nights at Carlucci’s in Fort Lauderdale or Sonny’s BBQ and Bonefish Willy’s in Melbourne.
MASN readers are spoiled – they read the work of dedicated journalists who are embedded with the teams they cover, who give up their lives to make sure every nugget of news is dispersed as soon as possible, and who rarely get the credit they deserve for their long hours and never-ending deadlines. That’s the dual-edged sword of a baseball web site: You make your hay by feeding the beast, and if you’re lucky enough to do it well, your audience becomes a master that is sometimes difficult to satisfy.
No one on the Orioles beat matches Roch Kubatko’s dedication and passion for his craft or Steve Melewski’s knowledge of the club’s burgeoning farm system, which will eventually turn a painful rebuild into the next chapter of a wonderful baseball legacy. Mark Zuckerman has been with the Nationals since their inception – something no one else on the Nats beat can boast – and his readers have learned to trust his long history and innate contacts with the club, which has produced scoops and history that make his peers envious. Doug Miller has been my right-hand man on the editorial desk for the past six years; we first crossed paths as weekly newspaper writers for the Patuxent Publishing Co. papers and he played for the company softball team I managed. We’ve spent more nights together than we have with our families and friends over the past handful of years, and it’s been a blast, laughing and solving the world’s problems.
The MASN digital/social media team – Bobby Blanco, Paul Mancano, Brendan Mortensen, Amy Jennings and Tim Leonard – are creative wizards with a tremendous ability to connect with audiences on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, not to mention more podcasts than you can shake a Louisville Slugger at. They constantly amaze me with their pithy puns, their spot-on pop culture references (even if I don’t get them all) and their ability to cram more into a “MASN All Access” piece or podcast than anyone should be able to. Spiro Alafassos, the MASN web administrator, is the one who rescued me from the abyss in 2010, weeks before I was going to start applying for seasonal retail jobs to make ends meet. He often jokes that I was the “adult in the room” filled with 20-somethings; in reality, those hungry, hard-working kids energized me and made me feel young.
I’ve gotten to work with world-class public relations teams with the Orioles and Nationals, and will miss my ballpark family – parking lot and press box attendants, food service workers, ushers, security folks, police and maintenance crews. MASN is a big operation and I owe a debt of gratitude to the leadership, administrative folks, and those in programming, production and creative. We work hand-in-hand with some of the best broadcast teams I’ve ever heard and watched, and that awkward teenager of many years ago got to break bread and bend elbows with guys like Jim Palmer, Tom Davis, Rick Dempsey, Gary Thorne, Mike Bordick, Bob Carpenter, Dan Kolko, Charlie Slowes, Dave Jageler, Jack Hicks, Tom Paciorek and so many more.
There were so many good times – the Orioles’ return to relevancy from 2012-16; the Nationals arrival in 2005, then watching them morph from an also-ran to a contender; an All-Star Game in Washington D.C., in 2018; and the Nats’ magical run to a World Series title in 2019. I’ve met so many wonderful fans and they’re now some of my dearest friends. But there have also been challenges and disappointments. After all, with the good inevitably comes the bad. Three years ago, when my mom’s heath took a precipitous turn for the worse as Alzheimer’s muddled her mind and her body started to fail her, it was work that became a refuge, a place where things made sense – even for a few hours – when nothing else did. Family comes first, I was told, and I was encouraged to spend whatever time I needed to take care of Mom. Truth be told, while she prayed for me to get the MASN job, I know she disliked that it meant doing anything family-related between February and October was a monumental challenge. Nothing is as frustrating as calling Mom and telling her that the Mother’s Day game in Cincinnati is in a rain delay in extra innings and that dinner may or may not happen. But up until her final couple of years, we still made it to a Mother’s Day ballgame, whether it was at Nationals Park, Camden Yards, Harry Grove Stadium or Prince George’s Stadium. My first major league game was on Mother’s Day 1966, the day Frank Robinson hit the only home run that left Memorial Stadium. There’s something to be said for tradition.
And, to be honest, if you’re still reading this missive, I need to thank you. I’ve enjoyed replying to your comments in my blog posts and interacting with you on social media. I’ve enjoyed discussing baseball, drinking beers and cracking crabs with you. I’ve reveled in celebrating the good times and hoping that the rough patches pass quickly. I’ve never lost sight of the unique connection between writer and reader. Without you, the conversations would be awfully one-sided. Without you, we’d have no reason to do what we do. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, and I hope you’ve been informed, educated and entertained. Thanks for keeping me on my toes and making me want to deliver better coverage. I will miss seeing you at Orioles FanFest and at Nationals Winterfest, where the Half Street Irregulars know how to throw a party.
The day after that first ballgame in 1966, my dad sat at the breakfast table, reading me the morning paper’s recap of the mammoth home run that cleared the left field stands on 33rd Street. I remember chatting with him about what sports reporters do and telling him how cool it would be to do that one day. Years later, I got to tell Robinson that I was there that day; he grumbled something about it being a long time ago, but I was told by another Nats staffer that he respected the fact that I appreciated the game’s history. A lot of the managers I got to cover – Robinson, Johnny Oates, Davey Johnson, Ray Miller, Dusty Baker, Davey Martinez – revel in the game’s history. I majored in history, not journalism. Talk about matches made in heaven. My connection with Baker was forged during a spring game in Lakeland against the Tigers. He was rolling down the lineup of the 1968 World Series champs during his pregame sit-down with reporters, and he stumbled at Jim Northrup’s name, which I filled in, to his surprise. After other writers left to check Baseball-Reference.com to learn who the guys Baker was talking about were, Dusty turned to me in the dugout at Joker Marchant Stadium and said, “You know these guys?” I told him that was the era where I became a fan. He smiled at me. We had sometime in common, as that was the era when he first broke into the majors.
Well, dreams do come true, it seems. Mine sure did. I’ve been fortunate enough to cross paths with some of the more gifted writers the game has ever seen, rub shoulders with the best players in a generation, make friends with some of the most rabid fans, and ride a rollercoaster between wins and losses – and everything in between. Some baseball writers cringe at the thought of the Winter Meetings each December; I got a front-row seat to baseball’s busiest week, chasing down rumors in the lobby and making sure our readers knew if their teams were making moves. It was like Christmas morning, over and over again.
Yes, I will miss it. But there are new challenges to be conquered, new places to explore and new people to meet. I’ll still be on Twitter, so you can reach me there. I won’t be far away, just three hours to the east. And I’ll hold the memories of the past dozen years in my heart. I’ve never been good at goodbyes, so we’re not going to say farewell. This isn’t an end, it’s a beginning, and as a friend pointed out to me a few weeks ago, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
So I will see you down the road – maybe at a ballpark, maybe on the beach or boardwalk, maybe at the crab house. But you can be sure that the memories of the past dozen years will always be front of mind. I can’t thank you enough for welcoming me into your homes and timelines. It’s been a blast. And I thank you for being a major part of it.