A View Far Removed

Tampa Bay Rays at Seattle Mariners

Like most kids in junior high, my life’s ambition was narrow. I wanted to be famous, and I wanted to talk about sports. I was a comically skinny kid who played everything but wasn’t particularly good at anything. My talent was knowledge, reciting the stats of a Chris Mullin card or explaining the infield fly rule to my friends. I spent my pre-driving years huddled up next to my Sanyo boombox to listen to whatever was on KJR for hours upon hours. The rotating hosts of the evening would fire out take after take, and listeners would follow suit. Eventually I got the courage to call in, swiping the house’s cordless phone to wait for an hour on hold, all to squeak out my opinion on Sonics basketball to surprisingly patient and courteous hosts. I’d dutifully turn my Sanyo down while on the air, but record the segment on a cassette tape and listen to it over and over again as soon as I hung up. I would cringe over my mistakes, my voice, and what I knew was a two-minute long eye roll from the thousands that heard me wax not-so-poetic on Hersey Hawkins. A week later, I’d sit on hold again, vowing to be better.

Fifteen years later, it’s the summer of 2013, and I’m staring at my inbox. I’d been in charge of Lookout Landing for a few months, and a radio station in Oregon wants me to go on the air as a guest and talk about the Mariners. They came to me, a perceived lifetime after I wanted them. Maybe they think I’m an expert, or maybe they’re desperate to fill time. It doesn’t really matter to me. I look up the station online. It’s a tiny building in a tiny town in the middle of the state. I try to find a way to record the segment, but there’s no way to listen online. I call in, listening to commercials about agriculture fairs and high school pancake feeds before it’s my time to play the professional. My eyes are wide.

There’s been a few radio spots now, and the format and line of questioning becomes familiar. There’s a hot take mentality brewing inside me, and one day Eric Wedge says something I find to be very silly. I feel a wave of passion take over me and feel it is my very duty to unleash my takes all over LL. I pound the keyboard for an hour, skewering Wedge with what I can now only surmise was a decidedly arrogant tone. All I can think about is giving readers what they want, finally winning them over. I scan over what I’ve written. It’s the piece I wanted. Forceful, clear. I hit publish and wait. Within an hour I feel a deep, sickening sense of regret. Half of what I’ve published is a gross exaggeration, an indignant and arrogant chest-thumping pile of shit. I swallow down my lump and stand behind it with as much bravado as I pumped into it.

My staff at Lookout Landing is growing, and now there’s a contingent of eight to ten writers who contribute on a regular basis. Communication is good, everyone fills a role, and I start to let some of the weight of responsibility fade off my shoulders. I don’t have to write every day. I trust every staff member implicitly and allow everyone to publish without approval. My management approach is to let everyone write whatever they are most passionate about, whatever that might be. I’ll fill in the gaps. The directive is to be inspired, and the very best work will come of it. Content is good. The readers seem at peace with a new direction of many different voices. I’m starting to settle in. I’ve also started down a path of forgetting my own advice regarding inspiration.

Months later, it’s now a much larger group of writers, and the management side is becoming harder than the commitment of writing. There’s a tough moment in which a change in staff has to occur, and the reaction is ugly. I sit back helplessly and watch my tiny corner of the world burn for a night or two as laundry is aired. It haunts me for months. I come to grips with not being able to universally win with Lookout Landing, ever. It’s a fate I choose to accept and move on. Scars are left.

It’s the first offseason as managing editor, and I’m settled into a role of gap-filler, riffing off trade rumors and free agent ideas. There’s an expectation of content that comes from many sources. The expectation becoming a requirement is primarily a product of guilt. There’s mornings when I stare at a blank screen for ten minutes, wondering what’s worth saying. I crack my knuckles and bang something out, time and time again. Sometimes I’m proud of what I write. Sometimes I am not. The latter grows with alarming frequency. I realize just how difficult offseasons are.

Year two is underway, and I take a vacation to Chicago to see a game at Wrigley Field. I write an article about the beauty and simplicity of a game at Wrigley, and it makes a few rounds. A friend texts me and says he heard my article referenced on the Mariners broadcast that night. I get to a computer, pull up the archives, and navigate around until I find the moment. Rick Rizzs is talking about Wrigley. Aaron Goldsmith mentions an article on Lookout Landing about it, and ties it into the conversation. I’m smiling from ear to ear. He then mentions me by name.

I break down in front of my wife.

The summer rolls on, and the weekly cycle of running Lookout Landing is relentless. The wiki document staff uses to plan out content for the week is full of days that are void of anything but recaps. Writers come and go with a quicker frequency than ever before, and there’s a pattern I grow accustomed to. Hire, train, #content, fade, remind, #content, fade, disappear. My management style of allowing artistic freedom often results in brilliance from a group of talented writers, but it also results in large gaps of dead space when inspiration is low. I consider setting requirements on posts, but the thought of playing bad cop makes my scars burn red. I vent my frustrations privately. I feel pressure to churn out better content, but I’ve been writing nothing but spin pieces on bullpen roles shifting and utility outfielders getting demoted that my voice and identity has faded into the ether. Who am I, as a writer? Am I just a manager now? Is what I’m doing giving me any fulfillment?

I’m asked to go on 710 ESPN in Seattle twice, and I self-record both of them. I listen back time and time again, and have only mild criticisms. Radio hits are a relative breeze now, and I feel little to no nerves, even on a large stage. Trade reactions and hot takes are what get the appearances, and I’m loving the attention. My role at the site is now almost completely opinion-based articles and behind-the-scenes management, which is often hands-off until things go south. I’m tired, but feel pride that I haven’t sank the ship.

The Mariners are making a push for the playoffs, and I go to Europe for three weeks. Nathan handles my duties while I’m gone, and is in for a surprise at the amount of planning, organizing, and writing that goes into running Lookout Landing. I check out completely. I don’t miss it even a little.

The next six months are full of extended stints of sleepwalking. I often feel like I’m going through the motions, and I rarely write anything I’m happy with. We do several collaborative projects that staff works hard on, and they fall flat on the site. It feels like the great content, the things we are truly proud of, gets buried while my spin pieces, full of opinions I’m not entirely confident in, get all the comments and clicks. I’m essentially writing nothing but the latter, and I’m on the radio every week. My career changes, and I’m no longer working from home. I’m standing outside my office in freezing weather, live on the air in Spokane at 10am, trying to suppress my chattering teeth.

There’s a deep sense of conflict. I’m so very proud of what I’ve managed to patch together over the years, and my ego is still thriving off a steady diet of moderate notoriety. I know I’ll never have a bigger stage to write at. I know this is as close as I’ll ever get to living out my childhood dream. I’m not close to the most talented writer on my staff, and I don’t have ambitions to make writing a full-time career, so I’m not doing the necessary Twitter engagement and hobnobbing to carve the path. I’m two years in, and I’m burned out. I know the amount of work that it takes to get the opportunities I crave is more than I’m willing to give. I know that the level of effort I put in from 2013-2014 is as much as I’ll ever be able to offer. I write up a resignation letter to the powers that be. It sits, saved as a draft for six months.

I couldn’t just walk away from this platform, could I? People would kill for the stage I’d been given, and I knew I was very fortunate to land in the spot that I did when there were hundreds more deserving. But my conflict started to turn to peace, and my worries about meeting expectations morphed into a sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t an opportunity anymore. It was a real thing, a thing I did to the best of my abilities and a thing I was tired of doing. I knew the best days were behind me. I was done. And so I left. I left after I was 100% sure. I said I would still be around on the site when I posted my resignation, but I didn’t believe it when I wrote it. And close to two years later, I haven’t been around at all.

I didn’t know how done I was until I stopped. I didn’t read much of Lookout Landing for the rest of 2015, even though the writers were, and are, close friends who will be a part of my life forever. I didn’t watch much baseball. The weight of responsibility was lifted off my mind, but the imprint still sat like memory foam. I wanted to come back and write, but I had nothing to say. I thought it would return in 2016, but it didn’t. Over the years, I lost my voice in the sea of news stories, trade rumors, and recaps. I only wanted to write again if inspiration returned. I wasn’t sure if it ever would. I don’t know if it will come again.

Today, inspiration is here. Tomorrow is tomorrow.

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