Leader Blues

Friday, August 28, 2009

SPORTS >> Happy to be off the sidelines and back in the game

By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor

Sorry it’s taken me so long to say hello.

About three weeks ago I landed here at The Leader feet first, which is a better way to land than to be carried out, I’m sure of it.

My on-the-job training has kept me pretty busy but, really, there was no rush to introduce myself. We’re not really strangers.

I live just up the road from our Jacksonville office in Cabot, which is a beautiful and ancient name that, when translated, means “no sidewalks.”

When I worked for the statewide daily, the Panthers, who play a few blocks down my street, were always the plum assignment on Friday night. Those guys know how to eat up the clock, and the quick games made it possible for me to have my story filed and be home in time for the first “Seinfeld”.

Well, that won’t happen anymore. No matter who I cover, as your new sports editor, I’m going to spend a lot of long Friday nights in the office waiting for the last game to be played and putting the section out.

And I can’t wait.

See, I believe you have to enjoy what you do. You have to have fun.

Oh I understand the importance of a paycheck, having been rescued from the ranks of the unemployed by The Leader’s dedicated publisher Garrick Feldman, and my talented predecessor Kelly Fenton, who put me up for the job then made the mistake of leaving me his phone number.

Kelly just wants to complete his move to New Jersey and write his memoirs. Instead, he is going to field a stream of calls from me on subjects like how to properly size a photo, the location of the Riverview roster and where to find the non-dairy creamer in the break room. Except Kelly thinks creamer is un-manly so he wouldn’t know where that is.

Though his disdain for rich, flavorful coffee may be unreasonable, Kelly put in a good word for me and I have a regular income again.

There is something I was missing just as much.

It’s the sportswriter’s version of the “green moment” fans enjoy when they enter a stadium and first lay eyes on the field. It’s a rush of anticipation, as when you begin that first big drop on a rollercoaster.

I’ve felt it driving to spring training sessions in Florida and Arizona, trying to keep a cup of hotel coffee balanced in my hand while zipping past the palms or the red rocks of the desert.

I’ve felt it watching special- teams players straggle onto the turf to warm up while fans trickled into places like Neyland Stadium and Kyle Field.

And I’ve felt it when pulling into a small town and catching sight of the lights on Fridays.

In words, the feeling reads something like, “Wow, I’m getting paid to go to the game!”

I’m looking forward to having that feeling again, because I believe sports, at their best, are about entertainment. At their best they are a pastime, a pleasant distraction from the daily grind. At their best they bring people together. They are fun.

I like humor in sports, goofy stuff. I like the unusual. And those are the things we’ll try to explore here.

But we’ll move forward understanding that sports have such a large role in our society, economically and socially, that we can’t ignore the bad news. When it’s called for, we’ll talk about the influence of money, for better or worse, and we’ll address the scandals and try to reveal the villains.

But we may not get to any of that for awhile, which is why I wanted to introduce myself now, while there’s time. I expect to be a little busy when football season kicks off, at least at first. So for a stretch we may just have to leave this space to the athletes and their glory.

Which is what it’s all about.

So I look forward to being back in the press box; I look forward to helping The Leader produce continued, quality coverage; I look forward to working with the astute Jason King, whose 18 percent accuracy on his Friday night picks is really, really scary.

Most of all, I’m just looking forward.

Let’s go. I bet we see something good.