I first heard of the Washington Times in 2003, when I was a junior at the University of Minnesota looking for a college internship. Kevin Seifert, a former Times staffer who was then covering the Vikings for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, had mentored me and mentioned he got his start at the place. So I stuffed a cover letter, dutifully dropping his name, along with a resume and some clips in a 9x12 envelope, never expecting to hear anything back.
When I got a call offering me an internship three months later, it started a ride I never imagined would take me here, and one I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I fell in love during the summer of 2004 – with a newspaper, with a town and with an idea that if, maybe, the Montreal Expos packed up and moved south, there’d be a chance not only for me to cover the renamed baseball team, but to do it for a sports section which struck every chord that existed in my brain about how a newspaper should deliver its sports news.
The Times did offbeat stories its competition wouldn’t touch. Its writers composed sentences with a subversive smirk. Its editors earmarked funds for big, ambitious ideas and its pages singed with grabby graphics and illustrations. But most of all, it operated according to a mentality that it should never, ever, give readers reason to know it was the second-biggest paper in town, and it should never, ever, use that status as a crutch.
My chance to be a part of all that came in 2008, when my wife and I left our home state, packed up a Penske moving truck and headed east so I could grab the dream that started four years earlier. I joined the paper to cover the Nationals, and for the last two seasons, I’ve been given so much more than I could ever pay back.
I’ve had the chance to cover World Series. I got to chase up to Yankee Stadium over the Fourth of July last year with a simple directive to come back with a story – however that looked – on the old cathedral closing down. I traded impressions with my good friend Rich Campbell of Clint, the Nationals’ in-game emcee/frat boy party mascot. I got the chance to appear – and be attacked by the Phillie Phanatic – on live TV. I watched Bill Ladson and Craig Heist act out a real-life Tom and Jerry cartoon at Space Coast Stadium each spring, and stifled a laugh every time Barry Svrluga would prank-call Craig during a rain delay at Nationals Park, just so we could hear his “Monday Night Football” ringtone followed by a string of profanities as he tried to figure out who the unknown caller was (Yes, Craig, it was your friends in the front row of the press box. Every time.).
I’ve made lifelong friends and heard stories I’ll pass on to my grandkids. But most of all, I got the chance to work with a sports staff that, to a man, made me proud to have my byline on the same pages.
I’m proud to have worked for Mark Hartsell and John Taylor, who took a chance on me two years ago and have believed in me ever since. I’m proud to have filed stories for Scott Silverstein, Jon Fogg, Mike Petre, Drew Hansen, Steve Whyno, Lacy Lusk and the rest of the Times’ hardworking sports desk. I’m proud to have sat in planning meetings with Harrison Goodman, wondering what kind of twisted design genius was going to come out of his brain for the baseball preview section. I’m proud to have crossed paths with Dan Daly, Bob Cohn, Barker Davis, David Elfin, Dick Heller, Mike Jones, Tom Knott, Tim Lemke, Thom Loverro, Corey Masisak, Ryan O’Halloran and Patrick Stevens, whether they were pitching in on my beat or I was pitching in on theirs.
And last – but only in an alphabetical sense – I’m proud to have covered the Nationals the last two years with Mark Zuckerman, my friend and partner on the beat who took me to my first Orioles game as an intern in 2004 (tolerating the fact I’d picked out an orange shirt that looked like I’d stole it off one of the groundskeepers), spent countless nights pretending to care about my streak in the XM Time Machine contest at Nationals Park, shared bylines, stories and his depth of baseball knowledge with me, and let me in on a world he’d lived in since the Nationals arrived in 2005.
I’m also grateful to do something that so many people care about. Whether it’s good or bad, you readers have made it clear it matters to you what’s going on with the Nationals, and it matters to you that the people who cover the team do it intelligently, passionately and faithfully. I hope I’ve held up that end of the bargain.
The Times’ sports pages are going away this week; as you’ve probably heard, the paper is getting rid of its sports section as part of a major restructuring. But the memories, and the stories told on those pages, won’t soon fade away.
This won’t be the last you hear from me on the Nationals beat. I can’t say where I’m headed quite yet, but I’ll have some news soon on my new employer. Suffice it to say I’ll be around this spring, grateful it’s not my time to get off this ride yet.
But even then, I won’t be able to repay what the Times gave me. To the editors who brought me here, to the colleagues I worked with and to the readers I wrote for, I can only say thank you.