Rossi: You had me at poutine

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(Photo: Christopher Horner/Trib Total Media) Russell Martin has another postseason drought to end in Toronto.

(Photo: Christopher Horner/Trib Total Media)
Russell Martin has another postseason drought to end in Toronto.

Russell Martin had a Sidney Crosby jersey hanging near his locker.

I knew that was my in. On my first day, into my first hours actually, as the Trib’s newest sports columnist, seeing that familiar jersey in a once familiar setting was of great relief to somebody who had gone a while since feeling unsettled in a professional locker room… or clubhouse, as I quickly remembered the place to be called on that warm Monday afternoon this past July.

Martin was the Pirates’ catcher then. He is not now. A friend from my hockey scribe world texted me Monday with word that the Blue Jays has just overpaid for Martin. His opinion. Mine too, actually. Still, my immediate response to this friend was, “Nice he comes ‘home’ tho” – and I sincerely hope it is nice for Martin, a Canadian, to likely finish his baseball playing days with the only club in his home and native land. Homecomings can go terribly or, worse, without incident, so this might not be the easiest of situations for Martin. Of course, he joined a Pirates franchise that had not won for 20 seasons, and helped frame (literally) the narrative of their rise to postseason participant. I wouldn’t put anything past Martin, even ending a postseason doubt in Toronto that is at 21 seasons.

I claim no great relationship with Martin. He played baseball in Pittsburgh for two seasons. I was around the Pirates for about two months. In fact, our first encounter was when he visited the Penguins’ dressing room in April 2013. What struck me then was how he carried himself around hockey players. He was completely comfortable in that setting, and when I asked a player about meeting Martin, that player’s response was to call Martin “a pro.”

Martin heard this story from me on my first day as columnist. I was nervous, not because of Martin, but rather because it had been a long time since I went into a dressing room (clubhouse… ugh!) with no idea about to whom I should speak, about what I should ask. I hadn’t awoken as a columnist but rather a hockey scribe beginning Week 3 of recovery from hernia surgery. Life happens fast. Mine changed that way. I was still very much a hockey scribbler as I walked back into the home clubhouse at PNC Park, where I had spent many days during summer 2006. I needed a column idea. I needed a prayer. I noticed that hockey jersey in the stall occupied by Martin, decided to own my past, and approached him with a terrible line even for somebody who is known to have authored some terrible line.

(Photo: Christopher Horner/Trib Total Media) Russell Martin said goodbye on Monday, but Pittsburghers had their say after his last at-bat in the NL wild card game.

(Photo: Christopher Horner/Trib Total Media)
Russell Martin said goodbye on Monday, but Pittsburghers had their say after his last at-bat in the NL wild card game.

Hi, Russell. So, I’m hoping you can help me out. I just got a new job, but I covered hockey for a long time, and figured you’d maybe have some sympathy being that you’re from Canada. 

He looked quizzically upon me, as though to say without saying, You know I play baseball, right?

I smiled, took a breath, concocted a question about ace pitchers, took down his answer and then brought up Crosby. When that topic went nowhere, I brought up poutine, opined that Montreal was the best place to eat it, and waited for Martin’s response.

“Well, Montreal is a great city for food,” Martin said. “Where else have you tried poutine?”

For the next three minutes, I was neither a former hockey scribbler nor a would-be columnist. I was just a guy talking to another guy about some shared experiences in Canada. After that conversation, I thanked Martin for his time and somehow felt like everything about this new job would be all right.

So, I’ll always remember Martin, and not just because he helped frame my first column, but because he was the perfect player for me to speak with on probably the most unsettled day of my professional life.

I’ll also always remember his last at-bat with the Pirates. That standing ovation he received from Pittsburghers as he walked off the field at PNC Park was an all-in Thank You from a city whose citizens are unapologetically parochial. Somehow, though, my guess is Pittsburghers are fine with Martin going home.

Most of us would if we weren’t already there.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

 

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Rossi: Building in a new way

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(Photo: Getty images) John Harbaugh said the Ravens feel comfortable playing at Heinz Field. I ignored it, but for a good reason.

(Photo: Getty images)
John Harbaugh said the Ravens feel comfortable playing at Heinz Field. I ignored it, but for a good reason.

Hopefully, your Wednesday felt incomplete.

OK, so I know that it is most likely nobody noticed one of my columns did not appear in the Trib on Wednesday. Still, since this might happen from time and time again, the least I can do is explain.

As noted before, and again after that, I am a bit uneasy with this new gig. I like it. On some days, I’ve loved it. However, with so much of my identity centered on having been a reporter, or as I liked to think of it a story finder, going cold into a world of opinion writing has not been without some longing for my old way of doing things.

So far, the biggest difference I’ve noticed between what I once did and what I now do is the conversations with athletes, coaches, management, etc. The tone has changed. Whereas I used to go into conversations with an idea and ask questions to which I most often knew the answer, I now approach these talks with an opinion fully formed and often only seeking a quote to work into that narrative.

Can’t say yet if this is the right approach. Can’t say the approach is different to anybody but me. Can say, though, that it really feels different to me, in that I’m not really building a professional relationship with the people I write about. There is a built-in disconnect because to me there is a difference between writing a hard but fair piece as a beat reporter and delivering a hard but fair opinion as a columnist. Seems to me I can’t allow myself to get as close to subjects now as I would have when on the Penguins beat.

(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media) Look, who we choose to like doesn't always make sense. Even for journalists.

(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)
Look, who we choose to like doesn’t always make sense. Even for journalists.

A critical distance is always a necessary for a reporter. There is a line, and though it can move, a beat reporter should never cross it. Look, every beat reporter has at least one subject about whom he or she likes writing, the person to which he or she connects in an unexplainable way for reasons her or she would rather not explore because thinking about it invites delusional presumptions. What I mean to say is, beat reporters all have That Person We (Try) To Do Right By – and we all know who that person is for me. So, by acknowledging this not-so-secret part of the reporting game, my intention is not to brag but rather draw attention to the problem I’ve had so far in switching from beat reporter to columnist.

Know how you get That Person? You spend years talking. You build a relationship. You build trust. You figure out how this dynamic will work for both parties. As a news reporter, you’re not (or shouldn’t be, at least) in a position to take shots at the people you cover, so there really is no danger in building deep, trusting professional relationships.

 

Columnists do things different.

I have noticed the difference in only three months as a columnist. I still depend on people giving me information, but not I’m depending on beat reporters and their sources more than my own. I can’t be everywhere. They are a specific somewhere all the time. Most of the deep, trusting professional relationships are theirs now. I may build some, but they will always be different than the way it works between a beat reporter and the people on his beat.

I’m quite cool with this, actually. Those relationships often made me uncomfortable. They were tricks, allowing me to think I knew somebody I covered. I learned over time that is never the case.

Also, it feels disingenuous for me to try finding That Person or several of Those People in this columnist role. Last thing I want is one of these athletes to think I might be on his or her side. My job now includes calling people on their mistakes. Whatever members of this audience might think, that wasn’t my job before. I don’t deny having an edge to my writing style as a beat reporter, but in print I did not call people out. That’s the line I drew between beat work and column writing, and while I acknowledge going right up to it, I never crossed it.

I thought I would need time to get comfortable taking hard stances. I thought wrong. I remember trying to explain this to somebody within the Penguins organization after writing this column before training camp. This person called to say I had irked a lot of people with what I had written. I said I figured that would be the case. As we talked, this person and I each had a moment of realization about how my job, and our professional relationship, had become different. We ended this talk on good terms, with a clear understanding that I had just been doing my job in writing that column. He didn’t have to like what I wrote, but he understood that I was not in a position to particularly care, because I’m not looking to take positions that will be well liked.

Our relationship changed during that phone call. So did my understanding of my new way of working.

Take a listen to the latest podcast of Rossi Radio. Topics include Mr. Hockey, Mean Joe, and Game 7s from the media point of view:

http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/1029ROSSI14.mp3

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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Rossi: Finding the X spot

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(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media) Ike Taylor has hinted he reads comic books. I like Ike!

(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)
Ike Taylor has hinted he reads comic books. I like Ike!

 

I’m trying to do two things at once.

The Steelers open their dressing room to the media around noon on Thursdays. It is one of two opportunities to speak with players. The other comes around 3:30 p.m. The scene usually looks the same every time: Some players at chairs in front of their locker stalls, others walking in and out carrying food from the cafeteria, equipment staff scrambling, and near the Steelers emblem in the center of the room We The Media stand waiting for our targets to show. The waiting is the hardest part, but you take it on faith that you’ll be rewarded.

On this Thursday, I’m here to find a column and work a feature story to run at a later date. My targets are a defensive lineman, a franchise quarterback and the head coach, but I also can’t resist the cornerback with a comic-book character on his mind.

Jumping into a scrum – a We The Media term for group interview – I overhear Ike Taylor talking about “Wolverine.” He has no ties to the University of Michigan. He is referencing his injured forearm. Standing to his right, nearly tucked into another player’s stall, I try hard not to grin. Ike is doing what would have me made fun of by football players when I played in high school. Ike is comparing real life to comics.

This feels like vindication.

This feels like a chance I cannot miss. I decide then that my column will somehow, in some way, work this angle. I’ll do it for all the boys who read comics and play sports, and for the men they become.

(Photo: Marvel) Magneto is more than just a cool helmet.

(Photo: Marvel)
Magneto is more than just a cool helmet.

Some of us are sports reporters.

Others are into a second decade of playing in the NFL.

I’m a Marvel man myself. I suspect most Steelers dig DC, for obvious reasons.

That’s what I wanted to say near the end of his scrum. Instead I pressed about potential momentum from big wins. Ike wouldn’t bite. I asked him three questions on the topic. Taylor controlled his message as would Magneto lead bullets fired upon him.

This column managed to get at both Taylor’s message and his inner comic geek, and for that reason it was one of my favorites. It was more a reflection of what I’m really like: weirdly connecting dots to get at my point.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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Rossi (Radio): Who is the Penguins’ top rival?

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(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media) The Penguins looked different against the Flyers on Wednesday night. That's only because they wore those awesome throwbacks, though.

(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)
The Penguins looked different against the Flyers on Wednesday night. That’s only because they wore those awesome throwbacks, though.

 

They offered me a radio show.

I said, “Sure.” I thought, “Umm, you don’t really dig listening to sports talk shows on the radio.” So, after spending about a month trying to figure out what my own radio show would sound like, I decided that it should sound like a conversation I would have with trained sports talk show hosts.

That is why Rossi Radio, which airs live here at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays, is really Rossi, Laird, Steigerwald and Taylor Radio. Technically, I’m the draw. Actually, all I do is come up with a couple of conversation topics and start talking with some colleagues.

There really is only one rule: Tell stories.

Everybody has an opinion, and in the mad world of social media everybody’s opinion can be carried to places far, far away. As long as I’m doing a radio show, the plan will be to offer opinions, but mostly attempt to tell stories that may have led to those opinions.

It’s a work in progress, but I do hope you’ll listen.

The topics this week are: Marc-Andre Fleury’s future with the Penguins, the hockey club’s best rival, and mistakes we in the media make: http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/1022ROSSI14.mp3

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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Rossi: Passing on a hockey night in Pittsburgh

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(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media) Marc-Andre Fleury won another NHL game on Saturday night. I chose to skip it. He'll live, I'm sure.

(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)
Marc-Andre Fleury won another NHL game on Saturday night. I chose to skip it. He’ll live, I’m sure.

The Penguins played in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, and I stayed away.

That was the best hard decision of my weekend.

Over the years, as colleagues have transitioned off a beat, their stories have shared similarities. They were burnt out. They were no longer stimulated. They were done. Then they moved on and they could not stay away. They became obsessively possessive of a past they had no longer wanted. Maybe there is a name for whatever kept them wanting to go back to what they knew was no longer theirs. For me that name is fear. I had to stay away from Consol Energy Center to recognize it.

Early during my Saturday, I was sure I would go to watch the Penguins play the Islanders. My columns run Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so without a deadline to consider, this game was an opportunity for me to just go and watch. On the beat, I never watched enough of the games. There was always something to write, somebody to chase down, something. It was one of the first things I told my longtime tag-team beat partner, Josh Yohe: “You’ll be amazed how little hockey you actually watch on this job.” That conversation came about three months after I had covered a Stanley Cup run that featured at least five classic contests, all of which I watched mostly on a TV from a media room, if at all. I would spend the earliest hours of the next day watching recordings of the games I had just written about, hoping to see them for the first time, really.

So, yeah, watching the game on Saturday night seemed liked a great idea. Finally, I could just watch without the concerns that can cripple a beat reporter. I could take a long look at coach Mike Johnston’s system, see if the power play was working or just scoring, get a feel for the Penguins’ play without the puck. This would be fun.

Except, it wouldn’t have been fun.

That is the thought I came around to sometime Saturday afternoon. I had started watching the WVU-Baylor tilt, and it was because I had a rooting interest. I’m a WVU grad. I had planned to spend my Saturday afternoon shopping for a new exercise bike, but (because tablet technology rocks) I could do that while watching the WVU-Baylor game on TV. By around 4 p.m., the game was over, I had an idea about what bike I would buy, and dinner with some friends seemed like a much better idea than checking out Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

(Photo: Steph Chambers/Trib Total Media) Kevin White seemed to catch everything for the Mountaineers, so I'm glad I caught that on Saturday afternoon.

(Photo: Steph Chambers/Trib Total Media)
Kevin White seemed to catch everything for the Mountaineers, so I’m glad I caught that on Saturday afternoon.

No offense, fellas.

Something about watching the WVU-Baylor game started my subconscious working. I had spent most of my last decade spending Saturday nights watching Crosby and Malkin, and on many of those nights I would wonder what it was like for my friends who were just getting together for dinner. How did that work?

Turns out it works fairly simple. You meet, eat, chat a bit, and come home to watch the third period of the Penguins game on the TV. That was my Saturday night, and on this Sunday morning I realize it was a necessary step for me.

Staying (mostly) away from the Penguins is the hardest thing I’ve had to do as the Trib’s columnist. Since they opened training camp, I’ve tried to be around just enough to stay in the loop – though, that can just as easily be done by talking to old sources – and not so much that I’m stepping on the toes of the Trib’s new beat team.

I keep trying to figure out why I would have wanted to spend an off night watching the team I used to cover play, and I think I have part of the answer.

Fear… that colleagues would judge harshly me not being at the game, that some players would forget me, that new coaches would not recognize me, that laziness was already showing itself in this new role.

However, it was just a hockey game, and the Penguins will play at least 38 more of them in Pittsburgh this hockey season. Choosing to skip one on Saturday night, because I finally could, did not tilt the earth differently. It might help expand my world, though.

See, being afraid is the how we get caught chasing our pasts.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

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Rossi: Learning on the job.

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(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media) Nothing Pitt running back James Conner did on Thursday night would have changed my column.

(Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media)
Nothing Pitt running back James Conner did on Thursday night would have changed my column.

 

At 45 minutes past the self-imposed deadline my column was short by 32 lines, and I’m sitting in a working press box, so I can’t even scream.

Nothing had prepared me for situations like the one I faced Thursday night. In and of itself, that continues to surprise me about this columnist gig. It’s only been three months, but I am convinced that I will never feel comfortable writing columns.

That’s especially true at night.

This is a completely new feeling, because I have always felt comfortable writing off night games. That was true from the days when I dictated my stories from a pay phone at a McDonalds in Blacksville, a small West Virginia town that is home to Clay-Battelle High School, or as I remember it, my first newspaper beat.

Even then, while working (barely, as my editor at the time would say) as a part-time Dominion Post reporter, writing stories about games felt right, good even. I was 19, but the procedural process of writing on a tight deadline felt normal. I picked an angle, wrote about it, filled in some holes with a few facts and quotes, and that was that. Then, and I’m talking way back in 1997, I would need to hit a word count of 150. Over a decade later, early in my tenure as the Penguins beat reporter for the Trib, my word count was around 500. The blueprint did not change, though. I picked an angle, wrote about it, filled in some holes with a few facts and quotes, and that was that.

There was no pressure.

There was no nervousness.

That’s because there was no point to pressure or nervousness. The game would end, and when it did, I had to send a story about that game to my editors. There wasn’t an option, so there was no reason to make it a bigger deal than what it was: my job.

It was a job I took perverse pride in, too. Not everybody could do this part of the job. I could, and I was proud.

 

I hate reading game stories.

Still do. They do not interest me in the slightest. So, I never tried to write one. I just tried to write a story about the team I covered, and to me there was a difference. Game stories had details about who did what and when. Stories about the team I covered were just a continuation of the narrative. My intention, for better or worse, wasn’t for everybody. I sought to show the readers what’s really important to the overall narrative. Every season was a book. Each week was a chapter. Stories off practices were no different than ones off games. Every story had to move the overall narrative forward. My job when writing stories was to pinpoint only what was important enough to write about, especially when it came to writing about the games.

Now, I had a trick. I’m sure all writers of game stories have tricks. Mine was to always use the most obvious thing to my advantage.

Games are won and lost. Readers have rooting interests. I always started with a fundamental belief that my audience had a rooting interest, and its good guy would either win or lose. Having that to work with, the rest came easy. Specifically when writing about the games, I could write about what just happened to the hero and where the hero went from this very point.

It doesn’t work that way with columns. It didn’t work that way with this column.

 

It’s only been about three months.

Still, I’m fairly confident in making this blanket statement about columnists: We think way too much.

This is dangerous. This can make us look like fools. This is what gets us into trouble. Well, this is what I think probably gets me into trouble when writing columns off a game, especially a game played at night. I’ve already written three columns off football games that ended after I filed my column. I did not know the result.

Think about that.

Think about this: I knew before writing I would not know the result. My job had become delivering an opinion piece from a game that was happening, just not one about the actual game. The push-it deadlines go to the beat reporters. Columnist can write around a result.

This is the way of life in the part of Newspaper Land where I live. I’m cool with it because I can’t change it, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t changed me – perhaps for the poorer.

 

I don’t love my latest column.

It felt forced upon filing it, and it feels incomplete after several more reads.

With hindsight, I should have focused entirely on my belief that Pitt needs its own football stadium. I should have pointed out the obstacles instead of casually offering that building a new stadium “won’t be easy.” I should have not written at all about the football program’s on-field results and only about the lack of atmosphere at Pitt home games.

On the ride to Heinz Field on Thursday afternoon, I noticed emptiness in the parking lots. I thought about the lack of buzz leading into a prime-time college football game played by the city’s university. I walked into a stadium that I knew would be half-full and I committed to a column idea, and I wrote that Pitt students and alumni deserved better than the malaise I had observed.

Truth is, the Trib’s readers deserved better from their sports columnist. I didn’t make a point with the column. I just wrote stuff. I didn’t direct a narrative. I just acted on an observation and with a deadline in mind.

I’m acknowledging these doubts publicly because I plan to use this blog for personal pieces that provide readers a window into what goes on in my writing life. Entries won’t always be this long and probably won’t be daily, but they will attempt to move the narrative forward.

It’s a very specific narrative.

The only way I’ve ever made sense of life is to write stories about other people. I’m trying to make sense of becoming a columnist, and to do that I think it’s time to start writing my stories.

For you, the blog can be about learning how I approach the job. For me, the blog can be about learning.

For my first lesson: The blueprint cannot change. Pick an angle. Write about it. Fill in some holes with a few facts and quotes. That will be that, and that will be how it is going forward.

 

Thanks for reading.

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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Rossi: Hockey isn’t life (except when it is).

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Sidney Crosby celebrates his only goal of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. He and the Penguins are back, starting Thursday night. Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media.

Sidney Crosby celebrates his only goal of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. He and the Penguins are back, starting Thursday night. Photo: Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media.

 

Hockey isn’t life, unless you’re part of it. I am reminded of how many people are parts of it at the start of every Penguins season, and another one of those starts Thursday night.

These games matter more than just to owners, CEOs, general managers, hockey operations staffs, head and assistant coaches, and players. They matter to the Penguins employees that sell tickets, feed the web site, accommodate the media, work with the community, and direct the many business interests of the franchise.

These games also matter to the Consol Energy Center employees, some of whom are never seen, all of whom never ask for credit, many of whom never see any of the actual games. They take your tickets, lead you to your seats, escort you to the right elevators, and serve you snacks. They also clean the building, fix the building, and make the building feel like it should – the hockey home for Pittsburghers.

So, no, hockey isn’t life. It kind of is, though.

Jason Mackey is in the process of figuring that out. Josh Yohe already knows it. They’re the Tribune-Review’s new Penguins beat team, and Thursday starts a new chapter in each of their lives.

It’s all yours, guys. Take it places I never dreamed.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

THE #TribHKY PENGUINS SEASON PREVIEW

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Rossi: Hockey’s back, so what will happen?

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Penguins captain Sidney Crosby shakes hands with Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist after a Game 7 loss at Consol Energy Center last May. Photo: Christopher Horner/Trib Total Media

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby shakes hands with Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist after a Game 7 loss at Consol Energy Center last May. Photo: Christopher Horner/Trib Total Media

 

Guards change. That’s especially true in the NHL, where amazingly talented players often begin playing at the ages of 18 or 19, putting their primes pretty much over by the time the peak years for athletes in other team sports are beginning.

Check out how many modern players have won scoring titles after the age of 28. That’s a small group, right?

So, as the NHL begins another season, one that will already seem exhaustingly long about two months before the playoffs begin, what I’m thinking about is the changing of guards, and how that might hit home where for Pittsburghers.

Four of the last seven NHL scoring champions and Players’ players and three of the past seven MVPs have gone to Penguins. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been dominant, to the point that they’ve actually been taken for granted.

These two are Hall of Famers, and we’ve watched their primes, and that should be said a lot more than what’s been said lately about them.

Crosby is 27, Malkin 28, and they surely have some great years ahead. However, it is very likely their best grouping of years has already passed, and it is quite possible that Crosby and Malkin – first and second respectively in points per games last season – will soon be passed as dominant scorers in the NHL.

I mean real soon, as evident by the way I see this hockey season playing out.

>> Hart Trophy (MVP): Steven Stamkos, Lightning

>> Art Ross (top scorer): John Tavares, Islanders

>> Veznia (top goalie): Tuukka Rask, Bruins

>> Norris (top defenseman): Alex Pietrangelo, Blues

>> Calder (top rookie): John Gibson, Ducks

>>  Adams (top coach): Barry Trotz, Capitals

>> Division winners: Capitals (Metropolitan), Lightning (Atlantic), Blues (Central), Ducks (Pacific)

>> Stanley Cup Final: Canadiens vs. Blues

>> Stanley Cup champion: Canadiens

>> Conn Smythe (playoff MVP): Carey Price, Canadiens

 

 

The Trib’s Penguins beat team of Jason Mackey and Josh Yohe has churned out some stories to get you ready for the NHL season, and that will continue through Thursday, so check here often.

>> Mackey looks at the Penguins roster.

>> Also from Mackey: the new-look NHL, and how the Penguins fit; the overhauled forwards for the Penguins; and what to expect from the special teams.

>> Yohe caught up with a returning Malkin, who was as candid as he’s ever been.

>> Also from Yohe: the revamped defense corps; and management’s assessment on some of those blue line prospects.

>> Mike Machosky reports on the hot eats at Consol Energy Center.

>> Of course, I had to chime in, right? Wednesday’s column touches on a few topics, and I’m sure you’ll notice a theme emerging regarding my expectations for these Penguins.

>> Rossi Radio is hockey heavy on Wednesday. Shows starts at 1 p.m. Listen here.

 

Hockey’s back. Believe in tea.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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Rossi: Back in black (a wild-card preview)

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Black is back, and the Pirates and Giants will play an NL wild-card game at PNC Park. Photo: Christopher Horner/Trib Total Media

Black is back, and the Pirates and Giants will play an NL wild-card game at PNC Park.
Photo: Christopher Horner/Trib Total Media

 

It’s probably unfair to boil four clubs’ seasons down to an elimination-game at the start of the postseason, especially when those teams have played 162 games over six months to reach this point.

Still, isn’t the fact that the loser goes home a big part of what makes baseball’s wild-card concept so engaging? Something is on the line at the very start. Basically, the Pirates and Giants are starting the playoffs with a Game 7.

I’m excited, anyway.

Since joining the Tribune-Review in November 2002, I’ve covered a lot of things that would have delighted the teenage me from the early 1990s. I interviewed Hines Ward in Detroit after his MVP-performance in Super Bowl XL. I was standing next to Ryan Malone when he couldn’t take off his Penguins’ jersey after the Penguins lost the Stanley Cup Final in 2008. A year later, in Detroit (again), I chased Penguins players around the Joe Louis Arena ice as they tried to find family members for pictures with the Stanley Cup.

I’ve never covered a Pirates postseason game, and I was jealous of those who have after watching from afar last October.

So, I know I am, but are you ready?

Team Trib has you covered with a lot of stories that should occupy you between now and the first pitch.

>> Our longest tenured beat man, Rob Biertempfel, reports on Russell Martin’s health. Rob also takes you back to 20 games from 2014 that you’ll want to remember.

>> Our other beat man, Travis Sawchik, scouts the wild-card game. Also, Travis sheds some light on the rise of Jordy Mercer. Finally, he has the goods on starter Edinson Volquez.

>> Karen Price provides a great look at Josh Harrison’s summer to remember.

>> Chris Togneri reports on what Pittsburgh has planned for the Pirates’ postseason return.

>> My column digs into Clint Hurdle’s season-long struggle.

>> “Rossi Radio” looked at Pittsburgh as a baseball town, among other topics:

http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/1001ROSSI14.mp3

To download:

http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/1001ROSSI14.mp3 

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

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Rossi: Stuck in a moment

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Neil Walker celebrates another Pirates' playoff berth. Photo: Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

Neil Walker celebrates another Pirates’ playoff berth. Photo: Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

 

As Tuesday neared its end, the television showed scenes from a fantastic clubhouse celebration in Atlanta. The Pirates had won another shot to play for a World Series. That in itself was equally predictable and unbelievable — the former because GM Neal Huntington has built a really good baseball team, the latter because he once inherited one of the biggest messes in recent baseball memory. Still, this is not about all of that.

This is about what the TV showed, albeit briefly. There in that clubhouse, somehow seeming to have avoided a drenching, stood Rob Biertempfel, the city’s longest-tenured Pirates beat reporter. He also happens to be a good friend, trusted colleague, fellow Everton supporter, and one of the finer wordsmiths in town. If only for a second, and by the overlooked miracle of modern technology that remains television, Rob stood among a clubhouse of men-turned-boys, all understandably celebrating a big moment. Rob, presumably unaware he was on TV, was shown to be doing his job amid this chaos. He was talking to somebody, using his recorder to capture that person’s words.

Not all reporters get a moment like the one Rob had on Tuesday night. It’s not one that can easily be explained to family and friends. You’re there, but not part of the celebration. You’re still an outsider to this group, even though you’re the group’s approved outsider. You’ve come to known those guys (but not really). They’ve come to know you (but not at all). You’re there for one of the best moments of their lives, and it’s completely theirs, but it’s also yours, and your job is to find just one athlete who, while actually living the dream, can provide you the words you need to write a story you once dreamed of writing just as they once dreamed of celebrating.

My moment came on June 12, 2009, and I was nearly taken out of it by Jordan Staal. He was one of the last players I found on the ice at Joe Louis Arena the night the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. He had just wrapped a scrum interview with a group of reporters. He looked as though the last thing he wanted to do was answer more questions. I approached. He seemed so emotionally drained that at first he did not recognize me. Then he did, and something clicked. I will always think it was his recognition of a familiar face, one he had seen often for three years. I cannot say for sure, and it probably doesn’t matter.

What happened in that moment — my moment — is Staal grabbed me, hugged me, pushed me away, but while still holding my arms, he said, “Rob, I just won the Stanley Cup!”

I smiled. I shook his hand. I offered my congratulations. I said, “Jordan, what’s that like?”

On the night that Rob Biertempfel’s celebration moment reminded me of mine, Jordan Staal was injured in a preseason game at Buffalo.

As reporters age, we soften. Some of us fight it. I’ve accepted it. Tuesday night was great for a lot of people, not so much for a player I enjoyed covering while working the Penguins beat for the Trib.

That’s what I’m thinking about now.

 

>> Rob Biertempfel’s GAME STORY from Atlanta contains one of his best ledes, which is saying something.

>> Travis Sawchik, also in Atlanta, LOOKS BACK on how these Pirates reached the postseason.

>> Chris Horner, who has been capturing the Pirates in pictures for the Trib since Joe Rutter was the beat boy, was in Atlanta and provided THESE SHOTS.

 

Starling Marte applauds a big hit in the Pirates' playoff clinching win. Photo: Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review.

Starling Marte applauds a big hit in the Pirates’ playoff clinching win. Photo: Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

 

 

>> The WEDNESDAY COLUMN offers what James Harrison should do now that he’s back with the Steelers. Full Trib Steelers coverage can be found here.

>> Josh Yohe spied SOMETHING INTERESTING after the Penguins’ exhibition opener. Full Penguins coverage is here.

 

 

>> THIS is an important and vital piece of explanatory/investigative journalism by Mike Wereschagin, and it’s worth your time. Trust me.

 

>> Please join me for “Rossi Radio” at 1 p.m. I’d like to make a promise as to what you can expect, but I don’t have much of an idea. The hope is for more stories like the one about Staal and me on that night in Detroit. Thanks in advance for listening.

 

Be EXCELLENT to each other,

Rossi

 

Travis Snider quiets an Atlanta crowd, something Pirates fans have wanted to do since 1992. Photo: Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

Travis Snider quiets an Atlanta crowd, something Pirates fans have wanted to do since 1992. Photo: Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review

 

 

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