An October to Remember

I’m not sure if you guys have heard yet, but the Washington Nationals won the World Series.

It’s been more than a week since it happened, and it still feels weird even typing those words. I’ve thought about it every day since, trying to make some sense out of the whole thing. Eventually, though, my thoughts always drift back to the beginning of October, when the Nationals’ magical run started. The Nats earned an NL Wild-Card berth and expectations were, rightfully, not so high. Nats fans had suffered through the disappointment of Octobers past, and it would take a miracle for us to really believe. That miracle appeared against the Brewers in the form of Juan Soto, who’s single in the 8th inning slipped under the glove of Milwaukee’s Trent Grisham, allowing three runs to score. The Nats won 4-3, and suddenly everything felt different.

You all know what happened over the next four weeks. I won’t bore you with the details here. And that’s not even the point of this post anyway. Watching the Nats win the whole joint wasn’t even the best part of this thing. Looking back, it’s clear that the best part was being able to share those experiences with friends and family. That’s what I’ll remember most about this October.

October 6, 2019: NLDS, Game 3

We were all smiles, even in defeat. These Nats were different.

My wife, Summer, and I decided to spring for a couple tickets. I don’t even remember what we paid for them, but we had pretty good seats in the 300s somewhere, so it couldn’t have been all that much. What I do remember is pre-gaming at the Hampton Inn rooftop bar across the street from Nationals Park. The view was spectacular. I recommend not drinking there, though, unless you’re cool with paying $48 (before tip) for two bourbons.

Anyway, the Dodgers scored 7 in the 6th and won going away, 10-4. Somehow, we didn’t leave convinced it was over. These Nats were different.

October 14, 2019: NLCS Game 3

Always turn the boot as you drink it to avoid unnecessary spillage.

I got the text from my buddy Tim at 12:22 p.m., roughly 8 hours before the start of the first NLCS home game in Nationals history: “Yo, you interested in going tonight? Just bought two tickets!”

My reply, four minutes later: “I’m in”

I’ve known Tim for at least a decade. We both worked as sports reporters for the Northern Virginia Daily, although we never actually worked together. He joined the staff after Summer and I had moved to Alabama, but we connected through mutual friends — all of whom worked at the NVD at one point or another. We’re in a fantasy baseball league together, and we may see each other 2-3 times a year if we’re lucky. For Timmy to offer me a ticket to a game that important will always mean a lot to me.

That night was amazing. Stephen Strasburg was dealing (he struck out 12 in 7 innings) and the Nats scored 4 in the 3rd to win 8-1. We couldn’t stop yelling — and smiling. As we walked down the ramps and out of the park that night, we discussed plans for the World Series. We knew tickets would be super expensive, but….WE WERE DISCUSSING PLANS FOR THE WORLD EFFING SERIES!

October 25, 2019: World Series Game 3

We had to go, right? The World Series was coming to our city. Summer and I bought a partial season ticket plan back in 2009, just a couple months after moving back to this area. We sat through dozens of games in a half-empty ballpark. Our tickets were in Section 405, but we often finished the game down in the 100s. There were no lines for food and drinks. The games were awful. But that’s when we fell in love with the Nats, so we had to go to the World Series.

Long story short, we ended up winning four tickets in an online auction through a friend of a friend. Summer and I drove into the city around 1 p.m., a full seven hours before first pitch. We wanted to walk around, soak it in, take the pulse of the city. And boy was it alive. The Nats ended up losing the game, but that day ranks as one of the very best sporting experiences of my life, right up there with George Mason’s run to the 2006 Final Four. I’ve never seen D.C. in such a state. This city is generally filled with anger and hatred, but on this day, all that disappeared.

My buddy Chris and his son, Vince, joined us for the game. Chris and I go way back. We were pledge brothers at Mason in the fall of 1997 and have been fairly close ever since. I’m glad he was able to bring Vince to the game and share that experience with him. It’s something they’ll never forget. Also, I think we set a record for most pictures taken in a single day.

November 2, 2019: The Parade

“Holy shit, we’re at a World Series parade!”

We said that a million times if we said it once. What a perfect day and a perfect way to tie a bow on an absolutely tremendous and unforgettable month. I was stuck at work on the day the Caps had their parade down Constitution Avenue. It was a Tuesday, I believe. There was no way I was missing this one.

I got off the metro at the Archives stop around 10:30 a.m., walked a couple blocks south toward the parade route, and made a quick right to the Archives building. My brother, Joey, my two nephews, Colten and Carson, and Joey’s buddy Mike were already there. Joey did the thing good fathers do. He woke the boys at 5 a.m. and they spend two hours in a car and on the metro. He wanted the boys to experience it while they could. Who knows when this might happen again. Some of us waited more than 25 years. The boys were all decked out in their Nats gear and ended up with backpacks filled with Nats memorabilia to take home (pins, signs, shirts, the works, really). Being able to share that experience with Joey and the boys will be something I remember for a long time.

My friend Kevin joined us shortly before the parade began, and we claimed a spot on the steps of the Archives. For us vertically challenged Sonners, those steps meant a better line of sight. Critical.

The parade was as amazing as we imagined. I still can’t believe it took two hours to complete a 1.2-mile parade. Hell, even the Bud Light Guy made an appearance. I imagine his 15 minutes have expired by now. After the parade, Kevin and I walked the city in search of bourbon and cigars. We headed northwest toward F Street to Shelly’s Backroom, our favorite spot in the city. We ate, we drank, we smoked, and we watched the Nationals Post-Parade Rally on the television. Every time a Nats player stepped to the mic, the entire bar started hootin’ and hollerin’ as if we were still at the parade. It was loud, and it was incredible.

No better way to celebrate than with a trip to Shelly’s with Coop.

After Shelly’s, Coop and I walked the streets a little more, wanting to soak in every minute of this day-long celebration. We not-so-secretly hoped to run into a few Nationals players around town, but we weren’t that lucky. We stumbled into a neat little dive bar called Jackpot for a few drinks. Ran into NBC Sports Network’s Michael Jenkins and chatted for a bit. Then, it was off to Penn Social for one last drink before heading home for the night.

The Gallery Place metro station was closed for some reason, so I hopped in an Uber for the 20-mile trip home. The ride gave me time to think about all that happened over the last month. Experiences like these don’t come around every day, especially in this city with these sports teams.

I’ll remember Juan Soto’s hit against the Brewers, the losses to the Dodgers and Astros, and the giddiness Timmy and I felt after the win against the Cardinals. I’ll remember the feeling this Nats team gave us all as they kept surviving and advancing.

My favorite memories, though, are the people who took this ride with me. Timmy for sending me that text out of nowhere. Seeing Summer’s face light up at the sight of a delirious World Series crowd. Chris, asking me over and over if it was all real. Joey and the boys posing for pictures in front of the Archives, pictures they’ll keep forever. Kevin, firing up a celebratory stogie at Shelly’s.

And Summer asking when and where we’re getting our World Series tattoos.


Leftovers: A few extra thoughts on Heart Has No Limit

Cole Freeman spreading his Heart Has No Limit message to some youngsters in May.
(Photo courtesy of Cole Freeman)
Four words made up of 15 letters along 10 inches of his torso. Bet that hurt.
(Photo courtesy of Cole Freeman)

In case you missed it, my story on Potomac Nationals second baseman Cole Freeman posted last week on InsideNova.com. You can find it here. My story focused less on Freeman’s baseball talents (more on that below) and more on his efforts to motivate young people with his Heart Has No Limit message. It was one of the coolest stories I’ve reported in the three years I’ve been side-hustling for InsideNova. I could’ve written so much more, but I only had so much space. Thankfully, I can shine a light on some leftover nuggets right here.

  • I likely wouldn’t have written about Freeman at all had I not stumbled upon Jeffrey Marx’s brilliant piece from 2017, which I urge you to read here. Jeff, who in 1986, at age 23, became the youngest writer ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, profiled Freeman as a senior at LSU. I thought it might be cool to write an updated piece on Freeman and focus more on the Heart Has No Limit Ambassador program. Writers generally don’t interview other writers — we are the story-tellers, not the story — but I thought it was important to talk to Jeff. And he couldn’t have been more gracious with his time. My story was better because of his insights, and I thank him for that. Check out Jeff’s site, and his books, here.
  • Oh yeah, Cole Freeman is a damn good baseball player, too. So good, I was afraid he might get promoted to Double-A Harrisburg by the time I finished my reporting. As of this writing (July 8), Cole leads the P-Nats in batting average (.300), stolen bases (18), runs (52) and hits (92). He’s a slick second baseman, but he’s also spent some time roaming centerfield this season, and he hasn’t missed a beat. He’s fun to watch.
  • Meritt McKittrick is one of the most remarkable human beings I’ve ever known, young or old. As told in the story, she was paralyzed from the waist down at age 5 in a horrific car crash. The way she’s dealt with her situation makes her the absolute perfect ambassador for Heart Has No Limit. She’s just a teenager, but she’s wise beyond her years and is a tremendous role model for others to follow. Meritt was introduced to wheelchair athletics as a freshman in high school. She didn’t want to participate at first, but she begrudgingly went through with it. By the time she graduated this past May, she had won two Texas High School state titles (in the 100- and 400-meter races) to go with two silver medals and two bronze medals. She finished 2nd in the 100 as a senior and was certainly disappointed, but she cared more about growing the sport and giving hope to so many others who need it, just like she did.
    “I’m not one to like losing,” she said. “I got done with the race and I was smiling. I was happy she beat me. It proved to me that even when I’m gone, the talent will keep improving each year.”
    I mean, c’mon. How do you not love that?
  • Never did my wife and I envision ourselves tailgating before a Single-A minor league baseball game. But there we were, in a half-empty parking lot with Cole’s family before a game against the Carolina Mudcats last month. The Freemans brought a little SEC flair to Woodbridge that night. We could use a little more of that, honestly. So thank you to Sean, Kellie, Kacey, and Taylor for inviting us. (And for the #colbeer!)
From left: Kellie, Cole, Sean, Kacey, and Taylor at the Carolina League All-Star Game on June 18, 2019 in Frederick, Md.
(Photo courtesy of Cole Freeman).

Thanks for reading, y’all!

Remembering Mackin and the best work family I’ll ever have

I still can’t believe Mackin is gone.

It’s been nearly a month since Jeff McIntyre died, and I find myself thinking about him — or about something he loved — nearly every day. Like those old SNL clips of Will Ferrell playing Harry Caray (note this site’s tag line about hot dogs). Or the rice and beans from Popeyes. “Best you’ll ever have,” he used to say.

Mackin died after a short, but valiant, battle with cancer, leaving behind a wife, two children, and two grandsons he absolutely adored. Mackin was my Assistant Sports Editor at the Florence (Ala.) TimesDaily from 2006-09. He covered our alma mater, the University of North Alabama, for two decades.

The day I heard about his diagnosis, maybe early May, I booked my flight to Alabama. Sadly, he passed away a few days before my trip. It still crushes me that I never got a chance to say goodbye. I did, however, get a chance to spend some time with a few old friends and co-workers. We shared stories about Mackin and agreed that newsroom was probably the best work atmosphere we’ll ever experience. We laughed, we bickered, we laughed some more, and we put out a product we were always (almost always?) proud of. You can’t ask for much more than that.

My job was to design and edit the sports section, and I’ve posted some of my old cover designs below. Mackin and ol’ Julio (our sports editor) always gave me the freedom to take chances, make mistakes, and get a little wacky with my designs, something for which I’ll forever be grateful. Every now and then, I’d catch Mackin trying to mimic some of my designs on those rare nights he laid out pages.

What an honor that was.

Coming soon!

Hey there. I created this site so I could have a place to post some of my freelance work for InsideNova.com and other outlets. I’ll also post some of the stories I wrote back when I did this full-time. It’ll be fun to re-read some of my past work, and I hope you guys enjoy. Fingers crossed, I’ll have my first story posted in the next week or so.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope y’all come back real soon!

For now, here’s a cool picture to look at. I snapped this as the sun set over Laguna Beach, Calif., during a recent trip. Neat!