BY JEREMY HOECK
I was on the same flight as Carlton Fisk, a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, last week as I embarked on a 4-day trip to North Carolina.
But that wasn’t even the coolest part of the journey.
Not even close.
No, the people I met and conversations we shared while at the National Sports Media Association (NSMA) awards weekend out in Salisbury, North Carolina, was one of the best moments of my young – as I came to realize – career in this business.
While yes, I was out there to receive my South Dakota Sportswriter of the Year award, the trip was more so about the experience. “Enjoy yourself” was the advice Sports Editor James Cimburek (who had won the same award and made the same trip two years earlier) gave me.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Salisbury is a town of about 30,000 residents and it’s located along Interstate 85 about a 45-minute drive northeast of Charlotte. It’s far from a town of ‘nothing,’ but when you’re there, you definitely get the small-town feel. But yet, it’s the headquarters of the NSMA. It’s where prominent sports journalists (across TV, radio and print) gather each year to honor each other and to have a good time.
It’s not a typical convention in the sense that you sit through hours of talks and seminars (which I would’ve been fine with, honestly, given the names in attendance). No, it’s more of a social weekend. Vans and buses transport people all over town to various events, such as a ‘Legacy Night’ panel, a brunch, a bus tour, a stop at a sports book shop, a BBQ dinner, a golf tournament, a tennis tournament, plenty of shopping and the big awards banquet.
And plenty of schmoozing.
As you do in a setting like that, you tend to become close with certain people. And I happened to get to know George Wallace (the D.C. Sportscaster winner) throughout the four days. Here was a guy from a big city where he helps cover the Washington Redskins and Washington Nationals hanging out with a small-town South Dakota guy who covers (among a handful of things) mid-major Division I athletics. As it turns out, we had quite a bit in common.
There were many other names I could mention of people I got to know throughout the trip, but the opportunity to hang out with them and talk shop was awesome. In South Dakota (and Nebraska), you tend to talk with the same media members. Rarely do you get the chance to stand around and chat with journalists from around the country. And that’s what I enjoyed the most.
And I’m just now realizing I should have counted the number of times I described to people where Yankton is located. “Southeast corner” or “right on the Missouri River” or “on the border with Nebraska” or “an hour from Sioux Falls.” It would’ve likely been 95 times.
But one encounter in particular stands out, as I sit here a day after I returned to Yankton.
It was early Tuesday morning in the lobby of our hotel. I was waiting for the bus to pick a handful of us up for the trip to the Charlotte airport, and up walks Cal Fussman (Esquire Magazine). He had been in town to honor and introduce his friend Gary Smith into the NSMA Hall of Fame during the previous night’s banquet. Cal walks up to me, shakes my hand, asks me where I’m from and hands me a copy of a book entitled ‘Going Deep: 20 Classic Sports Stories by Gary Smith.’ He looks at me and says, ‘I’m going to sign this for you.’ Completely out of the blue. And as someone who subscribes to Esquire (it’s the only magazine I subscribe to anymore), it was a huge treat to meet Cal. After he signs a message that reads ‘To Jeremy, And a very good night it was!’ he tells me he’ll look me up online when he returns home.
I had the opportunity to meet people like Tom Verducci (who presented me my award), Bob Ryan and Leigh Montville and Vince Doria, and spend time up close with names like Chris Berman, Doc Emrick and Rick Reilly, but here was a famous author and reporter coming up to me completely on his own.
That was all capped off by a bus ride two rows in front of Fussman and Reilly, who spent the 45 minutes talking about their craft. I just sat and listened, and it was probably the best bus ride I’ve ever experienced.
It was awesome.
If it sounds hokey to hear me say what an incredible honor it was to be included in that fraternity, you’ll have to excuse me. Because that’s exactly what I felt, coming home Tuesday. I had been surrounded by people who have done this for 20 or 30 (or even more) years, and they are still passionate about it. They obviously love what they do. And so do I.
You don’t get into the journalism field for the awards. I’ve been lucky enough to win a few of them in my career, but when you come back from an awards ceremony, you’re right back at your desk. You’re right back to planning your next amateur baseball feature or touching base with a source for an upcoming story.
And those are the things I love about this job.
The opportunity to talk with people. ‘Everyone has a story’ is something James and I tell our staff all the time. If you approach any assignment with that in mind, you’ll come back with some great material. Everyone’s got a story.
I experienced that over four days in North Carolina.
Everyone has a story. And I was just lucky enough to be there to hear them.
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