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.
>> 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,