This writer's trade: 1 year, a book to be named later


October 16, 2001|By John Eisenberg

SPENT OCT. 6 covering Cal Ripken's last game from a prime seat in the press box.

Spent the week before that agreeing with anyone who suggested, as many often do, that I have a good job.

Indeed, it's a job that keeps me sprinting on a treadmill of sports highs, from the Olympics to the World Series to the Final Four to the Masters to the Kentucky Derby to spring training to, well, you get the picture.

Ripken's last game? Check. Mark McGwire's 62nd home run in 1998? Check. The Ravens' Super Bowl victory? Check. Ripken's 2,131 celebration in 1995? Check.

Consistently, unendingly, I'm where everyone else wants to be - up to my neck in the games and events that so fascinate so many of us.

Sitting in the front row, to boot.

Yet this is the last column from me that you'll read for a while. I'm taking a break, giving up my job that everyone else wants; giving someone else a chance to sit in my front row seat and tell the Orioles what to do, not that they ever listen.

A phone call I took from a publisher one day last spring has led to a chance to spend the next year writing a book, an opportunity that I didn't want to pass up and my bosses at The Sun were kind enough to let me accept. So instead of spending the year sprinting from the Super Bowl to the Masters to wherever else sports headlines bloom, I'll spend it writing about Native Dancer, the famed "Gray Ghost" thoroughbred champion from the early '50s - a horse buried at Sagamore Farm in the Worthington Valley, right around the corner from Ripken's house.

I feel I'm trading in one good job for another, temporary as it might be, and although I compare to Michael Jordan about as well as a geriatric donkey compares to Native Dancer, I can best relate my situation to the stirrings his Airness felt when he retired from basketball for the first time and gave baseball a shot. He gave up one thing he loved to try something else he loved for a while.

I hope I hit better than .202 - Jordan's batting average in Double-A - but either way, having the chance to embark on a new undertaking is a blessing, and not for a moment will I take it for granted.

I don't mind admitting that immersing myself in a rush of glory from a half-century ago sounds pretty good right now. The present is no one's idea of fun.

At the same time, there are many things and people I'm going to miss.

Ravens coach Brian Billick, for starters. He's a columnist's dream - glib, combative, dramatic, imperturbable. You're going to have your ups and downs with him, but you're never going to yawn.

It's also going to be hard to sit out the coming college basketball season after last season's Final Four triumph for Gary Williams and his Maryland Terrapins. Those cold winter nights inside hot Cole Field House never get old.

Even the "Dear Blankety-Blank" letters that faithfully land on your desk when you write about sports - yeah, I'll miss those. Nothing like eating a little humble pie to keep you balanced.

Shoot, the entire sports calendar for the rest of 2001 and into 2002 is going to be hard to miss. Jordan is making another comeback just down the road. Hasim Rahman is going to defend his heavyweight title, finally. The Ravens are on the short list of legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Ralph Friedgen and his undefeated football Terps are headed for a bowl - and you can be sure it won't be the Weed Eater Bowl this time. The start of the Winter Olympics is just months away.

You have to be at least a little nuts to have a front-row seat to all that and give it up, but as country music's Hank Williams Sr., sang many years ago, "Something's got a-hold of me."

So, please, keep cheering and booing, and most of all, keep caring through these hard times. There's no sin in it. We need the escape.

Meanwhile, if you need me, and I doubt you will, I'll be locked in my room, chained to my computer keyboard and counting down.

One hundred thousand words to go.

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