April 16, 2004

Remaining a Part Of 'The Discussion'

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I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic this past week. Nice weather, a shining sun, and Cornell males’ insistence on wearing flip-flops at all times, no matter how wet the conditions, can only mean one thing: we’re leaving soon. And this year, for me, that means leaving for good. Consequently, that also means the approaching end of Tears on the Mound. This being my second to last column, I feel pressure to say something significant. So here goes …

As I think about the future, at least one thing seems clear: I’ll never have a bi-weekly sports column again. This is probably it for me and sports journalism and, in a way, that’s a tough pill to swallow. My relationship with sports began at a young age. When I was but a few minutes old, my father had already placed a football in my crib at Hartford Memorial Hospital … OK, so it began really, really early.

My love of sports was fostered throughout my childhood and hours on the Little League field, in the backyard shooting free-throws til 3 a.m., and neighborhood stardom soon followed. After a respectable career in high school athletics — I was the All-Navy Midshipmen Scholastic Award winner after all — I came to college having realized my sporting days had pretty much ended. A few trips to the intramural basketball Final Four and Helen Newman’s competitive Thursday nights kept a bit of the competitive fire burning. However, it was here at The Daily Sun that I was able to most connect with the world of sport I loved so dearly; a world in which and around which I am most comfortable and most like the child I once was, shoveling my back patio to clear a snow-bordered path to the hoop for lay-up drills.

In the tiny confines of the old Sun offices, I found people with that same fire. Hours of arguments followed; we’d fight about anything. From who is the best freshman on the men’s hockey team to who’s the best looking female athlete on campus to who’s the ugliest player in the NBA; nothing was out of our range for argument’s sake. By the way, my answers — at that time — to the above discussions: Cam Abbott, Do Stevens, and Sam Cassell. I was always right.

Looking back on those insane nights spent here at the paper — staying up till 4 a.m. to make sure the back page was just right, coming in on Thursday afternoon to make sure the schedule on the Spring Sports Wrap was finished — somehow I still don’t regret having done it. It was right, if only because it was always less about putting out a paper and more about being able to feel at least a little bit of what it might be like to be an athlete here at Cornell; to be an athlete anywhere, for just four more years.

And that’s what I’ll miss.

In a way, I had convinced myself that not having this column anymore would essentially mean the end of my love affair with sports. I told myself that this was my last hoorah and no longer would I ever be on the “inside” like I once was. Sure I’ll probably always coach Little League, as I have for the past four summers, and sure I’ll be able to glory in my son or daughter’s athletic glories — Lord willing — one day. However, I would never again have a say in the grand debate of sports. I would never be legitimately engaged in that discussion, in The Discussion.

And then something happened.

On Easter Sunday, a chubby guy from California changed my mind. Phil Mickelson won the Masters. I had watched the entire event unfold, the greatest finish in major tournament history. Phil and Ernie playing anything you can do, I can do better. I sat mesmerized, as nervous as I’ve ever been watching television. It was the same feeling I used to get watching Duke basketball. The feeling that you’re there, that your will can somehow affect the outcome in your team’s favor.

My roommate, Jake, was watching in his room, I in mine. At one point we pondered actually watching together and then decided that it was best, for Phil, if we just didn’t change anything; Phil had, after all, just birdied 13. To make a long story short, the longest hour of my life ended with that one magical putt falling. Just moments before I had prayed one of the sincerest prayers of my life, “Heavenly Father, make this putt go in and I’ll never eat chocolate again.” I’m not sure why chocolate came up in the conversation, but needless to say, I’ve yet to touch my Easter basket.

When the putt actually fell, I screamed as loud as I had when Aaron Boone hit The Home Run. I then sprinted into Jake’s room and I’m not embarrassed to say that we embraced for darn-dear five minutes. We were actually jumping as we screamed, excited for God knows what reason … I mean, I don’t know Phil, couldn’t even tell you if he’s a nice guy. When I returned to my room, my girlfriend was literally bawling — something about the wife and kids. Our guy had won. And I truly believed I had something to do with it. That by staying in my room and resisting the urge to watch along with my roommate, by praying that prayer to the Almighty, and by not eating chocolate since, I had been right there in that gallery, suggesting a better line to Phil. Six inches off the right-side edge, Phil. Somehow I’d done it.

And that’s when I realized that no matter whether I was wearing a jersey, writing a column, or just sitting in my room watching the final round of the Masters, I’d always be engaged. My voice would always be heard. Because that’s the beauty of sports. It invites us in. Whether we’re Phil Mickelson, his caddy, the announcer in the booth, the cameraman getting the perfect shot, the guy standing in the gallery, or the little boy out on the putting green imaging the opportunity for just such a putt, we’re part of the dance. The beautiful dance; the dance I’ve been dancing since my father put a little football next to me just seconds after I was placed in this world.

Scott Jones is a former Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Tears on the Mound will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Scott Jones