Tonight marks the end of something even though the Calder Cup Finals will play on next week in Coachella Valley. Saturday night marks the Hershey Bears’ final home game of the season at Giant Center. It’ll also mark the final game I’ll cover in person as a beat writer this season. That’s been weighing on me and I wanted to morph back into LiveJournal Mode to explain.
For those who are longtime followers of the site, you know that me leaving the sanctity of what Alan May so kindly calls My Mom’s Basement is rare. We’ve been credentialed by the Capitals for over a decade, but the beat writer role is one I’ve always personally avoided — even though I’ve had great interest and been very curious about it.
Understand my perspective. I’m not a professional beat writer; I didn’t go to journalism school (though my brother gave me a great education) and being in-person in that role has never been that fun for me. When I’ve tried it out, I’ve found it harder to write quickly and in a way that is approachable to our readership. Imposter syndrome creeps in – especially when Teemu Selanne chucks a Gatorade bottle past your head and towards the trash after an overtime loss. And honestly, in my heart, there’s no competing with the other journalists who did go to school and do this every day for a living. I don’t want to imitate anyone. I don’t want to be fifth best at anything. I want to be best at whatever I do.
That thinking of mine went unchallenged for years until now.
When the Capitals missed the playoffs and their season ended in mid-April, our site was facing a gulf of meh content for months.
But 100 miles north, there was hockey still happening. The Hershey Bears – the team’s AHL affiliate – were one of the top teams in the league and had earned a bye in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. The Bears team had a ton of interesting stories not yet told, especially after Washington had leaned so heavily on its veteran players for years. And frankly, there hasn’t been much good, consistent reporting of the team that has made it down to the DC area since Tim Leone retired.
Every time I’ve gone up there it’s been both fruitful for the site and fun for me personally. Andrew Gordon blogged the 2010 Calder Cup Finals with us and became a real-life friend of mine. I’ve covered the team’s Teddy Bear Toss annually. I’ve had the absolute honor of being mentored over the years by Gregg Mace, a Hershey Bears Hall of Fame media member, while his son Kyle contributed photography to our site. Gregg tragically passed away in 2019.
So I decided, upon the encouragement of our staff, to cover the entirety of Hershey’s postseason run. I had the confidence and conviction of that waffling Larry David GIF that I’d actually follow through on it.
But I have. And since April until now in mid-June, I’ve driven thousands of miles and forced my family to postpone our summer vacation. (Sorry!) But I’ve felt like I’ve told some pretty great stories.
We also worked with the team to help sell out Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The other night as Game Four of the Calder Cup Finals was about to start, I noticed my eyes were welling up with tears. I began feeling really warm inside. You know that type of warm where you feel embarrassed and a little anxious, but you’re not actually embarrassed or a little anxious? I looked around to make sure no one in media row noticed my watery eyes. I already stick out like a sore thumb because of my hat.
The emotion started during the national anthem. Usually, the anthem is a time for people to stare resolutely at the US flag, but I am an anthem bad boy as you may be have guessed. I take the time to look around and soak in my surroundings. You never know when your day will be your last, right? I always try to appreciate every moment.
I looked down. There were over 10k extremely enthusiastic people in the house for a minor-league hockey game. On the ice, there was the team — players and coaches — who I have become quite fond of. They have truly put it all on the line to win. They’ve tried just as hard to give me good quotes off the ice — one player even spoke to me on his off day — and they’ve accepted me as I’ve sometimes stumbled on questions. As a kid who played basketball all his childhood and was good enough to start in high school but was never good enough to play in college or the NBA, there is a special appreciation and respect I have for them. For some, this may be the highest level they will ever play. But that’s okay, because this is an incredible accomplishment and something that will form their identity for the rest of their lives.
I thought about Gregg and how proud I know he’d be of me – for how much I’ve grown as a writer and reporter. I wish, so badly, he could see me now. I thought about my family and how much my wife has sacrificed to watch my son many nights alone during this stretch. I’ve thought about media row and how accepting they’ve been of me. How nice, egoless, and talented they all are. I thought about the late night Sheetz runs a few of us have made together, getting to know each other on a real and genuine level.
I thought about how this all is about to end.
This whole experience — even the two hour long drives where I can just jam to Froggy 107.7 on the way up 15 — has been beautiful. Every bit of it.
Thursday night, marked what was the second to last night of something I always hoped I’d do, but have never done out of my own choice or laziness or fear or busy-ness. It’s the first time I felt like I truly belonged up there and now it’s all ending.
So I just wanted to write this if you see me tearing up again or smiling randomly tonight. To everyone who has made this such a special and seamless experience for me — you know who you are — from the bottom of my heart: thank you. You didn’t have to, but you did.
Headline photo: Ian Oland/RMNB
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