Starkey: Time for a new adventure
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Late 1990s. Jaromir Jagr and I are battling over a story I've written. Jagr disappears into the back of the Penguins' locker room and emerges with a framed photograph of ... Jaromir Jagr.
He hands it to me and says, "You need to take this home and pray to it."
I declined the offer, but I must say, in my nearly 15 years at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review — a run that ended Friday, at least in its full-time form — that moment stands out.
If I'd stayed at the Trib until March 15, I would have hit the 15-year mark. Fate intervened. So did my sense of adventure. After much deliberation, I opted to try something new: an afternoon radio gig at Pittsburgh's new sports station — 93.7 (FM) "The Fan."
I'll be co-hosting an afternoon show with former ESPN national voice John Seibel, starting 2 p.m. Monday, and I have no idea how I'll do. It could be the best decision I ever made. It could be the biggest local sporting disaster since Jeromy Burnitz. Could be something in-between. Who knows• That's the adventure.
That was part of the attraction.
Not that I'm finished in these pages. My ugly mug still will appear twice a week in the Trib (and on its Web site), so by all means, keep those angry e-mails coming. Keep arguing. It is the lifeblood of sports talk.
Cleaning out my desk this past week triggered a flood of memories. Fifteen years is a long time. And an incredibly short time. It seems like five minutes ago I was a 29-year-old bachelor living in Shadyside, working as a copy editor for the Valley News Dispatch.
Next thing I knew, I was covering Amos Zereoue and the West Virginia Mountaineers for the still-new Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
That morphed into the Penguins' beat-writer gig from 1997-2002, a job that rarely offered a dull moment (except for all those morning skates) and took me all over North America. It even took me to Tokyo to start the 2000-01 season.
From the Penguins, I moved to writing columns and was lucky enough to chronicle a Super Bowl, a World Series (Tigers-Cardinals), the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and many incredible events in-between.
Somewhere in there, I managed to get married. My team now includes a 14-year-old stepson and a 16-month-old daughter. All three of them — wife, stepson, daughter — think I am an unsalvageable idiot and disagree with everything I say, and it's looking like the daughter will go her entire life without so much as attempting to eat a vegetable.
I never would have predicted any of this, so I won't hazard a prediction on the next 15 years. Or even the next 15 minutes.
Before I move along, three notable non-Jagr moments from my Trib tenure ...
3. At the '02 Olympics, a male ski jumper named Anna Jedryka — aka "The Polish Batman" — won the gold medal. Desperate for interviews, I spotted Lech Walesa sitting in the stands (he was kind of hard to miss) and figured what the heck. I walked up to Walesa, Poland's former president and the Nobel Peace Prize winner from 1983, and struck up a conversation. A brief one, to be sure, but he could not have been more gracious.
2. As a sportswriter, you tend to root for playoff matchups that involve the least amount of travel hassle. Ottawa involves the most, particularly when attempted by automobile. That is why, when the Penguins twice drew the Senators, you heard those moans from the Mellon Arena press box. Still, the trips were memorable, especially the time myself and colleagues Rob Rossi and Karen Price found ourselves in a rental car in the middle of Canada's wilderness, in a snowstorm, eating Tim Hortons donuts and deliriously singing along to John Denver. Or was it Bruce Springsteen• I really hope Rossi has to go back to Ottawa this year.
1. Mario Lemieux's comeback game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 27, 2000, was the biggest story I covered. Bigger than the Steelers winning the Super Bowl, bigger than the Penguins winning the Cup.
And the best part was, Mario never asked me to pray to his photo.
Starting Monday, Joe Starkey will co-host "The Seibel and Starkey Show" on 93.7 The Fan. His column will appear twice weekly in The Trib. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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