I didn’t know someone was listening when I said, “You’d have to pay me to watch an NHL game.”
Last Monday, I woke up to a message from Jon, an old sportswriter friend I started with in San Diego. He asked if I was interested in covering the San Jose Sharks take on the Anaheim Ducks later that night.
Before I became a “clown” who spends nights in comedy clubs and works on TV shows, I was a full-time journalist for five years and spent my nights in press boxes and newsrooms. I worked for outlets like the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune.
A few months ago I went out to support Jon doing stand-up comedy. I think it was like his second or third time ever on stage, so I felt a need to support, since our careers were crossing over. That night I mentioned to Jon that I was looking to pick up some sports free-lancing opportunities, because I missed it. He’s one of the few sportswriters I started with who has actually built up a nice career out of it.
Never mind the fact that I had a hangover. Never mind the fact that the last athletic event I covered was in 2009. Never mind the fact that I had only ever been to one hockey game in my life. Never mind any of those things, because I didn’t know the next time I’d get an opportunity like it.
“I’m way down,” I told Jon. Fact is, writing about sports is my first love. Don’t tell my entertainment career that I still look fondly back on that time of my life. Your current lady doesn’t want to hear about your exes. I enjoy watching sports more now, but writing about them produces a feeling I have yet to find doing anything else.
The first thing I ever got paid to write about was a baseball game between La Costa Canyon high school and Fallbrook high school for the U-T. I was 18 years old, and barely out of high school myself. I was frightened. I knew a lot about sports, but I didn’t know a damn thing about writing. Next week will be my nine year anniversary of becoming a writer, and I barely feel like I’ve found my voice.
Legendary Dodgers player Duke Snider was at that baseball game because he lived in the Fallbrook, CA area and frequented the high school’s games. He must’ve realized my nerves because midway through the game he approached and said, “you’re new, huh?” I knew who he was, and just like those early days in my writing career, I couldn’t find the right words to say. So, he said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
Duke was right, but not when it came to journalism. If it were entirely up to me I would’ve been a sports journalist my entire life, but I quit the journalism field full-time in 2008, because opportunities to work in entertainment kept being presented to me, and I quickly realized how spectacular I am on a production set. I am not being modest there for a reason.
I showed up to the Honda Center Arena about two and a half hours early, just in case there was a problem with my press credentials. My mind is exhausted with terror thinking about every possible scenario that can go wrong, and once I realize the horrible outcomes aren’t so bad I get down to business. That goes for every scenario in my life, not just sports writing. It also explains how frightening it is to spend time in my conscious.
I pulled up to the press parking lot, stated my last name, and they thought I was Curt Sandoval from ABC7 in Los Angeles.
No relation. Bet you couldn’t tell.
“Curt does TV. Does this look like a face for TV?” I joked with the parking attendant. “Joshua is my first name.”
“Well, I wouldn’t boot you out of bed,” said the cute parking attendant.
“Wait, what?” is all I had in my head. If I didn’t have a million thoughts wondering how I was going to get through the next few hours pretending to be proficient in hockey then I probably would’ve flirted with her and got her phone number. But just like usual, my career always takes precedence over females.
“I don’t have you on the list, but I’ll take care of you,” she told me as she placed a parking pass on my car’s windshield. “Go right ahead.”
When I arrived at the media check-in table inside the arena, the kind gentleman dolling out credentials directed me downstairs to the media room where a buffet was being served.
“No autographs?” No one is gonna want my autograph. Oh, you mean I can’t ask players for autographs? I don’t think we will have a problem there, unless the Ducks just acquired Kobe Bryant or Albert Pujols.
After indulging in pork chops, macaroni and cheese, green beans, bread rolls, ice cream bars, churros, M&M’s, popcorn, and sodas I ventured upstairs to the press box with an eventual upset stomach and about an hour to kill before puck drop.
I checked my name on the board to see where my assigned seat was located. You non-sports writers are probably questioning the elementary school treatment. Well, sports writers are kind of like children, and it would be straight chaos if there wasn’t assigned seating. Grown people who make a living talking about games have more in common with the typical pre-teen than you’d think. To prove that point, just re-read all the junk food I ate.
Damn, it’s not hand-written. Guess I can’t switch seats.
When I saw my crappy seat assignment compared to some of the star reporters like my ex-colleagues at The Times, Helene Elliott and Lance Pugmire, I immediately made comparison to my new world and thought of the unspoken parking lot caste system on studio lots. On studio lots you can tell a lot about what executives think of you based on where you are told to park your car for your meeting.
Regardless, I was in the box and in the building. I grabbed some popcorn, soda, and a cookie and got comfy against the glass. Don’t judge, free food is free food. I then conducted some last minute research and went over the game notes given out by the Ducks sports information department. In between, I attempted to create conversation with some of my colleagues, but they quickly reminded me that sports writers can be curmudgeons in their own little world. I was probably like them at one point during my five-year run where it’s hard to differentiate one game from the next and one day from the next. Monday night, however, transformed me from a 27-year-old 150-pound “clown” back into that 18-year-old 250-pound pudgy ball of nervous excitement. I was getting paid to watch and write about sports…HA!
Despite my bitching, not too shabby of a view.
It didn’t take long for me to get back into sports writer mode. Over the past few years I kept my journalistic mind fresh by doing free-lance entertainment reporting for The Times, U-T, and Men’s Fitness Magazine, but sports writing is a different “story,” don’t pardon the pun. The puck dropped and my mind didn’t stop trying to process everything on the ice until the moment after the final buzzer sounded. After a fight erupted within the first three minutes I immediately wished I would’ve covered a hockey game much earlier in my career.
In between the first and second period I started working on my story. You’re probably not aware of this, but sports writers are writing throughout the game in order to make deadline. I contend that the 18-minute respites in between periods weren’t put in place for players to regain their breath, but rather so journalists could work toward their words quota.
The moment I began to write under deadline, I experienced that high that I lived for in my past. It’s hard to describe. It’s a better high than any drug or substance can create. It’s a natural high that takes me to a different world. I think everyone has a unique way of experiencing that feeling. I think it’s a feeling that you only get when you’re doing something that you really, truly, purely love. I don’t know if it’s as repeatable in other forms as it is in journalism, but I hope you have something like it. Words move from my mind and on to my computer screen quite easily. Adrenaline pumps through my body, nothing else in the world matters, and it’s like I don’t even exist. I think I’ve been chasing that same high since that day back in Fallbrook when I was 18. It’s never quite the same after the first experience, but last Monday came pretty damn close. It takes trying something new to feel that way again.
I get a different kind of high working in TV. In journalism, the high for me is more extreme because the deadline is so much tighter. In TV, the deadline can take place over hours, weeks, or months; and it’s scripted. Covering a game is unpredictable. For example, I couldn’t have guessed that the Ducks were going to score three goals in a three-minute time span in the second period, which forced me to stop and change sentences in my story multiple times.
The Ducks ended up winning 5-3. I was the rotten egg in the elevator down to the locker rooms to conduct interviews, which as the last person in meant I would be first one out the box. On the long ride down I did my best to not shatter the awkward silence of 15 journalists. I fancy a joke to break up awkward situations like 15 people facing one direction in a steel box, but I simply wondered what was going through all of their minds. How many of them were happy? How many of them wanted to be there? Did any of them see me take the last chocolate chip cookie in the press box?
I stepped out the elevator and since it was my first time in this arena I allowed another journalist to lead the creative cavalcade toward the locker rooms. I ended up in the San Jose Sharks locker room first, because unbeknownst to me I was following a Sharks beat writer.
This is Joe Thornton of the Sharks. I think it captures the agony of defeat pretty well.
My least favorite part about being a sports writer was always the post-game interviews because I don’t enjoy the smell of sweat, hence why I’m a writer and not a construction worker. That sweat smell isn’t sweet and it hit me the moment the locker room doors opened. If I weren’t prepared for it I probably would have been physically knocked over.
In comparison, this is Emerson Etem holding the puck from his first ever goal in the NHL that night. I think this captures the happiness of victory.
After interviews were over I jolted back to the press box, finished writing my story, inserted some quotes, and was out the building by 11pm.
I actually fit in way better than I anticipated. The only time I looked or felt out of place was when it came to finding my way around the arena. I also probably should’ve mentioned in my article about the Ducks announcing during the game the contract extension they gave their star player Corey Perry. That was my biggest NHL rookie mistake. If it was my beat I would have known that was a significant thing to mention.
I compare covering hockey to when I speak Spanish. I am fluent in Spanish, but I rarely use it. When I do speak it I don’t talk as fast as I would in English. That’s how I feel about my capabilities when it comes to hockey. I speak MLB, NFL, and NBA, but I am fluent in NHL even though I rarely use it. Make sense?
I had a blast covering the game. It allowed me to revisit my past with an aspect I never got to experience before. I’m not leaving the entertainment and TV worlds any time soon, but I do want to revisit my journalism roots more often.
Anyways, here’s a link to the article if you’re interested in checking it out. I’m actually impressed that I was even able to incorporate some hockey lingo into my vernacular. Click here for the article on Yahoo!