BY COLT ROSENSWEIG
Daily Sports Writer
Published April 13, 2009
It was 8 a.m. on a summer morning in 2007, and my cell phone was ringing.
More like this
Wondering who could possibly be calling so early, I croaked a groggy hello.
On the other end of the line was Michigan alum J. J. Putz, then the All-Star closer for the Seattle Mariners. As the star ballplayer apologized for waking me up — he thought I was still in Michigan, not my home state of California — I ran downstairs to put him on speakerphone, turn on my recorder and conduct an interview.
A month later, I found myself behind the scenes of the USA Championships for men’s gymnastics, just a few feet away from the best gymnasts in the country. Among the champion athletes was a group of Wolverines, who welcomed me with big smiles and hugs.
None of it would have been possible without the Daily. And though nothing quite turned out the way I expected — I thought I was destined to write baseball — I wouldn’t change a thing. If Karl Stampfl hadn’t finally succeeded in dragging me to 420 Maynard in the second semester of my freshman year, I wouldn’t have stayed at Michigan for five years. I probably would have just gone to classes, hockey and football games, and I would not have had nearly so many amazing memories.
I’ve covered the extraordinary men’s gymnastics team, made the kinds of friends who will last a lifetime and had unforgettable adventures.
There was the game the Michigan men’s club rugby team brought me along for in Columbus, where I stood in the driving sleet and wind for three hours with a coach using me as a shield — and I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time.
There was the time in 2006 when, planning a trip to Oklahoma for men’s gymnastics NCAA Championships, I unwittingly booked myself a room in a hooker hotel. Upon my arrival, I got myself transferred to the cushy Sooner Hotel by playing the Daily card and then ended up hitching a ride to the arena with an Oklahoma student I met as I wandered around lost.
There was that 10-hour drive to Minnesota at 4 a.m. with two travel buddies — both of whom instantly conked out as I attempted to see the road through the pitch blackness and snow flurries.
I’ve met wonderful people like Russell Czeschin, Dylan Carney, Kyson Bunthuwong, Derek Helsby and Mitchell Mays, who finally broadened my gymnastics world beyond the Wolverines.
And one of the positive consequences of this crappy economy is that it was cheaper for me to ride to away meets with the team I’ve covered for four years. I’ll never forget the impromptu karaoke parties that sometimes rose in the back of the bus, with 15 boys belting out old songs because they were too happy to do anything else.
Practice became as routine for me as it was for the athletes I covered. Each day, as I sat down in my “cozy spot” by the floor exercise, I felt a quiet contentment that I don’t think I’ll find elsewhere anytime soon.
“There are six empty chairs here,” Michigan assistant coach Scott Vetere used to point out (before he realized it was futile). “And you’re sitting on the floor.”
It was the best seat in the house.
I’ve gotten to watch this team develop from a squad that missed NCAA team finals in 2006 into the confident group that won a conference championship this year. I’ve watched these athletes get their hearts broken and seen them rise to unbelievable heights. The day after Michigan won Big Tens this year, one of the team moms hugged me, saying she was happiest for me — that, after years of covering the team for the Daily, I got to go out on such a high note.
When the Big Ten championship win got top billing on that SportsMonday, I eagerly watched the gymnasts pick up newspapers at the Coliseum. I’ll never forget the smiles that spread across their faces.
And without the Daily, I might not have even known this team existed. I’d never have found this “job” that made me happier than anything in the world.
It never felt like work.
So thank you, Ian Herbert, for encouraging me when I needed it most. Thank you, Jack Herman, for teaching me (without knowing it) that it is a beat writer’s duty to make the road trips. Thank you, Scott Bell, for all the props that made me feel valued.