Steve From Old Bridge wants to be a sportswriter. He has already produced his first man-bites-dog story.
“I used to read your columns to help my anxiety,” he said.
Reading me to ease anxiety is like taking meth as a sleep aid, but Steve From Old Bridge — Stephen Strom’s handle back when the switchboard at WFAN would let him talk to Mike Francesa — has obsessed about Minnesota sports since he was old enough to wear No. 10 to youth hockey practice in New Jersey.
“Guys would ask me, why No. 10?” Strom said. “I’d tell them, it’s Marian Gaborik! They’d say, ‘Who?’ ”
Now a sophomore basketball player at Kean University in Jersey, Strom is not your average Minnesota sports fan. He may be tortured, but at least watching the games is inconvenient.
“At some point, as a kid, I realized, ‘This is not normal,’ ” he said.
His father, also Steve, was born and met his wife, Lynn, in Minnesota. Steve Sr. played hockey at Wisconsin before an ACL tear ended his career. The couple moved to be near Lynn’s family in Jersey.
Father and son would watch every Vikings game alone in their living room. His father once sprained his knee executing a chest bump. His father also has broken his phone, probably after Blair Walsh’s playoff miss.
Dad would wake his son at midnight, Eastern time, to watch Joe Nathan close games, and would give his son Monday off school after a Vikings playoff loss.
Strom, a standout guard and shooter at Old Bridge High School in Matawan, N.J., played against Karl-Anthony Towns in high school and wound up on the same flight as Zach Parise when Parise was coming home to sign with the Wild. Flight attendants shooed him away from Parise, but Parise insisted on taking pictures and chatting with father and son.
Last year, Strom got so excited about the Wild’s success that he saved money for a trip. Last fall, when he took his first college basketball road trip, he received $20 per diem. He started going to the college dining hall, wrapping chicken tenders in aluminum foil, and saving the money.
“We’d go to a restaurant and guys would ask me why I wasn’t eating,” Strom said. “I told them I wasn’t hungry. Late at night on the bus I’d be eating my chicken tenders.”
He attended Games 1 and 2 of the playoffs at the Xcel Energy Center. He was stunned by the in-person experience and crushed by the results. Because he is a Minnesota sports fan, that pain motivated him to start saving money to come back this spring.
“That was great,” he said. “To not be the only person in a building wearing a Wild jersey.”
WFAN really makes him feel like an outcast. Francesa has banished Steve From Old Bridge.
Strom started calling in at a young age, wanting to talk Minnesota sports. Sometimes he’d try to trick his way on by telling the producer he wanted to talk about the Yankees’ wild-card race with … the Twins.
“My dream is to be a sportswriter but also a sports radio guy,” Strom said. “I started calling all the time. I called at the beginning of the Twins season when they won four straight, and Mike was like, ‘Calm down, calm down.’ Then he told his producer not to put me on the air anymore.”
Strom was the first varsity athlete to become sports editor of his high school paper. He’s studying journalism and communications. When he suffered from anxiety in middle school, his father would print stories from the Star Tribune for him to read. Somehow, it worked.
“I want to work in Minnesota,” Strom said. “I want to do what you guys do out there.”
As a Minnesota sports fans, he has a more immediate goal.
“Just one,” he said. “Just give me one championship. Please. I’m dying out here.”