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Ben Smith

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Deadline comes after 38 years in press box

Smith

– So I look up, here at the last, and everyone's gone. The scoreboard is blank. The gym is empty. It's just me and the laptop and the metal howl of the trash blowers now, and of course the deadline – just a whisper yet, nothing at all like the waterfall roar it will soon become.

In other words: It's time to do this.

Funny thing about endings. Almost four decades I've been climbing bleachers and sitting in press boxes and fighting technology hand-to-hand, and I never once stopped to think what it would be like to stop. I never once stopped to wonder what would happen if a Friday night arrived and there were no lights to illuminate it, or if some blue Saturday afternoon came and there were no footballs arcing across its perfect dome of sky.

Well, now I do. Because I'm stopping.

Today, after 38 years, I'm hanging up whatever it is a daily sportswriter hangs up.

And if there is a certain wistfulness in that, there is eagerness, too.

I'm quitting daily sportswriting to write, you see.

There's an outline for a novel that's been gathering dust. Some freelance work. One or two other projects.

And the 38 years I'm leaving behind?

Lord knows I've seen some things. I saw A.J. Foyt win his fourth Indy, and Ryan Hunter-Reay win his first. I saw 8,000 people jam the Wigwam in Anderson when a quarter of the town was out of work. I saw Special Olympians smile like no athlete ever smiled, and a thousand high school kids weep with the kind of joy or sorrow only high school kids ever seem to feel.

Thirty-eight years along, I know what it's like to make the tactical mistake of entering the Komets' locker room the night they clinched a Cup, because Guy Dupuis was waiting there to dump a beer on my head. I know how far a baseball has to travel to reach a city's heart, because one night a guy named Robert Lara hit one there. And I know how it feels for your muse to go Code Blue on deadline.

As the words refused to come that night, I uttered two I've been told are legendary. One was “deadline.” The other … wasn't.

We'll leave it at that.

I'll also leave it at this: None of this was ever really about the games, though the games were sometimes memorable. It was about people.

It was about the coaches and ADs who made covering high school sports a joy in these parts, simply because they cared so damn much. It was about Kevin Donley at Saint Francis and Arnie Ball at IPFW and Bob Chase over my left shoulder in the Coliseum press box, all the legends.

It was about Colin Chaulk, who taught me tired's for losers. And about Ron Howard, who taught me that grace and perseverance are for winners.

Mostly, of course, it was about the people with whom and for whom I've worked down the years. Mike Chappell, my first boss, who taught me everything I know about how to do this job right. The Inskeep family, for putting up with me for 28 years. All my bosses – Phil Bloom, Justice Hill, Jim Touvell, Mark Jaworski – and the friends and colleagues who made the last 38 years such an utter joy so much of the time.

You know who you are, every one of you. Next round's on me.

Good heavens. Look at the time.

The gym is empty, the scoreboard's blank, but the waterfall roar fills the world now. And yet somehow a voice gets through from 25 years in the past, a voice that belongs to a writer who'd just won his own deadline war in Wrigley Field one night during the 1989 NLCS.

“Yours might be better,” he said to a colleague. “But mine's done.”

And suddenly I have the perfect ending for this, the ideal signoff to 38 years of wins and losses and what-the-hell's-wrong-with-this-bleeping-thing-now.

Yes, yours might be better.

But I'm done.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986.

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