Some stories will never be beat.
For me, that one involves Hines Ward, a tall woman whose name I never caught, and the singer (not the song) for the world’s greatest rock and roll band. Listen for yourself in the latest version of Rossi Radio:
I’m on site for Colonial Madness (ooooh yeah!). The Wednesday column asked why Pittsburgh keeps producing successful college basketball coaches? Dude!
Though I’m away from home, ROSSI RADIO travels the magical webways and finds the the freaky and sublime across all lovely lands. Topics this week included the NCAA tourney, the future of some of those locals who coach, and a pointed take on the Penguins that you might not love, but won’t want to miss.
Enjoy, and thanks for listening.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,
Right, those are a lot of hands being raised.
So, I was not alone Wednesday morning to shake my head a few times upon reading Mark Kaboly’s report that Jason Worilds had retired from the NFL. And I was probably not alone in thinking, “Hey, doesn’t this read familiar?”
Worilds’ decision did not shock TribLive Radio’s Ken Laird. To hear his thoughts, along with those of Josh Taylor, please listen to the latest edition of ROSSI RADIO. Topics include the biggest sports surprises in our lifetimes, the concert for which I’ve been waiting a decade, and the city’s best coaching performance.
Jason Worilds is done. Should any of us be surprised?
But probably not shocked.
I touched on this topic in “The Flip Side.”
And then Batman threw out the first pitch.
It was my first (and only) home opener as the Pirates beat reporter for the Tribune-Review, and it made for the most awe-inspiring moment of a fairly unforgettable 2006. After all, that was the year during which I twice turned tongue tied while meeting Mick Jagger, shared a bit too much information with Alyssa Milano and tried to jump onto a moving SUV transporting Mario Lemieux – and each of those occurrences happened while I was working. But nothing topped the Pirates’ home opener at PNC Park, and my rock god, teenage fantasy and childhood hockey hero ended up having nothing on Michael Keaton.
They still don’t, especially not after Keaton’s Golden Globes moment on Sunday night.
♦ ♦ ♦
The Pirates had invited Keaton to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. The franchise was starting a new era with a new manager, but it lacked buzz compared to Pittsburgh’s other pro teams. Ben Roethlisberger had just led the Steelers to their long-awaited “one for the thumb.” Sidney Crosby was several months into turning citizens back onto the Penguins. The Pirates had been losers since 1993, and their biggest draw (Jason Bay) was likeable, but hardly a marquee attraction.
Neither was Keaton at that point. At least, he certainly was not on Hollywood’s A List. He had been Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice and Batman, but he upon arriving at the ballpark on that sunny day, Keaton was mostly talked about as a Pittsburgh who had made it big.
He was a Pittsburgher, though. And he made that clear, much to the horror of many within the Pirates organization.
Sitting at a table in a room reserved for interviews, Keaton happily took questions from members of the local media. Near the back rows sat Pirates employees. Their smiles were wide and unmistakable at the beginning. I remember looking at Joe Rutter, from whom I had inherited the beat, and rolling my eyes. A Keaton fan, because I’m a Pittsburgher and because I’m a proper thinking American, I was pleased to take in the moment – but it surely felt like a waste of my time on a busy day.
Then, in response to a question that I honestly cannot remember, Keaton pretty much ended what would become a gruesome Pirates season.
“I fear they will take advantage of the good will of the people who continue to show up,” Keaton said of Pirates ownership. “For my money, that’s disrespectful. At some point, you have to write the check.”
Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!
Nope, that was still Keaton sitting at that table.
Joe could not keep from offering a throat-clearing “Wow.” I buried my face in my right hand to hide my laughter. Joe Starkey, then a full-time Trib columnist, alerted both of us to the back rows, where Pirates employees’ smiles had turned to sneers. The room actually felt cooler than it had when the news conference started.
♦ ♦ ♦
However, of the many maddening moments from the Pirates’ 20 consecutive losing seasons, Keaton – inarguably their most famous fan – laying waste to their way of doing business before throwing out the first pitch at the home opener ranks as the most unforgettable. And I think I know why.
He was speaking for Pittsburghers. That’s what it felt like.
Keaton seemed sick of the losing, sick of the small-market excuses, sick of everything. He was back where he belonged, back home, and it was as though he simply could not let down fans that felt their voices were never heard by ownership. He was the fan with the loudest voice, and he used it to drop a cannon ball on the captain’s quarters of the Good Ship Jolly Roger that had docked on the banks of the Allegheny River.
That season (and six more) would pass before the Pirates became winners again. When they did, Keaton made sure everybody knew just how big of a deal his Pirates were to Pittsburghers around the world.
On Sunday night, an emotional Keaton was honored at the Golden Globe Awards for his virtuoso performance in “Birdman.” It is the role of a lifetime for the first silver screen Batman, and I hope it delivers him more awards, including an Oscar.
And, yes, I’m rooting for Keaton to clean up during the Hollywood awards season because he is a Pittsburgh, and right now he is a Pittsburgher who is making it big again.
The Pirates should bring him back for the first pitch to their upcoming home opener. He might be their best fan because of what he said seven years ago. Plus, coming off two consecutive postseason appearances and an offseason that featured spending by ownership, the Pirates are undeniably back.
Just like Michael John Douglas from Forest Grove.
Because, with all due respect to Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck (and A.J. Burnett), Michael Keaton is Batman.
It’s not that we have to file a story as soon as the game ends. It’s that we often try to file before the game ends. This helps our night desk get out the print product. This helps the readers in some parts of Western Pennsylvania get a print product.
My job on Saturday was to write a lot. And, candidly, I gave up on writing a lot well. Deadline writing requires the setting aside of ego, if not the complete ignoring of it. You pick an angle and hope it goes your way. And when it doesn’t, such as the Steelers pulling close at one point in the fourth quarter of what was a blowout loss to the Ravens, you start sweating.
This is the column I ended up writing. I filed it with about three minutes remaining in the AFC wild card game. Before filing it, I had written about 350 words – roughly half of a column – about a Steelers’ victory. I had written those words in about 10 minutes. They weren’t very good. I’m quite glad nobody had to read them.
I also wrote a news story based off interviews conducted in the Steelers’ dressing room. Didn’t have to do that, but offered because I didn’t feel my column required quotes, and because I felt our readers deserved to hear from Steelers greats who might not return next season. This story appeared only our web site. Free candy, or at least my version of it.
Some Trib readers might have found a completely different column in their print version. It was one I wrote before the game. We call it an “early column” here in Newspaper Land. It has nothing to do with the game because, obviously, it was filed before the game. Not knowing if the Steelers would win or lose, I agonized over a topic that could hold up. The topic I chose blended a personal experience with an interview I did with the city’s mayor, a diehard sports fan whose beloved Pittsburgh has had quite a star turn early in his tenure.
No reporter wants his work to go to waste. More than that, though, I’m including that “early column” in this blog because, as a Pittsburgher, I am aware how lousy the days after a season-ending loss by one of the local teams can be – and I, again as a Pittsburgher, wanted my readers to have something that might bring a bit of cheer.
Here it is:
They would serve as a seeming affirmation of something that we loved about ourselves as Pittsburghers. And even if we’re not within city limits, we’re all Pittsburghers around here when the local teams bring the big games to our North Shore and Uptown. We’re all impacted, whether we like it or not.
I’m the guy who goes to Smokin’ Joe’s Saloon on the South Side and rolls his eyes when somebody starts talking about Pittsburgh being a great sports town. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it’s just as well time to eliminate the words “sports” from that conversation.
Yeah, try making that argument during the week leading up to a Steelers-Ravens playoff game.
The brilliant revival of our East End still will be around to enjoy Sunday. The Steelers, I was reminded, might be done playing Saturday night. So why wouldn’t I just try to enjoy something that hasn’t happened in a while.
Good point. In fact, it made me think about what Saturday night was for our city: history.
Heinz Field was the third Pittsburgh facility that played host to a professional playoff game in a span of nine months. That had never happened.
The last time each of Pittsburgh’s three pro clubs brought their leagues’ playoffs here was January-October 1992. Losses by the Steelers (to Buffalo) and Pirates (to Atlanta) were sandwiched by a Stanley Cup defense by the Penguins.
That was a really cool year to be a Pittsburgher.
But nobody really talks about 1992. Maybe because the places where those games were played, Three Rivers Stadium and Civic Arena, are long gone. Probably, though, we have wiped 1992 from our memories because it still wasn’t a great time for a lot of us.
Population was in decline. The jobs that had emerged didn’t look like the ones that had been lost. A strike halted daily production of the city’s two major newspapers, leading to the introduction of a Pittsburgh edition of the Tribune-Review.
There was some stuff going on, to say the least. We looked to our teams to distract us from a lot of it.
Even that came with a price to pay: a psychological one.
Nobody really heard the term “small market” before the early 1990s, but by 1992 it was burned into the brains of Pittsburghers. The Pirates were losing their best players because of this small market we called home. Could the Penguins keep theirs? Would the Steelers be able to give it a go in NFL free agency?
In 1992, a young man named Bill Peduto left his beloved region to work in the nation’s capital. A sports nut with a hockey leaning, Peduto felt an odd mix of euphoria and disappointment a year before while watching from Washington while the Penguins lifted the Stanley Cup in May 1991.
“I decided I was coming back home,” Peduto said. “They weren’t going to win it again without me back in Pittsburgh.”
The Penguins’ Cup win in 1992 marked the last championship for one of Pittsburgh’s teams until the Steelers’ long-awaited fifth Super Bowl victory during the 2005 season. Saturday night marked the 61st NHL, NFL or MLB playoff game in Pittsburgh since “One for the Thumb.”
Peduto is now Pittsburgh’s mayor. He didn’t even know about the Penguins’ latest trade until after our conversation Friday, and he’s a season-ticket holder. He attended two Steelers and two Pirates games in 2014. He tries to stay up to date on the local teams by checking Twitter on his cell phone. He tries.
He was 11 in 1975. He remembers listening on the radio as the Penguins blew a 3-0 series lead to the New York Islanders. He recalls watching the start of the Steelers dynasty. He had seen the Pirates win the 1971 World Series and was sure he’d see them do it again soon.
“It seemed like the entire city was on top of the world,” Peduto said.
It wasn’t. And it wasn’t in the 1990s, either.
Pittsburgh has been the home to some great teams but never when Pittsburgh was also doing great.
“You’d be hard pressed to look back at the 1970s or the early 1990s and say those weren’t high points in some way,” Peduto said. “Now we’re having another one. What’s interesting is that all three of those periods have come when the city was at vastly different stages.”
On the last day of 2014, the city was given another of many recent endorsements. Conde Nast ranked Pittsburgh third among worldwide cities to visit in 2015. So this city of ours has been deemed hot, livable, worthy of tourism dollars and great for breakfast.
“We’re in a different place now,” Peduto said.
This isn’t just “Steelers Country.” Pittsburgh is having itself a moment and not just because the teams are winning.
But there’s that, too.
Give all of the Trib’s Steelers coverage a read, please.
Be EXCELLENT to each other (and Happy New Year),
That would be my advice for how the Atlanta Falcons should attack the Steelers. Though improving in some areas, pass coverage – especially on deep seam routes – is not a strength for this particular defense.
Also, I speak for everybody in Trib Total Media in offering thoughts and prayers to Mark Kaboly, whose father died Tuesday. I will never forget what I witnessed from Mark on Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati. He learned of his dad’s worsening condition after the Steelers-Bengals game. Still, he insisted on completing his immediate duties before hitting the road to spend precious final hours with his dad. Mark fought back tears in that Cincinnati press box while trying to compose a game story, notes, etc. I marveled at his strength. I also wondered how he was able to concentrate. Upon reading this obituary, I now understand. Mark did what his dad would have wanted: finished his shift.
Our love to Mark and the Kaboly family.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,
Certainly it is what I enjoy most. Perhaps that is mostly because I always start thinking about something that seemsÂ bigger after writing about Malkin. That was the case after this column, and it sparked a conversation I had on Wednesday afternoon.
The latest podcast version of “Rossi Radio” is available for your listening pleasure. I was joined by Ken Laird, John Steigerwald and Josh Taylor, and we had a very interesting (and challenging) discussion about how cultural differences impact the way we have reported on athletes. Also, we disused what NHL hockey might look like within the next decade.
Have a go at what we said:
Be EXCELLENT to each other,
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.
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,
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.
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.
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:
Be EXCELLENT to each other,