ABOUT THIS SERIES
Each day we’ll turn this page over to one of our sports writers to share behind-the-scenes stories from their years with The Times-Dispatch.
Background: Grew up in Chesterfield County. Graduated from Meadowbrook High and VCU (light-hitting, walk-on backup in baseball). Started full time at The Richmond News Leader in 1983.
Little known fact: When I was young, my father showed me how to take a deck of cards and play a football game. I used to play as different teams and write stories about it. My mother some years later suggested I should look into a writing career.
Greatest joys: Sharing life with my beautiful wife, who’s my best friend; my two sons and their accomplishments; talking to my father; being blessed with great friends; playing sports; being able to write about sports and working with tremendously gifted colleagues; and being around baseball and the beach.
Greatest pain: Deadline.
Greatest pain for editors: Me on deadline.
Say it ain’t so, Joe: I was 8 when my father took me to City Stadium in 1968 to see Joe Namath and the New York Jets play the Boston Patriots in an exhibition game. Namath didn’t play because of a knee injury and sat in a chair on the sideline. Of course I had to go down after the game and touch the chair.
Sports bucket list: Going to Fenway Park and Lambeau Field, and covering a World Series. Fenway Park was crossed off the list several times. In 2017, my wife surprised me with tickets to Lambeau Field to watch the Packers and Saints. My son Grant, a Saints fan, went with me. Aaron Rodgers was hurt, it rained (waterlogged my Cheesehead) and Green Bay lost. Didn’t care. It was a priceless experience. I finally crossed the World Series off the list last year when I got to cover three games in Washington.
Memorable games I’ve covered: I’m sure after 37 years I’m forgetting something, but Eric Maynor games at VCU stick out. There was the 2007 NCAA tournament against Duke, when Maynor scored 6 points in the final 1:24 and capped it by making a jumper near the foul line with 1.8 seconds left for a 79-77 victory. It wasn’t a vintage Duke team, but it was still Duke, and it was harbinger of things to come for VCU. There were the 9 straight points Maynor scored in the final 1:55 of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title game that year to shove VCU from a 5-point deficit to a 65-59 victory over George Mason. Oh yeah, and there was that series of VCU games in 2011 that didn’t involve Maynor: The Rams’ Final Four run, especially the VCU-Kansas game in the region final.
A few others: marveling at left-hander Jim Abbott, who was born without a right hand, throwing a five-hitter and striking out eight for the U.S. Olympic team in a 2-1 loss against the Cuban national team at The Diamond in 1988 (Abbott later threw a no-hitter in the big leagues); some of the slugfests and dust-ups between the Richmond Braves’ Great Eight and the Charlotte Knights in 1993 (there were two future Hall of Famers — Richmond’s Chipper Jones and Charlotte’s Jim Thome — and multiple future major league all-stars); watching R-Braves right-hander Pete Smith throw a seven-inning perfect game in Rochester in 1992 in an absolutely dominating performance; and almost witnessing back-to-back no-hitters during a “tripleheader” at The Diamond in 1988. Richmond and Maine finished a suspended game, then played two seven-inning games. In the first seven-inning game, Richmond’s Tommy Greene lost a no-hitter with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when Tony Brown dumped an 0-2 pitch behind second base for a single. Maine’s Marvin Freeman threw a no-hitter in the second game. Greene threw a no-hitter in the big leagues in 1991.
Anybody got a phone line (part 1)? I went to cover a state high school basketball doubleheader in Northern Virginia with Weldon Bradshaw.
We needed a phone line to plug into our computers to send our stories back to the office in those days, and I had arranged with the school’s athletic director to use the phone in his office.
Weldon had the first game and filed his story. I was in the AD’s office, almost finished writing the second game, when the janitor came to the door and said he was leaving. “Can you wait about 10 minutes?” I said. Nope, the janitor said, he was leaving, and if we didn’t want to get locked in the school we needed to get moving.
We got in the car and drove to a nearby shopping center across from George Mason.
I told Weldon we’d go into the McDonald’s and I’d finish writing, and then I’d worry about finding a phone.
This was before people took their laptops into cafes and restaurants. Some kids were hanging around wondering what I was doing, and I remember Weldon asking them to leave me alone so I could write.
Then Weldon went on a scouting mission in the shopping center.
I finished pretty quickly (a miracle for me), and Weldon came back and said there was a Radio Shack in the back.
We hustled over there. I told one of the employees what I was doing and that I needed a phone line and offered to pay for it. He told me he needed to go check with the manager. He came back and said I could use one of their lines for $10 (I think). Deal. I was a several minutes late filing the story, but it got in. Weldon and I still laugh about that story.
Anybody got a phone line (part 2)? Also from the pre-wireless days, I went with Vic Fulp to cover another state high school basketball doubleheader in Portsmouth. Vic covered the first game. We didn’t have access to a phone line that worked — until I discovered a jack in the floor right beneath the table where we were sitting. Vic connected and sent his story.
When I came back from the locker room after my game, the table had been taken down and my computer and notes were on the floor or in a chair (can’t remember which).
It was evident everybody was in a hurry to leave.
I told Vic we’d drive to a nearby hotel and I’d see if I could talk my way into using the line from a fax machine. “No” was the answer at the first hotel. Hotel No. 2 was close by. I explained the situation and told the person at the desk I’d be willing to pay to use the fax machine or a phone in a room. “Sorry.” Now 0 for 2, I told Vic I’d sit in the lobby and write and dictate the story on a pay phone if necessary.
As I was finishing, Vic started looking around the lobby. In the middle of the wall, he came across something that looked like an electrical cover. He pulled it back, and there was a phone jack that probably hadn’t been used in years. I don’t think the person at the desk could see us, so I plugged in and sent the story. As we were leaving, I said something like, “You have a phone jack on the wall in the lobby that works. I used it. It was an 800 number, but if you need to charge me for it, here’s my business card.” I told Vic I was going to church on Sunday.
Favorite interview story (part 1): As an intern at The Richmond News Leader in 1981, I was sent to cover the Richmond contingent in the U.S. Youth Games in Massachusetts. Arthur Ashe was the grand marshal. Given Ashe’s Richmond background, I asked the organizers if I could interview him. I don’t remember all the specifics, but I think I was told they’d see what they could do. As the day wore on, it didn’t look as if it was going to happen.
Finally, I was told he had some time to talk on the way to the airport — in a limo. I don’t remember who else was in the car or what I asked or wrote, but I’ve always remembered how nice and gracious he was and that I had an interview in a limo with one of the greatest humanitarians in the world.
Favorite interview story (part 2): I was at my desk one day in 1985. One of the secretaries came from the other side of the newsroom and said “Dr. J” was on the phone. One of our other writers had lined up an interview with Julius Erving, whose 76ers team was coming to Richmond for an exhibition game against Washington. The writer had stepped out, so then-assistant sports editor Jack Berninger looked at me and said, “Talk to him.” I think I stammered, “About what?” I was covering high schools and hadn’t paid much attention to the exhibition game. So the secretary went back across the newsroom and transferred the call to me.
Dr. J had been on hold for several minutes by then. I answered the phone, he was still there, and I apologized for the wait. Dr. J was easy to talk to and gracious. I knew he had played with the ABA’s Virginia Squires and they had played some home games in Richmond, so I winged it and we talked about his memories for quite a while.
Interview that didn’t happen: I was working on a story about former Richmond Braves pitching coach Bill Fischer’s 50th year in baseball in 1997. Fischer was the pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox for several years when Roger Clemens was there. So on the off chance, I called Boston’s media relations department and told them what I was doing and asked if I could speak to Clemens. The answer was something like, ‘We’ll put you on the list, but there’s a lot of people who want to talk to him.” I gave them my home number (I didn’t have a cell phone then) but figured there was no chance he’d call.
Several days later, I had just left to drive to Norfolk to cover a game between the R-Braves and the Tides. Guess who called? My wife answered and talked to Roger Clemens. I never did.