My dad used to always ask me if I had a back-up plan.
The type of plan, he suggested, that I could maybe one day fall back on, just in case I ever needed it – such as a different skill, a different line of work.
My answer was always the same: “I don’t have anything else. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve got the perfect situation, a job I truly love. I’m very lucky.”
I did not know much about the Napa Valley — the area, the people, the schools, the athletes, the coaches — when I started working here in 1979.
If you do the math, that was a long time ago — 40 years ago. It was way before computers. It was before fax machines, voice mail, the Internet, email, iPhones and all the fascinating and creative and fancy technology that we have now.
There were typewriters in the newsroom at the Napa Register, as it was still called back then. There was a cigarette machine in the break room. Smoking was allowed in the building. There were ash trays on some of the reporters’ desks. The newspaper came out every day except Sunday, in the afternoons.
For years, we had a “bulldog” edition, a morning paper that we published on Thanksgiving Day. It was during one of those “bulldog” shifts that one of my co-workers brought a thermos to work.
I tried a cup of what he said was very good coffee. Smiling, he said it was more than just hot coffee. He had mixed it with bourbon.
It was a wonderful time, as I was just 21, only a couple of weeks out of college, working with very, very skilled and talented editors, writers and photographers — people with lots of experience and the know-how to produce on deadline and get the paper out on time.
I grew up in a hurry as a sports writer, taking on all kinds of story assignments, doing interviews, covering games, pounding out copy like never before, handling desk and editing duties, working every kind of shift imaginable — split shifts, double shifts, weekends, holidays, overtime. During football season, I’d help put the paper out on Friday morning, go home, and then cover a game later that night. I’d return to the office early Saturday morning to write the story, and then cover both an afternoon and evening game later that day.
I wasn’t tired. I loved every minute of it — the excitement of Friday night football, the rivalry games, the playoff games, the championship games, seeing the great playmakers perform under the bright lights in the fall.
A game like no other
It’s been covering football that has provided me with some of the greatest days over all these years. It’s a game like no other in the Napa Valley — the community spirit and pride, the marching bands, the stories previewing the games, the emotion, the way that fans show their support.
There is nothing that compares to the Napa-Vintage Big Game. I don’t know of any other town where two service clubs — Rotary and Kiwanis — dedicate a luncheon meeting during the week of Big Game to hosting some of the players, coaches and staff from each school.
Football has taken me to places like Tracy, Turlock, Modesto, Sacramento, Rocklin, Granite Bay, Elk Grove, Oakdale, Stockton, Ferndale and McKinleyville.
I’ve been super close to the action by watching from the sidelines. But the best spot, I feel, is in the press box, as the job is now all about multitasking — tweeting while covering the game, sometimes also taking photos. It’s been great to have a seat up top, above the crowd, with my laptop and binoculars, and a hot spot.
Football is so big that we have a media day at Memorial Stadium for coaches and players. It’s a chance to get photos and conduct interviews in advance of the season. We produce a special section, complete with team previews, rosters, schedules, photos, and so much more.
Some of the most gracious, kind and understanding people over all this time have been the custodial staff at the school sites. They have allowed me a few extra minutes to write and email my story to an editor, sometimes after the stadium lights have been turned off and most everyone has left. Thank you for your patience.
It hasn’t been easy.
There was the time I lost an entire story — somewhere around 900 to 1,000 words — while working from the athletic director’s office at a school in Humboldt County following a Justin-Siena playoff game. The screen suddenly went blank and I could not retrieve the document. Had to start it all over again, but managed to bang it out and meet the 11:30 p.m. deadline.
There was the time I got hit in the head by a rock after a game. What kind of a person does something like that to someone else? It could have been much worse — like losing an eye.
There was the time I had to spend the night in Stockton when I accidentally parked my car in a garage for city staff. Fortunately, firefighters from Stockton unlocked the garage the next day and I was able to return home.
I’ve been fortunate to get press credentials to cover the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, as well as college football.
I was on hand, standing close to the end zone, when Dwight Clark made “The Catch,” pulling in the winning touchdown reception from Joe Montana with just 51 seconds to go as the 49ers beat Dallas in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 10, 1982 at Candlestick Park, 28-27.
I got to cover Super Bowl XIX at Stanford Stadium on Jan. 20, 1985 as the 49ers beat Miami, 38-16. Montana earned MVP honors after completing 24 of 35 passes and throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
I’ve covered Raiders training camp at Redwood Middle School since 1996, the team’s first year in Napa. It’s a major story, as the Raiders spend part of the summer here, using 2½ practice fields for daily practices as they prepare for the regular season.
Will miss everything about it
I know that I’m going to miss football, and everything else — my work space in the newsroom, the daily routine of writing and helping plan and prepare budgets, contributing to the section, the deadlines, going out on assignments and meeting people, covering the sporting scene.
The Napa Valley is an amazing place to live and work, a quality of life that is hard to find other places.
It’s hard to write this: Tuesday, June 4, will be my last day, as I will be retiring from the job that I have loved so very, very much. It’s been the best job — period.
I will always be so very grateful and appreciative and thankful to Rich Heintz, the editor at the time, and Nick Nasch, who was sports editor, for hiring me, believing and trusting me, for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.
Yes, it’s been a job I have given all I can to, each and every day. It’s given me so much in return.
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It’s hard to step away from the rhythm of a newsroom. I plan to stay involved, fortunately, doing freelance work when the time allows.
I am so very proud of all the work that goes into our daily sports section — the work of Andy Wilcox and Gus Morris and so many freelance writers and photographers. Our section was third in the state among all circulation categories in the California News Publishers Association 2018 California Journalism Awards Print Contest.
It’s been the variety of the sports — golf, baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, track and field, wrestling, boxing, just to name a few — that I have always looked forward to.
I have also seen so many changes in the sporting landscape.
Water polo, lacrosse and girls wrestling were not offered when I started. Now they are.
Little League Baseball began here years ago and has a great facility, the Royce Hall Complex.
For years and years, students in American Canyon used to get on school buses early each day and travel to Vintage High. Now American Canyon has a high school — a beautiful campus with a stadium, a spacious gym and a pool.
I saw the old Memorial Stadium — and its beautiful grass field — get taken down, replaced by a very modern, larger stadium, complete with elevators that take you right to the press box.
Pacific Union College athletics has taken flight. The Pioneers play in the California Pacific Conference, an NAIA league.
The Napa Silverados are starting their second year in the Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs. It’s independent league baseball.
Some of the best high school basketball players in the country are with Napa’s Prolific Prep Academy, which was founded in 2014. The Crew plays in The Grind Session, a circuit of elite national high school basketball events throughout the fall and winter.
I covered the story on Napa, Vintage and American Canyon leaving the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section and joining the North Coast Section.
Best week of the year
Without question, the best week of the year for me is when the PGA Tour rolls into town and Silverado Resort and Spa is host of the Safeway Open. It’s part of the FedExCup schedule and features the best of the best — a field of top players competing for a ton of prize money on the very challenging North Course.
It’s a chance to cover golf for an entire week, to follow a game I absolutely love, to meet and write about the players, and to report on each of the four rounds of the tournament.
It’s a chance to watch the players go through their warm-up routine, on the driving range and on the putting green. It’s a chance to conduct interviews and produce all kinds of stories during a national event.
To spend the entire week working out of the media room and generating copy just on golf is a highlight.
I’ve been fortunate to cover PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions golf at Silverado for years, going back to the ’70s.
I also enjoy covering college golf, amateur and junior golf, mini-tour golf, and everything about the game.
It’s been an honor following Johnny Miller’s career in golf — as one of the top players and top announcers in the history of the game.
It’s been an honor following Scott McCarron’s career in golf, going back to his days at Vintage High.
I’ll never forget June of 1980, when the Vintage High boys golf team — led by Roger Gunn, Bert Buehler, Carl Wagner, Vince Scott, Mike Connerley, Charles Purdey, Wade Woodward and coach Dan Pinarretta — won the CIF state title, beating Mt. Carmel-Poway at Pebble Beach Golf Links, 411-418.
Not only have I gotten to cover the athletes in their respective sports, I’ve also gotten to know them personally, away from the game.
People like Scott Wright, Dave Rothwell, Andy Miller, Ernie Ilsley, Pat Hodge, Russ Orrick, Warren Brusstar. There are so many others.
There are generations of athletes that I have covered.
It’s been an amazing journey, to chronicle all of this, in the form of game stories, features and columns.
Newspapers have been my life since my days of having a paper route and delivering the Oakland Tribune in junior high school. Mr. Richard Rutherford was my journalism teacher in high school, at San Ramon Valley. He took so much time to help me learn what it takes to be a reporter. Bill Glazier gave me my first job, at the Valley Pioneer in Danville. I owe a huge thanks to both men.
The Napa Valley has also had some of the best coaches and athletic administrators anywhere. This includes Allen Rossi, Kevin Luckey, Barb Franco, Les Franco, Frank Defilippis, Marsha Niemann, Donna McCornack, Joe Jennum, Jerry Dunlap, Cam Neal, Jill Stewart, Nadine Wade-Gravett, Robert Maglione, Bob Steen, Matt Stewart, Bob Freschi, Brandon Farrell, Rich Cotruvo, Burl Autry, Bob Herlocker, Mike Koontz, Troy Mott, John O’Connor, Jim Hunt, Erik Zaidel, Dave Shipp, Mike Boles, Clarence Tye, Clint Smith, Denny Lewis, Darci Ward, Norma Hill, Keith Orr, Russ Critchfield, Jim Lanterman, Liza Saunders, Doug Oliveira, Mike Brown, Todd Pridy, Rich Anderson, Tim Mulligan.
No, I never had a back-up plan.
But I’ve definitely had the time of my life.