Change happens. Sometimes it happens without warning.
I’m no longer the Penguins beat reporter for the Tribune-Review. This change came my way Monday morning, and if it is for the better it is not without mixed emotions.
I have never let anybody knows how much this beat meant to me. Here goes.
It’s meant EVERYTHING.
It’s meant opportunity.
It’s meant challenge.
It’s meant commitment.
It’s meant growth.
It’s meant disappointment.
It’s meant tolerance.
It’s meant friendship.
It’s meant wonder.
It’s meant fear.
It’s meant faith.
It’s meant life.
I don’t want to get too specific, for fear of not recognizing something or somebody important. There are people that I’ve worked with – and against – daily for the past eight years, and so many of those people have changed me for the better in ways they probably will never know.
I was a beaten beat boy when Tribune-Review executive sports editor Kevin Smith assigned me to the Penguins beat in October 2006. I had just spent a season covering the Pirates, and most of those nights ended with me knowing I could have done that job better.
I did not cover many games that first season with the Penguins. I wrote about an arena deal I was not sure would happen. Tribune-Review investigative reporter Andrew Conte allowed me to be his partner on that story, and it was so fun that upon its completion I offered our bosses to become a “sort of sports-news hybrid guy.”
I was told I’d be covering the Penguins, and that I better be as good as my bosses thought.
The readers can judge how I did. I think I held my own at the very least.
You’re not a fan when you cover a team, and I was never a Penguins fan during my time on the beat. Readers can’t understand that, but it’s the only way I knew how to operate. I didn’t care about their wins or losses, only the short- and long-term narrative that those wins and losses contributed to telling.
You’re also not a friend to the players, coaches and management. Readers probably think that isn’t true, but it’s something to behold how quickly you’re forgotten by and how quickly you forget the people to whom you spend so much time talking.
This is the job.
It’s a damn great job, too.
I’m a sports columnist now. I don’t know what that means. I’ll find out.
I can’t imagine liking anything more than covering the Penguins, being there for their remarkably quick rise to and fall from grace, chronicling a franchise go from possible relocation to so popular that games are always sold out.
They will win another Stanley Cup with Sidney Crosby, and somebody else at the Tribune-Review will write that game story and it will be amazing; but I’ll always have my moment, from June 12, 2009, and the lede I love so much: Kids, they grow up so fast.
I was 27 when this journey with the local hockey club started. I had energy to burn, but I had lessons to learn professionally and personally.
Now I’m scared and I’m thinking that maybe I ain’t that young anymore.
This beat was my life. It defined me. It crushed me and wrecked me and ripped my heart out, and I’ll miss all of that about it the most. I’ll miss the pressure to be on top of developments at the trade deadline and during free agency. I’ll miss the third-period comebacks that ruined game stories. I’ll miss the moments the readers never see between beat reporters and the athletes they cover. I’ll miss the jokes that only road-weary travelers can understand.
This beat changed my life, too. I made friends that will last a lifetime, stepped on lands I could only have otherwise imagined and saw things I may never believe.
Again, I don’t want to single out people because that isn’t fair. There are people within the Penguins organization who I’ve come to value as friends as much as professional colleagues. They know who they are.
At the Tribune-Review there are so many people that have supported, nurtured and worked with me on the beat – from editors to fellow reporters to photographers to designers to the world’s greatest night desk. I don’t know if anybody is as lucky as I am to work at a place where it feels like family, but I hope that is the case for everybody once.
One person must be named, however.
I met Josh Yohe in August 2009, and I’ll let him tell the story of how that went. Five years later we are as close as any beat partner I’ve known, and his friendship, patience and support has only helped me in ways that I really want to keep to myself.
Josh is the Keef to my Mick, the Animal to my Hawk, the Crosby to my Malkin – and, truthfully, I’ll take our chances against any one of those all-time tag teams.
Josh is the best young hockey reporter I know, and I’ll let that settle that.
Now, look, something else needs addressed before I sign off. That’s all of you.
It’s never been so easy between us has it, dear readers?
The only thing I’ve ever promised is that I wouldn’t pander. I never have, and I am proudest of that during my time on this beat. You deserved sincerity, even if it risked not being popular – and, boy, were there times I wasn’t popular.
I don’t know how we’ll get along in this new role of mine, but I’ll always hold the most special place in my heart for the Penguins. I always felt it was a fair fight with us, and I will miss it terribly.
Thanks for reading, everybody.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,
Penguins beat reporter (2006-14)