Three cheers for three years

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Nov. 5 marked somewhat of a personal milestone for me as a sports reporter. It was three years ago that night I covered my first game as an official press member. In college I guess you could say I was a press member, being the Sports Editor of the student newspaper, but there was something unique about getting hired by a local newspaper to cover sports post-graduation.

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I figured I’d use this post to tell some fun stories and memories of the past three years, being a (post-college) sports reporter. Anything to help get my mind off that Boston World Series win.

Yuck.

The first game

The first post-college game I covered (Nov. 5, 2010) was a high school football game: Yorktown (N.Y.) vs. Clarkstown North in a DeMatteo Bowl game at White Plains High. I had been hired by the North County News, a hyper local newsweekly in Westchester. It was a little overwhelming, not to mention cold, but turned out to be a great game and an overall great experience.

The Yorktown Huskers won 21-13, and a neat angle to take with the article was the fact that the game took place on the quarterback’s birthday. Senior Justin Mabus, in his last game as a high school QB, gets the win – and it was birthday.

Doesn’t get any sweeter than that. Last I heard, Mabus was playing lacrosse at Towson.

I pointed out my milestone on Twitter and was actually congratulated by Mike Rescigno, Yorktown’s head football coach. He not only offered congrats, he also pointed out Yorktown had won another DeMatteo Bowl this year, beating the Headless Horsemen of Sleepy Hollow HS.  In a way, it felt as if the whole thing had come full circle.

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The best quotes

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Sometimes the most genuine stories stem from the best postgame quotes from athletes. At the high school level it’s oftentimes difficult to get the best quotes out of a player. They are apt to get embarrassed in front of their teammates, I’ve learned; they can become shy when talking to the press, no matter the sport.

On one occasion though, it was a reporter’s dream for an excellent story.

In the spring of 2012 at Croton-Harmon high (N.Y.) I was covering my favorite sport (obviously) – baseball.  I had since jumped from the North County News to The Examiner, the company I currently work for. The Croton Tigers were pitted up against the Valhalla (N.Y.) Vikings.

Valhalla’s pitcher and its second baseman were brothers: Matt Cassinelli (P) and Justin Cassinelli (2B). Matt started the game and did a nice job, only letting up three runs. Justin, as fate would have it, drove in the deciding run, ultimately giving his team – and his brother – a 4-3 victory.

The first question I asked Matt after the game was, of course, how he felt about his brother driving in the run which led to him notching the W.

His response:

“I think I’m going to make him a big dinner when we get home.”

When you have an amazing quote as such, your story is bound to be an awesome read.

 

Fantastic finishes

Once in awhile as a sportswriter you will come across an ending to a game that will leave a lasting impression. There have been quite a few photo finishes I have witnessed over the past three years; probably too many to count, but there are two which stand out like a pair of roses in a bed of thistles.

The first: March 3 of this year. And coincidently enough, it was a game I wasn’t even covering.

I had arrived at the Westchester County Center early that afternoon, as I was to cover two girls’ hoops games: Ossining (N.Y.) vs. the high school I graduated from in 2005, Our Lady of Lourdes (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.), followed by Peekskill (N.Y.) vs. Albertus Magnus.

The New Rochelle vs. Mount Vernon boys’ game happened to be in its final minutes, and I stood witness to what will forever go down as “the shot.”

Vaguely, I even made it into the photo captured by ESPN.

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The other extravagant ending happened to come on Aug. 31, though it wasn’t a high school game I was covering.

Over the summer my editors usually keep me busy by having me cover one of our semi-local professional baseball teams, the Hudson Valley Renegades, as it’s been well-documented in Yankee Yapping over the last couple years.

I’ve written about this finish before, but I’ll refresh the minds of the readers.

The Renegades were pitted up against the Yankees’ Single-A affiliate from Staten Island. Locked in a 12th inning 2-2 battle with playoff implications on the line, the Yankees loaded the bases with nobody out. Up came Staten Island left fielder Daniel Lopez, who shot a liner up the middle that, thanks to a couple Renegade errors, brought four runs to the plate.

It may not have counted as an inside-the-park grand slam, but it was just as good, and went for one of the wildest finishes I’ve ever had to report on. The Yankees of course won the game after 12 frames, 6-2.

Championship games & MVPs

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It’s pretty much understood as a sports reporter you’ll be given the opportunity to cover games with everything on the line. At the high school level there are tournaments, playoffs, and championship games. It’s been an honor to report on title games, and watch the teams you’ve spent the entire year covering celebrate their victories.

I’ve watched everyone from the Yorktown girls’ lacrosse team to the Ossining and Peekskill girls’ basketball teams win NYS Section 1 titles. One of my favorite memories was being on the field the night the Hudson Valley Renegades captured their first New York-Penn League title since 1999, last September.

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As it’s been mentioned several times, interviewing two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning these past two years was such an honor for me, it’s included in my Twitter bio.

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I’d say covering title games and interviewing outstanding players is the best part of the whole job.  

 

Kind words of encouragement

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Far be it for me to go fishing for compliments – no reporter, or hard worker of any sort, ever should. Yet it is nice when a coach or a manager recognizes your work and calls you on what a nice job you’ve done.

I was conducting a phone interview with the Lakeland (N.Y.) high baseball coach in the spring of 2011, and at the tail end of the interview, he snuck it in: “nice job on that last story on us, by the way, A.J.”

It’s nice to know your hard work doesn’t go for naught.

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One of the most meaningful compliments I ever received from anyone came last summer, after my first article on the Hudson Valley Renegades ran. After I conducted my interview with skipper Jared Sandberg, this is pretty much how the conversation went down:

“Which paper are you with again?” he asked.

The Examiner,” I replied.

“Oh, I saw that article from last week!” he exclaimed. Frightened, I had no idea what he was going to say next.

 “That was really well-written and very nicely done; nice spread – and the pictures came out great, too.”

It meant so much to hear him say that. Jared Sandberg after all is the nephew of Chicago Cubs’ Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg; he also spent time in the bigs as a third baseman with the Devil Rays. It was overly encouraging to hear such an established baseball man compliment me on my work, out of nowhere.

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I’d just like to thank everyone who has supported me to this point in my career, and those who continue to support me. I hope bigger and better things await me, in the future. In particular I need to send special thanks to Adam Stone, Ray Gallagher, Rob DiAntonio, Andy Jacobs, Mike Sabini, and Mike Perrota.

Without these fine journalists teaching me and giving me a shot, I’d pretty much be nowhere.

It’s been a wild three years. Thanks again to everyone. I promise the journey is far from over.

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 One last shout out

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Though I graduated in 2010, I caught wind (of course via Twitter, what else?) that my alma mater Mercy College had its women’s soccer team playing for an NCAA DII national title this weekend. The lady Mavericks, seeded fifth, traveled up to Albany to faceoff with No. 4 Adelphi in the tournament, but came up short this afternoon, 5-0.

Working as Sports Editor on The Impact (Mercy’s student paper) for two years, all too regularly it became difficult to pen game recaps, mainly because the sports teams suffered so many losing campaigns playing in the East Coast Conference (ECC) matched up with so many formidable DII opponents.

As I remember, the men’s hoops team went 0-26 one year I was Sports Editor.

Yeah, I know. Ouch.

But it looks as if they’ve made strides since the days of losing seasons, and have come a long way to build the athletic program up – as evidenced by the women’s soccer team stepping up to become a juggernaut this year.

Tip of the cap to the lady Mavs on a winning season!

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