If you read my columns in this paper, you might be surprised to find out I’ve been doing this for a long time. But I have.
I’ve been a sports columnist since the end of ninth grade, when I decided I had something to say and someone decided he’d publish it for me. My entry into the profession was glorious:
“Hey, I’m Pete, and I’m your sports columnist. Consider this our formal introduction. You and I have a special relationship, one that not many are lucky enough to experience. As your sports columnist, I feel I have several responsibilities to you, just as you have responsibilities to me.
“My job is to show you a completely new and mind-blowing way to look at and experience sports, and to make you laugh while I’m at it. Your job is to, well, read my articles and tell all your friends to. Although our faces may never meet, we will have an unspoken bond built on love and trust, and let’s make sure that this bond stays strong as long as I’m here to guide you through the school year.”
So began my first column, published June 2003 in The Observer, Hunter College High School’s independent student newspaper. I chose a picture of myself with a baseball mitt, a golf club and a football, and I humbly titled the column “Ground-Breaking Analysis of the World of Sports.” As far as I can tell, the ground is still intact.
I devoted my first column to my fantasy baseball team. I was big on fantasy baseball back then, but my team was suffering and getting me down. I tried to reassure myself by going over reasons to stick with it:
“Playing fantasy baseball has its benefits outside of being the coolest kid in school,” I wrote. “For example, the next time I’m approached by a good-looking female who wants to know Raúl Ibañez’s batting average, I can answer her suavely and assuredly: ‘Well, he’s currently hitting .315, but as recently as a week ago his average was .352.’ No doubt my new friend will be impressed.”
Incidentally, the day I wrote that column I was told that the girl I had been “dating” for two weeks had “broken up” with me. My sports editor let the news slip. Things never went uphill.
I wrote 25 columns over three years (it was a monthly paper), touching on the pressing sports issues of the times: the women’s soccer league WUSA, athletes in movies, the evil of the Yankees, me, the baseball offseason, poker, the Irish sport of hurling, my friend Drew, me, twice about how innocent Barry Bonds is of everything ever — and me.
I wrote personally. And I wrote passionately. Not about sports, but about me. No topic was more important than yours truly. And I ranted whenever I wanted, including in my November 2004 column:
“I want to talk about the world. That’s right, not just the world of sports. I want to discuss it all. However, since the editors of this fine publication you’re reading won’t give me an opinions column, I’m stuck here.
“The thing is, no one really cares whether or not I write about sports. Among the many utterances that have never, in fact, been uttered is, ‘Did you see Pete’s latest column? He really shed new light on [insert name or issue here].’ ”
My columns were my kingdom. They were hardly edited, and never questioned. I could do whatever I wanted, even while the world watched, and no one could stop me.
I tried to be funny, but I didn’t succeed often. I relied on self-deprecating humor, which mostly fell flat, as it did in my April 2004 column:
“Recently a number of people have commented on how my columns are no longer funny, or that they never were. To these people I have promised that I’ll hit them with a column so uproariously funny that they’ll forget all my past lack of humor. Unfortunately this column isn’t that column.”
Someone thought that column was funny, though. I wrote it for the March issue, but our faculty advisor made me push it back to April, to appear in the April Fool’s issue, because she didn’t want people to take it seriously. That was our substitute for censorship. And editing.
Every few months, though, I’d stop talking about myself and attempt a joke about something else. Coming back to school one year, I wrote:
“I’d like to welcome you back, sports fans, to another year of ground-breaking analysis! What a summer it’s been. Surely you laughed and surely you cried, but hey, that was only in the first three innings of any Met game you watched.” Apparently I thought I had a percussionist to back me up with a rim shot.
Luckily, I’ve stopped trying so hard to be funny. More important, I’ve come to understand the importance of content. People don’t want to read a string of jokes, at least not in a sports column. They care that columnists have something to say, something new and interesting to read. And they don’t want columnists just to write about themselves.
Sorry. Check back next week.
Pete Martin is a junior in Morse College. His column appears on Thursdays.