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"Leaf Realist"
ON • Canada • 40 Years Old • Male
A blog written by Leaf reporter Howard Berger entitled "Close encounters Along the Way" about his memories celebrating 30 years in the business, inspired me to reflect on my very brief sports writing "career"- a full 3 MONTHS in the business. Reading Howard's stories were quite interesting and gave a personal side to reporter's lives who, in most cases, sports viewers know only by name, voice, face, cuff link, and hand attached to a voice recorder in media scrums.

In the summer of 2000, fresh out of university, I was hired by Sports Wrap, a FREE monthly publication that was distributed across the Niagara Peninsula. I wrote on local events- mostly advert articles on bike shops, seadoo stores and such in the area. However, I was also permitted to hand pick my stories; I chose to write about an- acquaintance who was an aspiring MMA fighter, an ex University of Windsor QB, the Euro Cup 2000, (how Italy let that one slip away, I'll never know) and of course the retirement of Wendel Clark.
On one such occasion, I had the privilege of being offered a gig to write on a Blue Jays game- against the KC Royals. The company provided me with a sticker (that somehow officially acted as my pass) that said "Writer" on it. So, with my older brother in tow-(he was given photographer's access for acting as my ride) we headed off to the Dome. I was given no other information except to get some interviews and write a story about the game. I was in the dug out area within feet of Roberto Alomar and others- Rod Black being one of them. I really felt as though I had snuck into an off limits area and would be escorted out momentarily.

I saw a security guard sitting on a chair as I wandered through the usually off limits area of the Dome. I told him who I was and that I wanted to do some interviews. He motioned where the Jays room was. Not knowing that the best time to interview players was AFTER the game, I slowly walked into the Jays room to find none other than David Wells stretching - he was the only one in there. I panicked, and awkwardly bolted. After walking out- and telling my brother, I was urged to go back in and take the opportunity to ask a few Q's. I should have taken a moment to think rationally and determine that if TV giants like CITY TV, CTV, CBC, TSN, SN, or anyone from a legitmate daily (rather than monthly publication) were nowhere near the Jays room to get a pre story, then perhaps a kid from Welland with little experience shouldn't have bothered. I went back in anyways. I slowly walked up to him and even though he didn't so much as tilt his head in my direction, I said "Hello Mr Wells, I am John Villella from Sports Wrap and I'd like to ask a few questions." He snarled, "Not right now" and I think I half-heartedly persisted (every good reporter gets the story) and tried to get something out of him and he snarled again. I slowly walked out as another player came into view near the back of the room and said something to Wells. As I left the room, I heard him smash something and scream "I don't %$^% care!"

I laughed it off and my brother and I went to find our seats in the media booth with other reporters who were equipped with- well equipment while I had a stats sheet, some loose leaf paper, a pen and an old dictaphone in my pocket. Sitting beside me was my bro, who was filling up on the free pop corn. Wells went on to throw 8 shut out innings. - I thought I had something to do with it.

After the game, all the reporters filed in to the dressing room. I went over to different stalls looking for interviews. I threw my recorder into the scrum (hoping to get my hand on TV) around Brad Fullmer, who had had a big day. I walked in late to Manager Jim Fregosi's office- His interviews had already started. I noticed a bunch of recorders strewn about his desk. I was so timid- I left mine running in my pocket, hoping it would catch his voice. As his interviews were completed, I looked around the dressing room- stared in wonderment at Katheryn Humphries from CITY TV and watched Kirk Gibson and David Wells engage in converstion for a long time while reporters waited at their mercy. We left - not caring to wait for or talk to Wells again. But, I left with a sense that for the 40 dollars I was going to get for writing 300 words, I would also have a story I would tell many times over.

I wrote a few more articles for that paper- when I received a call in mid September from my boss. They were impressed with my Jays game so they wanted me to cover one Toronto Maple Leaf hockey game per month- I was floored. I was overjoyed. As the thoughts of sitting in the press box, watching live hockey for free and rubbing elbows with the likes of Howard Berger entered my mind- I responded to my boss by saying, "Sorry I can't. I 've just accepted a job teaching ESL in South Korea and I leave September 23rd. I won't be back for a year".

Talk about bad timing eh? And with that ended my Sports reporting career. I have since gone on to teach in ESL after realizing I was a pretty good instructor while learning my craft in Korea. However, every once in a while I get a nostalgic feeling of that summer and wonder what I would have felt had I stepped in the press box and been able to report on the team I love and follow and have been commenting on excessively since I was a kid- Maybe though, sometimes dreams are better off left as such.
Filed Under:   Howard Berger Leafs Blue Jays  
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