It had been more than three months since I had been on-site to cover a sporting event in person.
Even though I was excited, I was actually nervous heading to my assignment. It had been quite a while since I had been in a press box. And honestly, I didn’t know if or when I would ever enter one again. But as I locked my car with my bag draped from my shoulder, I looked up and saw the entrance to Joe Becker Stadium and suddenly felt at peace.
With summer baseball starting back up in the area, I was hoping the time would soon come where I would be back working as a sports reporter. On Sunday, the opportunity finally came.
As I walked through the gate and headed up the stairs to the press box, all I could think about was how great it felt covering baseball again.
Since the end of March, I — like many of my colleagues, I’m sure — have felt like a fish out of water. With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the sports world, many in my profession, at least the ones fortunate enough to hold onto their jobs, were tasked with transitioning to the news side of the business. While you might think it's not that big of a deal to make that switch, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Sports writers are trained to work with prep and collegiate athletes, coaches and athletic directors on a daily basis. As you continue to work with the same people year after year, you inevitably build lasting relationships. I have watched athletes enter programs as unprepared freshmen, only to see them graduate as men and women in what seems like a blink of the eye. I have talked with coaches during their highest of highs, whether that's winning a big game or being promoted to head coach after being a longtime assistant. I’ve also talked with coaches at their lowest points in their careers, whether that is after losing their jobs or dealing with a team tragedy.
There is a sense of professionalism you should always have in our line of work, and while I try to be as personable as I can, I make it a point to be as real and upfront as possible with everyone I interact with because at the end of the day, the only real thing that matters is if they trust you to be fair and accurate, regardless if the story is positive or negative.
Once the pandemic hit and our industry came to a screeching halt, all of the relationships I spent time building over the past several years went by the wayside. Suddenly, I was reporting on stories about which I knew much less than what I know about sports. I was relying on others for story ideas and contacts. It was daunting and sometimes frustrating, and that stress certainly continued to build as the months passed.
On Sunday, before arriving at Joe Becker Stadium, the thought actually crossed my mind that I may have forgotten how to be a sports writer. The moment I opened the door to the press box and greeted Joplin Sports Authority’s Shaun Buck, all of that stress vanished.
Almost instantly, I remembered why I adore my job as a sports writer. I love telling the stories of athletes and coaches. I love the offhand conversations you get to have with people while covering a game. I love the interaction with parents wondering if you are covering their child’s team. Yes, you read that correctly. I even love interaction with parents of prep athletes. Most importantly, I just love watching the competitive spirit sports bring to the table.
However, my favorite thing about Sunday’s trip to a couple of the local ballparks was rekindling a relationship with a father and son from Pittsburg, Kansas, who I had not seen in years. In fact, the last time I saw them, the son was finishing up his senior year in baseball while his dad was usually right beside me in the press box doing the announcing and keeping the book. Now, they were both coaching together.
For me, that’s what sports writing is all about. It's about the relationships you build with others along the journey. If Sunday’s trip to the ballparks taught me anything, it's to not take the things you love doing for granted because you may never truly understand what they mean to you until they are gone.
Lucas Davis is a sports reporter for the Globe. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.