According to Me: The sportswriter is there

Shelve this volume in the library of the reminiscent.

The ball fell harmlessly into the first baseman’s mitt Friday, serving as the punctuating moment of not only the Demopolis High softball season, but of the athletic year for Marengo County.

Whether populated by championship runs or crash landings, each year is special and memorable in its way.

For many, that year has been over for days, weeks, even months. For the sportswriter, whose chronicling keystrokes provide the preservation of the moments soon to be read and later to be remembered, the year only ends when the last out is made and the last tear is shed.

The sportswriter is there, on the sideline, beyond the baseline and in the dugout, functioning in a role that is at once distant in its observational requirements while also weaving him firmly into the fabric of the team at play.

He arrives in July, before the fans come around, dusting off the old notepad as he takes in a glimpse of what the fall may hold. A mike backer that’s gained a step, an O-line with much to prove, a defensive end that’s unblockable and a running back stepping into big shoes. They become the protagonists for a story yet written, and how they handle these hot summer days will tell the sportswriter a lot about where the narrative will end.

He is there in August as the ball is kicked off for the first time. And while your football season is just beginning, his started 24 hours earlier…for another school…in another town.

And while autumn spins on the axis that is Friday night, there are volleyball players countywide competing throughout the week in the shadow of the pigskin mythologies that monopolize community emphasis. If the sportswriter is good enough, he’ll be there too.

And he marches along, week by week, watching the growth and the triumph and the mistakes and the injuries and the “what if” moments that will be talking points until the next time the boys run out of the locker room.

Whether blue or red or purple or orange or black or maroon, whether tiger or patriot or bulldog or longhorn or panther or eagle, the sportswriter knows them all. That, after all, is the role he has chosen. He has not the luxury of allowing his universe to revolve around one player or one team or one school, so he does all he can to pursue each and every one.

As October nears its end, the volleyball girls move on to something else and the sportswriter moves right along with them. When Halloween launches the festive season, the sportswriter puts on his jacket and readies to travel to whatever hidden corner of the universe will provide the setting for the next challenge his main characters will face.

One at a time, they begin to fall; the teams and the players and the hopes and the dreams and the tears. And, finally, the season comes to an end.

Many of the fans will walk away with no intention of returning until the teams take the field again in August of next year. Some will follow their children to other sports still to come. The sportswriter will be there too.

On the hardwood, he will watch as games are played nearly every night of the week. Junior varsity and girls and varsity, he will stay through them all, jotting points and rebounds as he laments the dearth of proper screens and basic principles of spacing that plague the high school game. When Tigers roar in Montgomery or Eagles fly to Dothan and on to Birmingham, he’ll be there. When what his characters thought they could be ultimately sees the untimely reflection of what they are, he’ll be there too, making note of all the moments that will one day remind them of just how special their run was.

Then the lines are chalked and the lineups exchanged and in the dugout the sportswriter will sit, jotting down every fly ball and every K and every hit. He’ll be there for your team and your daughter’s boyfriend’s team and the team down the road where your coworker’s kid plays. He’ll try to keep up with the other team that’s a little further away.

Sprinkled amid all the games and the rainouts and the doubleheaders and the tournaments are soccer matches and track meets and golf matches and tennis matches.

One by one, they will all come to a close. And he’ll be there as best he can. When your child is overcome with the sudden reality that the uniform will never be his again, the sportswriter will be there. And he knows how special that moment is even though he saw the same thing happen with somebody else’s son the day before on another team that you don’t follow. But it mattered to those parents that somebody cared to be there just like it does for you.

The sportswriter will be there when the girls in the dugout invent chants to motivate their teammates. He will walk with them from dugout to dugout as they fall into the losers bracket and he will think every time about how unfitting of a name that is to be a destination for high school girls.

Finally, nearly 10 months after he started the latest journey, the last out will find its way to the first baseman’s mitt. The girls will walk forlornly off the field as they exhaustedly shove their bats into their bags with dejection. And the sportswriter will wonder which of this cast of characters will return for the next volume. And then he’ll wonder if he will.

Then the last tear is shed and the characters that have unfolded their stories before him are on the bus and bound for home, he will walk away, ready to shelve the latest volume in the library of the reminiscent.

Jeremy D. Smith is managing partner of The West Alabama Watchman. He has covered news and sports in Demopolis since 2008. His column, According to Me, appears weekly on