May 5, 2010

A Look Back at Where it All Began

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I never thought this day would come. Now that it has, I am struck by an intense desire to go back to the beginning.  But since I can’t do that, I’ll just have to settle for a trip down memory lane.  Reflecting on four years as a proud member of The Sun’s sports section, three of which I also wrote a column on a semi-regular basis, my mind wanders back to the first column I ever wrote. This never published piece, a little thing called “The Wisdom of NASCAR,” was written during the summer of 2007 and served as my tryout for a permanent position as a sports columnist.  Here is an excerpt from that column, which was the first time I expressed my opinions about sports on paper (or, in this case, computer screen). Yes — to make up for the fact that I’m about to subject you, dear reader, to 1,000+ words of sentimentality, I’m giving you a portion of a “real” column first.  At the very least, this blast from my writing past can demonstrate how I (and all of us who are entering a new chapter in our lives) have now come full circle.  “That’s what happens to every sport — the greed, the money, the free agency.” SportsCenter? No. PTI? Wrong. Barkley? Still not it. These words of wisdom did not come from any “officially” sanctioned sports commentator. No, the source was the wonderful man from Facilities who fixed the hot water in my townhouse a few weeks ago, and believe it or not it was the most revered and reviled “sport” in the land, NASCAR, that inspired this nugget of truth. Let me try to explain this ridiculous scene … It was a beautifully sunny Friday outside, but I was plastered to my bed recovering from a “celebration” the night before. Anywayyyyys. Soundly passed out, I woke up to the noises of several men working, talking and laughing loudly (very loudly to me) outside my room. After a while, I could sense a serious conversation taking place, and my groggy suspicions were confirmed when I heard one of the men say, “She’s not doing it for the love of the game. She’s just doing it for the money.” Whether it was simple ignorance, my semi-conscious state or a combination of the two, I very slowly pieced together what they were talking about. The “51-49” the men kept throwing around was the 51 percent ownership stake that Teresa Earnhardt (“she”) supposedly offered her stepson Dale Earnhardt Jr. to stay with DEI, the racing organization that Dale Sr. founded. The “free agency” that “happens to every sport” was what Dale Jr. — hero of the NASCAR circuit — announced the day before that he would enter despite a lifelong association with his famous father’s company. I will say it here and now; I am the first person to admit that I know nothing about NASCAR. Incidentally, no matter what ESPN Programming does, I don’t think that it’s a real sport. These devoted NASCAR fans, however, definitely hit on something genuine about the often seedy, political world of sports.  It can be as concrete as the age-old battles between athletes and owners, athletes and coaches, coaches and owners. We see these tensions and squabbles on the court (Larry Brown’s tenure with the Knicks), in the dugout (one word … Steinbrenner) and in the gym (steroid use due to the greed of athletes and of their advisors). It can be as abstract as the conflict between love, worship even, for the purity of the game and the greed that often drives money-grubbing owners or, more and more in the modern era, self-absorbed and money-grubbing athletes. A cynical person might say that Dale Jr. falls into the latter category.  It makes me laugh to think of my freshman self writing this. It feels like it was a million years ago.  I would not be the (hopefully improved) journalist I am today without the advice and encouragement of all of the sports editors I worked under or with over the past four years — here they are in some form of chronological order: Olivia Dwyer (You are one of the reasons that I joined the sports department; you believed in me from the start, and I can’t thank you enough.), Tim Kuhls, Paul Testa (You still think I’m a “traitor” for working on Red Letter Daze, but I hope you know that my heart was always with sports.), Josh Perlin (Your continued support means so much to me, I can’t even say.), Harrison Sanford (You just make everything more fun … I also credit you with introducing me to my favorite YouTube video of all time, “Serious Baby,” so thanks a million for that.), Lance Williams, Cory Luther Word Bennett (There are no words. You are one of the best combinations of niceness and talent that I have ever encountered in my life — no matter how self-deprecating you get (Eeyore style), I will tell you truthfully that you were an AWESOME sports editor and that you are destined for great things.), Meredith Bennett-Smith (Meredithhhhh … we were the two girls who came in together freshman year with Olivia as our idol, and ever since then you never cease to amaze me. You make me laugh so hard I think I’m going to keel over, you write so well that it makes me cry, you do a million things like a champion — most importantly, you are an incredibly good person, and YOU ARE MY HERO.), Keenan Weatherford (Remember the time when a crazy freshman ran for an editorial position and ended up becoming the first editor-in-chief to come from the sports section in … oh, I don’t know … forever? I’m so proud of your accomplishments and how you’ve grown over the past few years, and I know that The Sun is safe and sound under your watchful, but supernaturally laid-back protection.), Matt Manacher (Thanks for being my Sun Yankee-fan buddy … The good times are here to stay), Rahul Kishore and Alex Kuczynski-Brown (I look forward to many more EPIC back pages.).  And to the sports youngins (A.J. Ortiz, Evan Rich and especially my Sun little Reena Gilani), I’m just going to say that I have complete faith in you guys. Have fun; keep up the good work, and make sure to maintain a steady supply of Shortstop Deli bananas in the office to supplement Alex’s baked goods. Trust me — bananas make everything better.   I’m not kidding.  I have spent a large percentage of my four years at Cornell down at the office at 139 W. State St., and it is not just an empty cliché to say that it is a magical place where time can seem to go faster or slower than the world outside those walls.  Much of that magic comes from The Sun’s power behind the throne and resident DJ, John Schroeder ’74. Schroeder, it’s been an honor working with you, first on sports and then for Daze. Motown nights at the office will always hold a special place in my heart.  To the 126th and 127th editorial boards: I love you guys. Working with all of you has been both ridiculously fun and a privilege. If I name what I love about each and every one of you, then I’ll make The Sun go bankrupt. Suffice it to say, I hope I have made my appreciation of you all clear over the years we have worked together.  For those of you in the same senior boat as me, it’s our time. For those of you who still have some time left on the Hill, enjoy every minute of it — it goes by faster than you can possibly imagine.  Many thanks to all the athletes and coaches here at Cornell, as well as the good people over at Athletic Communications, who let me invade their lives on a regular basis to ask so many annoying questions. I hope I did justice to all of your hard work and dedication.  And to my roommates: Thanks for tolerating my sports-related eccentricities, especially when the Yankees were on TV. Now that I have thanked the people who have enabled my sports journalist ambitions at Cornell, I would like to recognize the family that has stood by me my entire life — from my grandparents back in Virginia to the family members who live in Ithaca and have provided the best support system I could ask for over the last four years.  Nick: Hey little bro, I could not have maintained my sanity here without you; you were always checking in on me and cheering me up when I was down. I’ve always been so proud of you, and the Cornell Class of 2014 is better off with you in it. I can’t wait to watch you make your mark here over the next four years! Mom: You are the sweetest, smartest, funniest person in my life. I know you always accept me for who I am, but you also inspire me to be a better person. I’m incredibly proud of you in so many ways, starting with the fact that you passed Dad’s baseball trivia test. You are a saint.  Dad: I know I harass you about bringing the professor home, but you have taught me so much. I may not always appreciate it properly, but you are my best editor. From our intense ping pong sessions in the basement to you sharing your obsessive knowledge of baseball (and basketball and football) trivia, you are the one who taught me the true meaning and value of sports.  I owe everything to you two — all of my skills as a writer, all of my ambition for myself and, of course, my love of sports, especially our beloved Bronx Bombers.  Speaking of which … To all the Yankee haters out there who automatically dismissed my opinions as soon as I declared my everlasting allegiance to the pinstripes in this column: Get over it. I have loved the Yankees all my life, not because they were good but because they inspired me. And they continue to inspire me.  Don’t criticize me for having heroes — I’ll take inspiration anywhere I can get it.  Now, for my last act as a Daily Sun sports columnist, I will explore another source of inspiration and explain the “mystery” of my moniker, “In Your Ear” (though I’m sure many of you sports fans have already guessed the answer).  It is a phrase from my favorite sports movie of all time, Field of Dreams. During a ball game between two teams of ghosts, young Archie “Moonlight” Graham has been hazed by the veterans and is being advised by the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson before he returns to the plate.  Shoeless Joe Jackson: The last two have been high and tight, so where do you think the next one’s gonna be? Archie Graham: Well, either low and away … or in my ear. Shoeless Joe: He’s not gonna want to load the bases, so look for low and away. But watch out for in your ear. Though he’s haunting a baseball field in Iowa as he says this, Shoeless Joe is obviously a very wise individual.  Sports — like life — is full of the unexpected. Go with it. That’s the last bit of advice from your friendly former Sun sports columnist, by way of a baseball ghost.

Original Author: Allie Perez