Saturday, December 31, 2011

No. 887 – Do the Neurotic

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: In Too Deep single
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: None

In my third quarter, I finally got a chance to show Northwestern what I could do from a journalism standpoint. I hadn’t been savvy enough to handle local reporting—particularly when events didn’t lead to a particularly newsy cycle—and I was only slightly better off writing about business.

But in spring 1987, Medill started its first sportswriting class. For a quarter, I covered baseball under the direction of Ron Berler, who was famous for inventing the Three-Ex-Cubs Factor, which held that no team that had as many as three ex-Cubs could win a World Series. (It held true for a long time; I don’t know if form still holds given the vagaries of free agency.) When you consider that I already knew I wanted to be a sportswriter and the the only reason I went to Medill was to get a degree, this was right in my wheelhouse.

The class was essentially broken in half: We would cover a college team for half of the quarter and then trade and cover an area high school team or vice versa. I started with a high-school baseball team—after a week of covering the Cubs (definitely more on that later)—and when I hear this song, I think about driving up Sheridan/Green Bay road to tony Winnetka and New Trier High School.

Even those who aren’t familiar with Chicago might have heard of New Trier. It’s probably one of the more well-known public high schools in the country. A whole bunch of famous people graduated there: Two who immediately come to mind are Charlton Heston and Ann-Margaret.

New Trier also has a storied athletic program, and the baseball team was expected to be good again in 1987. The goal, as it was every year, was to “make it downstate”—qualify for the state championships. Although Berler had called all of the high schools to clue them in on what we’d be doing and they signed off on it, I still made sure to drive up ahead of the season and introduce myself to the head coach, Ron Klein, and let him know that I would be around—covering them like I would a pro team, minus being in the lockerroom after they showered, of course. I was a bit hesitant at first, but it didn’t take long to feel comfortable.

Actually it was a breath of fresh air: The two coaches, Klein, who had coached at New Trier forever, and Pete Burnside, a former major leaguer, were gracious and patient with this cub reporter, and the players were kids who loved any attention they got. It was a really fun spring, and considering how I was coming off a rough breakup, I really needed that.

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