It's called the toy department of the newsroom, but being a sportswriter isn't all it's cracked up to be.
There are free games, interviews with the biggest stars in the world of sports, and free press box food.
But it comes with a price -- your dignity.
My first two jobs in the business were in sports departments -- one at a small paper in Cambridge, Ohio, and one in Red Wing, Minn.
Red Wing was a cool little town. It's located about 40 minutes south of the Twin Cities and nestled on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. The main employer was a shoe company that makes -- you guessed it -- Red Wing Shoes.
In Minnesota, I was drawn to the pro sports teams. That tended to upset my editor. He just couldn't understand why I would rather cover the likes of Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper or Kevin Garnett, when I could be covering the Red Wing girls volleyball team. Eventually the complaining of angry parents proved too much for my editor, who forbade me from covering pro sports.
I did get to make some memories covering pro sports, though.
Like the time I covered a Vikings game in 1999. All-pro receiver Randy Moss was at his most petulant. Moss, as he is now, was a huge star and every reporter wanted to talk to him after the game. After this particular contest with about 35 reporters camped outside his locker Moss emerged from his shower wearing a towel and began grabbing chairs from the locker stalls of his teammates. He proceeded to create a small wall of the chairs around his locker.
"None of y'all can come past these chairs," Moss shouted at the media, before he calmly answered questions about that game.
When I was working in Cambridge I was dispatched to Cleveland to watch the Indiana Pacers and Cavs play.
After the game I went into the Pacers locker room hoping to grab a few minutes with Pacer star Reggie Miller. Reggie declined my offer to interview him, but the story doesn't end there. Dale Davis, a 6-foot-11, 252-pound power forward, was conversing with a rookie. The rookie wanted to borrow $200 from Davis. All of this was going on in front of a small clutch of reporters. Most reporters, quiet as it is kept, do not make a whole lot of money.
So Davis is haggling with this rookie over the loan. He eventually agrees and pulls out a fat roll of bills from his pocket, peels off a bill and wags it at the reporters and asks: "Anybody got change for a $1,000 bill?"
My favorite story involves Cal Ripken Jr. Again I was in Cleveland. It was a Sunday afternoon and the Orioles were scheduled to leave town right after the game. I waited for about 40 minutes in the Orioles' clubhouse for Ripken to emerge from his shower. I knew this would be only chance to interview him.
Suddenly Ripken appeared from the shower, naked as a jaybird, and walked toward his locker. Star struck and desperate for the interview, I walked up to Ripken and asked if he minded if I asked him a few questions.
Without missing a beat Ripken looked up and said:
"Hey bud, I don't know how you feel about answering questions when you're naked, but I don't like it. Give me a few minutes to get dressed and then I'll talk with you."
I was mortified. I felt like going into the Orioles shower and crawling into the drain. I eventually got the interview. I don't remember much of what he said. But I knew at that point I didn't want to write about sports anymore. Whether it be pro sports, high school sports, any sports.
And there you have the naked truth of why.