When I was a teenager I truly wanted to be a sportswriter.
The first time I ever thought I could write about baseball for a living was in the spring of 1988. My dad had met a sports reporter for the Parkersburg Sentinel and told him that his 14 year-old kid knew a lot about baseball. The reporter, seeking an angle for a preseason article, asked me to write up my predictions for the coming season to compare to his own.
I spent a ton of time on mine, predicting not only the outcome of the pennant races, but postseason awards, random statistical events, and everything else I could think of. I typed it all out on the Speedscript word processor of my Commodore 64 – it was 15 single-spaced pages – and presented it to him. He had about a page and a half of handwritten notes with off-the-wall predictions like “Sam Horn will hit 50 Homers!” He ended up not writing the piece, but I kept the predictions. It was only Parkersburg, West Virginia and for all I know that guy was more frustrated political writer than he was sports reporter, but my predictions were better – and better-written – than the pro’s were. After that I knew I could be a baseball writer if I set my mind to it.
And for a while I did. Rather than just perusing Sports Illustrated I’d study it. I got baseball books by the armful from the library. I’d watch ballgames with the sound off, pretending I was in the press box constructing game stories of my own. I stopped merely following my own rooting interests and did my best to understand what was going on with every team in the game. Late in the summer of 1988 I went on a family vacation to New York. While there I made my dad take me all the way up to 116th Street so I could have my picture taken in front of the Columbia School of Journalism, believing full well that if I did so I’d somehow find my way back there again someday.
And then I lost my way.
As I progressed through high school, girls, music, theater, drink and drugs started to overtake baseball and writing on my to-do list. None of these vices – if they were vices – derailed me personally, even as they crowded out my journalistic ambitions. Indeed, dwarfing all but the girls were late 1980s dreams of material possession and status which did more damage to me than any drug could ever hope to do.
I recall a strange creative writing teacher my senior year who ambushed us all with a writing project that doubled as an exercise in psychological analysis. We were given different starting sentences each day from which we were to craft a story. I took my narrative in an intentionally sardonic direction, never pretending to take it seriously. For a week I wrote of human excess and despair, infusing it all with as black a humor as I could muster.
When the story was finished the teacher read portions of it to the class and used the teaching/psychological aide which had launched the exercise to tell me that my future held a well-appointed urban home filled with mahogany furniture, cutting edge electronics and top shelf liquor, but the absence of love and warmth.
And I thought that sounded sublime.