Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Back Pages

Don’t let the hairline fool you: I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

For most Major League Baseball teams, yesterday was Opening Day. That’s always a fun occasion and a time to be hopeful, even if your team comes up short. Nobody ever goes 162-0.

I am hopeful too: not just about a baseball season in which my Pittsburgh Pirates have a legitimate chance to win their first division title since 1992, but also that my employment prospects are improving. I have been looking for a new job for almost three months. Thanks to a generous severance package from my last employer, I haven’t had to take just any job. Everything for which I have applied has been something I could imagine myself doing with satisfaction for years to come. My most recent job was in information technology, but I wasn’t always an IT pro and I might be something completely different in the future.

As a high school student, I wanted to be a journalist. Working part-time for the Racine Journal Times seemed liked a promising start. For the first two years I worked the telephones in the sports department, edited wire copy from the Associated Press, and learned good page design. My bosses thought I was too young to be taken seriously out in the field.

Things changed in 1984 when the Minnesota Twins moved one of their minor league franchises to Kenosha. Playing in the Midwest League, the Kenosha Twins would compete against affiliates of the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox, each of which had a strong following in Racine. We couldn’t ignore the Kenosha Twins, but we couldn’t afford to cover every game. As a compromise, we set up a Sunday feature called Minor League Notes. It was my baby. The emphasis was on the Kenosha Twins but I had the freedom to grab stories from every minor league team. I even got to cover a Brewers-Yankees game at Milwaukee’s County Stadium to see the contrast between the minors and “the show.”

Being a sports reporter was cool. I met a lot of big stars and got to experience things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. All these years later, it’s still true that the only NFL games I have attended are the three Green Bay Packers games on which I reported for the Journal Times. Those were good assignments: parking right next to the stadium, a pre-game buffet, a heated press box and someone else to keep the statistics. Most of my assignments were less glamorous. I covered a lot of Racine-area high school and college teams, plus individual athletes in just about every sport you can imagine.

But not cycling. I still have copies of every story from my Journal Times career—1982 until 1988—and I can’t find a single mention of cycling. We didn’t cover track racing at Kenosha’s velodrome, and there certainly wasn’t a road racing or mountain biking scene to rival what exists today. Perhaps most importantly, kids weren’t racing. Things would have been different if there had been a Wisconsin High School Cycling League back then, or a local racer as accomplished as Kaitie Antonneau. Even when Greg LeMond won the world championship road race in 1983 and the Tour de France in 1986, his victories were little more than footnotes.

A new media landscape led to more coverage when Americans dominated the Tour de France from 1999 through 2006. We were fascinated by the accomplishments … and later by the depths of the deception. Now it seems like we have taken a step back. We enjoy specialty news sources that didn’t exist in the 1980s, but mainstream American media once again regards bike racing as interesting only when it produces a high-profile doping case or a spectacular crash. Shimano’s bad day at the Tour of Flanders made the highlight reels on Sunday and Monday. ESPN probably still doesn’t know who won, but why would anyone care about that?

Would I go back to journalism if I had the chance? Maybe. I have dabbled in it occasionally since those early days at the Journal Times. In the 1990s I expanded my reach beyond sports and into the significantly less fun arenas of local government and school board meetings. Writing for a cycling publication would be a great marriage of personal interest and professional ability. But those positions are rare and the best of them are based in Europe. As my job hunt continues, I still hope to find something I can do for cycling here at home.

No comments:

Post a Comment