My sister — 22-year-old-soon-to-be-college-grad-looking-for-a-job Bailey — talks about the job hunt often. Now is just that time in her life. But when that conversation is directed toward me, it typically ends with her saying, “Well, you always knew you were going to be a sportswriter.”
No matter where that conversation is going, this always catches me, in part because I think she’s being simplistically assumptive, but mainly because I tend to disagree right away. 16-, 17-, or 18-year-old Sean was much more interested in his own sporting achievements than that of others.
It’s only when I scroll deep on my Instagram account that I realize Bailey was probably correct after all. I come across this photo of adolescent Sean, peering back into Mom’s camera lens, ball cap on, sports section laid out on the living room floor. If you leaned on the paper long enough, the ink stained the carpet. Learned that lesson multiple times.
On the surface, there isn’t much to see. There’s no clear way of knowing which newspaper it is (Green Bay Press-Gazette), and pretty difficult to see what I’m actually reading (the baseball box scores are pushed off-kilter to the right).
But it’s photos like that which now make me wonder: what would life be like if my parents hadn’t subscribed to the Press-Gazette. (Ironically, they no longer do.) Who knows how much reading I would have done, or how great my obsession with sports would have grown. Save that sad hypothetical for another day. The obsession grew and grew.
What is difficult to see is that the left page is the “Scoreboard” section of the paper. I scanned it every day to keep up on everything that wasn’t Packers, Brewers, Badgers or Bucks. Those were the favorite teams, of course, but with this Scoreboard came a wealth of information at my daily morning disposal. It gave me other favorite teams, too. The Chicago Fire became my MLS squad. The Houston Comets — the first WNBA dynasty — were my women’s hoops team. I loved the St. Louis Blues for the same reason — annual success — and stayed current on the goals and assists nabbed by Chris Pronger.
Each day I’d check to see if those squads held up their end of the nightly bargain, adding to their win total. If this story seems to lack uniqueness, that’s because it isn’t unique. 12-year-olds all over the world cheer for teams that don’t make sense, either demographically or genealogically. The sheer number of Seahawks and Warriors jerseys that populate New York City playgrounds are a simple, constant reminder. So, as small a factor as the Fire, Comets or Blues may have seemingly had on my boyhood fandom, they were part of the reason I spread the sports page open every day. A bowl of Honey Combs and the Press-Gazette, every single day. Walk before you run, and read before you write, I suppose.
Well, there couldn’t have been much time between Reading on The Floor day and March 19, 2004, but that’s where we’re headed now. It was a Friday and my parents had left 11-year-old Sean home alone. For any number of reasons, Connie Zak might now tell you that sounds like a mistake. Who knows where they went; all I know is they didn’t bring me along with. That was fine. The Badgers men’s hoops team was playing their opening round game of the NCAA tournament as a 5-seed, taking on the 12th-seeded Richmond Spiders. (How in the hell I remember this so clearly is, of course, absurd, but memories are funny things and they stick around for certain reasons.)
Devin Harris, Mike Wilkinson and the rest of Bo Ryan’s team played an abysmal first half. They were the 10th ranked team in America, had just won the Big Ten tournament, were playing a virtual home game at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center and should really have rolled through Richmond…Or so thought 11-year-old Sean. Instead, the Badgers trailed at halftime, 32-25.
At some point in every sports fan’s life, they realize these games, matches or tournaments can be thought of in two ways: 1. single, binary entities labeled simply as win/loss or 2. series of events, context and details that can be pieced together. That night, no. 2 finally clicked for 11-year-old Sean.
Whatever the Badgers were doing wrong, and/or whatever Richmond was doing right, it was a series of things leading to an upset. Possibly the upset of the tournament to that point. Poppa Zak was not around to weigh in. No one was around to listen. These details and observations registering needed a destination, and anywhere but back into my head. I raced into the basement, propped open a box that had long intrigued me and hoisted the damn thing up the stairs.
Inside was a typewriter, straight out of the 60s. It was no easy lift for a pipsqueak who used to do this all the time. Left to my own procedures and not an adult in sight, I plopped down into the nearest La-Z-Boy and began hammering out sentences about the Badgers ineptitude.
14 years later, I wish I could tell you more about that evening. All I know is it was filled with cynicism. The kind of scornful writing you might get from a grizzled, 65-year-old local sports columnist who has surely seen it all, and who cannot muster anything beyond “Burn it to the ground, Wisconsin stinks!” Despite an abundance of typing mistakes, spacing errors and messy organization, Dad would have the full report when got home. He wouldn’t even need the highlights of Wisconsin’s loss; all he would need was my first ever game story.
Let’s keep this long story short as possible. Wisconsin won. All Dad got was my first ever re-write. The first of many, many re-writes.