When I came to the Observer, 20 years ago this summer, I didn't know anybody. I was a one-person bureau in Lancaster, S.C., and on Tuesdays I drove up to Rock Hill for a staff meeting. That trip to Rock Hill was a big deal -- I wasn't making many friends in Lancaster, and it was good to just hang out with people I liked. The guy I ended up hanging out with most was one of our sportswriters, Joe Posnanski.
Joe was even younger and greener than I was. He had majored in accounting at UNC Charlotte until he realized one day that the last thing in the world he wanted to be was an accountant. What he really wanted was to write sports. So he wrote a letter to the Observer asking for a job. The paper took a chance on him and put him in a slot compiling agate, the tiny type of stats and standings on the sports page. Every night Joe would put together the agate, and in the spare moments between deadlines he would write columns about the sports news of the day. These columns were never published. Joe was writing for, literally, nobody. But somehow an editor found the columns in the computer system. The paper gave him a writing job. When I was down in Lancaster County, covering car wrecks and sewer-line breaks, he was in York County covering high-school basketball and writing the weekly volleyball notebook. We bonded over sports and music, we swapped stories from our favorite writers, we burned to get better and move up.
Sometimes, after work, we'd throw a baseball around in the parking lot of Joe's apartment complex, and we'd dream about where our careers might go. At the time our biggest dream was just to make it into the main office in Charlotte (we called it the Big House, or sometimes the Mothership). But sometimes we'd talk about other dreams, like maybe actually writing a column someday, or even working for a magazine. Our favorite magazine -- the defining magazine for both of us growing up -- was Sports Illustrated. They had the great Frank Deford, they had the brilliant Gary Smith, they told the kinds of stories we wanted to tell. But that was a dream too far away, in another galaxy somewhere.
Since those days in the parking lot, Joe moved on to write columns in Augusta, Ga., and then Cincinnati, and for the last 13 years in Kansas City. His blog has hundreds of thousands of readers. His third book is coming out in a few weeks.
And yesterday, my buddy Joe accepted an offer to become a senior writer at Sports Illustrated.
Joe has tremendous talent -- had it all along. But you can draw a straight line from Sports Illustrated back to those nights on the sports desk when he wrote stories for nobody, like shooting jumpers in an empty gym, hoping and planning for the day when he would get his chance.
I'm proud beyond words for my friend. But now I need to file this and get ready to write the next thing. That's what Joe would do.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Posted by tommy tomlinson at 10:03 AM