I begin this column as I’m departing the Oakland, Calif., airport with treats of Oreos, Lorna Doone cookies, Ritz crackers and — oh, yes — those ubiquitous peanuts promised.
The key word is departing because I’m retiring from The Vindicator after 33 full-time years with the sports department and another 10 as a part-timer, starting my senior year of high school in 1968.
This longtime association — at least in its present form — has come to a close for several reasons, the utmost of which is family.
Upon acceptance of an award or achievement, it’s commonplace for individuals to give credit to a slew of people who gave them the opportunity to reach a goal.
I had no particular goal, but I definitely had someone standing behind me.
Although she clearly detested my unenviable work schedule, my wife stayed just that: my wife.
There were some difficult times and close calls to ending it all, but, somehow, our marriage survived.
It was probably not more apparent that my work life had taken the place of our life when our 40th wedding anniversary was celebrated last July 1. It was then that I grimly realized that our parallel existence — she worked days and I worked nights — was separated by a void.
At age 631/2, after a heart attack and pacemaker and with plenty of fresh memories of co-workers who have gone to that sports department in the sky, the writing was on the wall.
Former sports editor Chuck Perazich tried to convince me that working those 6 to 2 a.m. hours gave me a chance to be around my children when they were young, which it did. I was home when they were at home and, when they were in grade school, I made a great lunch mother. The downside was that I couldn’t be a soccer mom or coach any of my kids’ teams.
Starting under Lawrence Stolle as my first boss, there were many people along the way who made the job a story in itself. It’s no stretch that a few of the sidelights actually took on a published form.
Probably the most embarrassing was being assaulted by — I’d like to call them some unprintable words — a gang of youths, who jumped me as I walked for help after my car wouldn’t start following a Friday night high school football game at Rayen Stadium.
The story made the front — not sports — page of the Saturday paper.
Another was what I’d consider a little risky, but innocuous, nonetheless.
Before leaving work one late football Friday night back in the ’70s, I spotted a photo ready for possible publication that showed a running back with a full moon in the background sky. With a crayon, I took the liberty to touch up the glossy print by filling in the white space of the moon with several dots that represented a smiley face.
Much to my delight, the photo ran in the next day’s paper with no repercussions.
Whew! That may have been the world’s first attempt at Photoshop.
I’ve made my share of mistakes, but I’d like to think that Sr. Marie Terese, my 8th-grade teacher, would agree that, in the words of the old cigarette ad slogan: “You’ve come a long way baby.”
Since that day as class recording secretary, I never again misspelled business as bussiness. I never again got my hands whacked, either.
In the not-too-distant past, a reader — a college professor, I believe — corrected me on my improper usage of a pronoun in the objective case when it should have been in the nominative case and another let me know I misidentified the county of an Ohio high school.
Thomas Edison had a favorite motto that invention/genius is “1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” but I tend to think that good writing is probably 80-20.
As a student in Mr. DeAngelo’s 10th-grade English class, little did I know that his refrain that “revision is the key to good writing” would be paramount.
In looking back on favorite stories, I’d have to rate one about the intersection of Albert and Belle streets on the East Side among the best. I submitted it for an AP contest, but got shut out. Actually, I thought the accompanying photo should have been a winner, but it wasn’t eligible in the story category.
Even Albert Belle thought it should have hit a home run.
In a non-work unrelated endeavor, I entered — or tried — an art contest sponsored by YSU. I snapped pictures of signs of 12 restaurants along the Belmont Ave. corridor and entitled it “The Delightful Dining Dozen.” That, too, got booted before the judges had a chance to see it because I failed to properly mount the photos on the board.
Thinking back, the Youngstown Hardhats semi-pro team was unique as were the beats for the Youngstown Pride and Mahoning Valley Thunder.
Keeping a play-by-play log of those high-scoring WBL games was nearly impossible, but they were fun. The few road trips I took with our under 6-5 pro basketball team included their appearance in the Four-on-the-Floor in Las Vegas and a bus ride when the team played the Erie Wave. The return trip after that game was hysterical, especially after a stop at a brew-thru.
On the flip side, it’s nice to know that, at one time, a member of the Pride was Tim Legler, an ESPN basketball analyst.
It wasn’t long ago that the Thunder’s last coach, Chris MacKeown, was gracious enough to respond to my most stupid question.
After a practice, I approached him and, trembling and ready to cover my face, asked: “Coach, does your team stink?”
As unprofessional as I was, MacKeown was the opposite.
Some memorable individuals I met were Vince Ferragamo (LA Rams), Dwight Clark (49ers), Steve Garvey (Dodgers) and Mike Tyson and Thomas “Hitman” Hearns.
I looked at former YSU A.D. Joe Malmisur as being like my father, because both he and my father chided me, at times, to set me straight.
The most inspirational assignment came when I visited former University of Georgia football player George Poschner of Youngstown in a nursing home. He was a double amputee from war injuries, but he managed to look at his plight positively.
Some job assignments turned ugly. One was when I cut in front of a TV reporter to get an interview with the Detroit Pistons’ Bob McAdoo and another was shoving a videographer who cut into my space on the roof of an outdoor pressbox.
I didn’t make many friends with bowlers, but sometimes you’ve got to call a spare a spare. That goes for one Tour of the Valley, one Peace Race and one Gus Macker story, all of which required damage control after I covered them. The organizers had a job to do and so did I.
There were stressful times, like frantically trying to transmit a 1989 Mancini fight story from my hotel room in Reno in the middle of the night, knowing there was a three-hour time difference with a morning deadline approaching. Had the 20th-floor window opened, I would have thrown the computer out.
Closer to home during an early September high school football game at Kennedy Catholic, I shunned the sweaty pressbox to sit in the bleachers. Bad move because my papers blew away and landed below on the inaccessible roof of the concession stand.
Another incident that contributed to my decision to retire was a dream about the wire room in the old Vindicator building, where I spent many nights ripping copy from teletype machines and watching the rotund facsimile machine spit out photos that dropped in a tray.
The dream was of my wake in that room with people filing by.
For most of the 70s and 80s, the night janitors — “Joyce,” Ted and Clarence — were my only friends and Larry King’s late night radio show was my entertainment. I was one of the listeners who heard his breaking news of John Lennon’s murder in New York in 1980.
About four years later, I strolled out of the office and down Boardman St. to watch the Olympic torch come through downtown on its way to Los Angeles.
But this is 2013 and I feel like a dinosaur, or worse yet, a typewriter.
I’m hopelessly lost in the past.
As the old-timers from the mills used to say: “Forty years, Sheet & Tube,” meaning they worked that long in one place.
You know it’s time to go when the names of pigtail and Smurf league players I used to type in are now middle-aged women.
So, from the flight deck, this is your captain speaking and this ride is over.
There was some turbulence, but no damage, even for that smiley face.
Throw it all into a bag, shake it and what do you get?
As I finish this several days later at my desk, it’s nearly 3 a.m. and there’s not a Lorna Doone left in the room.
I guess it’s time to call it quits.
John Bassetti worked as a sports writer for The Vindicator for 43 years.