I have written about 1,000 blog posts in the past 18 months as the Star Tribune sports digital reporter, often embracing the popular “Five things” online headline and format.
Analytics prove readers love this approach to delivering news, so in honor of this trend my final Strib Sports Upload post will spotlight five highlights of my time at the Star Tribune.
My last day at the Star Tribune is Friday. I have spent five wonderful years working with a talented staff and covering a great sports market. I will miss the people and the stories, but I am thrilled at the new opportunity that awaits me.
I will be traveling the world telling stories of missionaries and the faith-based work they are doing to change lives in their communities. I will also be a part of an initiative to tell the faith stories of athletes and coaches, and have been given the opportunity and backing to tell the story of the tragic accident that took the life of my grandmother, Jenny Gonzalez, more than 40 years ago. More details on my new opportunities are here.
As I prepared to say farewell, I pondered highlights from my five years at the Star Tribune. I have many great memories from my roles as the preps enterprise reporter, Gophers hockey beat writer, part of the Gophers sports team, covering the Vikings for a season, and helping lead our quick strike initiative as a sports digital reporter.
Here are the five highlights (one includes Sid Hartman) that stood out to me this week as I reflected:
2014 Frozen Four
My first year on the Gophers hockey beat delivered a trip to the Frozen Four. I spent five nights in Philadelphia following the Gophers’ national runner-up finish and left with a great appreciation for college hockey. The most memorable day of the trip was the night of the Gophers-North Dakota Frozen Four semifinal matchup. The fierce rivalry and conference realignment added to the excitement, and the finish delivered a wild night I will never forget.
Senior defenseman Justin Holl scored his first goal of the season with .6 seconds left in the third period to propel the Gophers past North Dakota, 2-1. All the reporters in the press box, including me, scrambled to rewrite their lead. I felt good with what I settled on and then rushed down to the locker room. In the process, my laptop shut on my headphones and the screen shattered. My heart dropped, but just enough of the screen was visible that I was able to copy the story and send it to my personal email. Fortunately, I packed my personal iPad and typed the second version of my story on the touch pad.
I got back to my hotel room after 1:30 a.m., ate some food, cleaned up and settled into bed. Just before I shut my eyes, SportsCenter highlighted the Gophers’ victory and displayed the Star Tribune sports cover with my story. It was the perfect ending to the day.
Read the game story here.
South High: Fighting the Odds
My first major enterprise assignment allowed me to spend three months with the Minneapolis South football program witnessing the challenges a city school faces in an era that suburban and private high schools reign. I was given full access into the lives of the players and coaches, spending countless hours with the team as if I were a part of it.
I was in the locker room for team and coaches meetings, welcomed into the homes of the players, walked to school with the student-athletes, attended their after-school jobs, watched them thrive or struggle in the classroom, and experience victory and defeat on the football field.
The intimacy of this project was special and created lifelong bonds even though we all went our separate ways after the 2012 high school football season. It was fitting that within the last two weeks of my job at the Star Tribune, I ran into some of the former players that are now young men.
T.J. Mattson approached me at a restaurant and we shared a special moment reflecting on the story and the past five years. Mattson told me he still reads/watches the story/video that won a Regional Emmy Award. Marques Jones said he still thinks about that season and the coverage we gave a team that typically is ignored. Both appeared to be doing well.
Witnessing the impact that story had and still has on their lives was inspiring and affirmed the lasting value of quality storytelling.
Read/watch the project here.
MLB All-Star Game
Baseball is my first love. I began playing at young age and was fortunate to play through college. I had the same dream of any other young ballplayer to play in the major leagues. Though that dream did not come true, I was blessed to experience the next best thing and cover Major League Baseball at times over the past 10 years and attend two MLB All-Star Games.
My first MLB All-Star experience was in Anaheim in 2010. In 2014, I was part of the Star Tribune coverage team when the Midsummer Classic came to Minneapolis during Derek Jeter’s farewell season. I grew up a New York Yankees and Jeter fan thanks to my dad and the Little League pinstripes uniform I wore for three years. I remember sitting in my living room with the lights dimmed watching the 2001 American League Division Series between the Yankees and Oakland Athletics when Jeter delivered the iconic “flip play.” Also, his jump-throw was something I regularly practiced while taking ground balls.
Then as a young reporter in California, Jeter made time for me and addressed me the same way he would any other reporter. So to be on the field to watch Jeter take batting practice before his final All-Star Game and hear the Minnesota fans chant his name throughout the game was special.
I also had the opportunity to write about Houston Astros All-Star Jose Altuve, who I covered in the minor leagues while working in California. The experience felt as if we had both reached the big leagues in our respective fields.
Getting to know the Vikings
Media and TV portray professional athletes as larger-than-life figures, especially in the NFL. My time on the Vikings beat revealed to me a different side to these men. We spend a lot of time waiting around in team locker room rooms, so occasionally it allowed for a conversation, not an interview, with a player about something other than touchdowns, injuries or the next opponent.
I was able to spend some time with Adrian Peterson discussing faith. Reflect on fond memories of Utah with Matt Asiata (we both grew up in Salt Lake City and attended rival high schools). And share a laugh with Teddy Bridgewater. Though these moments were brief, it reminded me there is so much more to these individuals than what we see on Sundays or in headlines.
After spending a season on the Vikings beat and observing athletes and coaches during my time at the Star Tribune, I was inspired to think differently about storytelling. In my next role, as previously mentioned, I will help lead an initiative to tell the faith stories of athletes and coaches.
Sitting next to Sid
As the youngest guy on our Gophers and Vikings football coverage teams, I had the honor of sitting next to Sid Hartman, our 97-year-old columnist, in the press box. While some readers might be considered this location the best spot, Sid can be a bit unruly sometimes and his neighbor often got the brunt of it. But that’s OK. I enjoyed my time sitting next to Sid and yelling the answers (he wears a hearing aid) to his many requests.
I even benefited from his fame on Halloween 2015 when the Gophers hosted Michigan on ESPN. The broadcast highlighted Sid and put the cameras on the two of us in the press box. I had just finished up yelling a stat into his right ear when my phone lit up with text messages and phone calls from friends and family watching the game.
Sid was always very kind to me and often encouraged me with compliments about my work (and my hair). Sid assured me his hair was once dark and thick, like mine. I valued Sid's feedback and will always remember what he had to say. He even took time to send a video message to my father-in-law, who read Sid’s work decades before I married his daughter.
Sid has nicknames for everyone. I first was “Mr. California” since my last job was in the Los Angeles market. Then I became “Mr. Hockey” when I moved onto the Gophers hockey beat. Eventually, I became “Mr. Internet” as I helped lead our sports digital quick strike team. He once even yelled to me, “Hey! Mr. Columnist,” after I spent a week handing our Page 2 content.
Maybe I’ll make a shirt with all the names he gave me.
There were so many other great memories including trying out for the St. Paul Saints, producing video trailers for the boys’ hockey and football state tournaments, explaining to legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant why a Star Tribune "newspaper reporter" is shooting video, experimenting with Instagram and Snapchat storytelling, writing issue stories about overuse injuries among youth athletes and the decline of golf (Part 1, Part 2), profiling the Reilly hockey brothers, and covering the first Minnesota outdoor hockey game in the modern era.
Thank you to anyone who ever read my work and please keep following along.