A sportswriter finds herself in a whole new game

SUSAN REIMER

July 20, 1993|By SUSAN REIMER

"Dad? I'm in the press box at Yankee Stadium."

I cupped my hand over the phone, barely able to contain the excitement I knew it would be unprofessional to reveal. Bob Reimer's oldest daughter was covering an Orioles-Yankees series from that storied place.

"Will they show you on TV?" he asked, and I could hear him smiling.

"Oh, Dad," I said, exasperated.

The Sun had hired me as a sportswriter just months before, and sent me to an important -- and emotional -- baseball series that weekend in New York. It was August 1979, Yankees catcher Thurman Munson had just died in an airplane crash, and it was my job to capture the grief of his teammates.

I could not wait to tell my father. The first of four daughters, each of whom had shown less inclination toward athletics than the one before, was writing about sports. He could not have been more thrilled if the doctor had said, "Mr. Reimer, it's a boy."

Growing up poor on a farm in New Kensington, Pa., my father escaped into sports from the burden of supporting a widowed mother. He once played golfing legend Arnold Palmer in an amateur tournament near his home -- and family legend has it that my father beat him.

He was an excellent tennis player, too. And charming enough to talk his way into the elite country clubs of Western Pennsylvania, even if he didn't have the change in his pocket to tip the locker room attendant.

When I chose a career in journalism, he was circumspect. Teaching or nursing made more sense for a woman, the better to fit wage-earning around a family. The notion of a career didn't seem very practical to the father of girls.

Nor did he understand the nature of the business. When I passed some of my news stories from the student newspaper at Ohio University to my father to hand off to a friend who might be able to help me get a job, he handed them back.

"This stuff doesn't sound like you," he said. "I don't see any of you in this."

I was furious. I wasn't trying to be Emily Dickinson. I was trying to be Bob Woodward. And, sometimes, I was trying to be Red Smith.

Working in Pittsburgh, I had just a taste of sportswriting, doing feature stories on the championship teams of the 1970s -- the Pirates, the Super Bowl Steelers, Pitt with Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino. For The Sun, I would try it full time.

My decision to write sports at once delighted and baffled my father. What did I know about sports?

Over the years, I mailed my father the evidence. Envelopes arrived in Pittsburgh from World Series cities, Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls, Triple Crown races, and from Newport, R.I., and the America's Cup.

I was in love when the Orioles lost to Pittsburgh in the 1979 World Series -- Mr. Right was covering the Pirates -- and I was the only pregnant reporter in the press box when they beat the Philadelphia Phillies in 1983.

When my son, Joseph, was born, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle sent flowers, and Baltimore Colts coach Frank Kush sent a $1 million player contract dated 2006. A million dollars wouldn't buy a backup lineman at today's free-agent prices.

Joe was a month old in March 1984 when the Colts left town. If I didn't know it when Joe was born, I knew then that my life had changed for good and always.

Two years later, Jessica arrived and I stopped jumping onto airplanes. There were no more glamorous datelines in the clippings sent home to Pittsburgh. I think that disappointed my father, although he never spoke of it to me. When he died, I wrote the eulogy for his funeral -- the toughest assignment I would ever draw.

Now the sports that fill my days are 8-and-under swimming races, soccer and Little League baseball. The only traveling I do is to the fields, gyms and pools around Anne Arundel County. My years covering sports have made me the scorekeeper at my children's games. The best reporting I do is to their grandparents.

I am a car-pooling mother of two, I tell people, and I work for a newspaper in my spare time. Like the athletes I have written about, I have had to make a life after the games are over. This is my life now, and writing about it is the easiest writing I have ever done. The most fun, too. I think my father would say, after all these years, that this stuff finally sounds like me.

Susan Reimer's column will appear each Tuesday.

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