SportsMonday Column: I'd give anything

Sunday, April 15, 2018 - 4:51pm

Kevin Santo always wanted to be like his older siblings growing up.

Kevin Santo always wanted to be like his older siblings growing up. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Kevin Santo

I’m the baby of the family — by a large margin. 

Janet is 40. Vinnie is 37. TJ is 34. Mike is 33. James is 29. And growing up, I wanted to be just like them. 

When I was eight years old, I asked my dad to buy me a soccer jersey — not Ronaldinho’s, not Thierry Henry’s, not Wayne Rooney’s. No, I wanted a Rockville Centre Nitro jersey. That was James’ travel team. And when my dad asked me what number I wanted on the back, I told him 23. That was James’ number. 

Two years later, when I made my own travel team, it came time to pick my own number. I wasn’t allowed to choose anything below 25, so I chose 31. Janet wore 13. I wanted to play like her. 

And two years after that, I started playing basketball. 

Mike decided I needed to learn how to shoot a proper jumpshot. So he took me out in the backyard one day and forced me to copy his jumper over and over and over again. 

Our hoop hung above our garage. I hit that garage more than I hit the rim. I went inside whining about how it was too hard, and then I copied his jumper every day after — or at least tried to. I was better at rebounding than shooting, to put it lightly. 

Even that skill, inadvertently, was the product of my siblings’ creation. 

About a year after trying to emulate that jumper, my mom woke me up for school. I showered, put on my St. Agnes uniform and went downstairs, only to see that the clock was 20 minutes ahead of my normal routine. 

My mom walked into the living room and told me to grab a basketball, put on my coat and come outside. I met my mom on the pavement, and she told me to shoot. 

As soon as the ball left my fingers, my mom was crouched down, backing me further and further away from the rim. I asked her what she was doing, and she told me she was sick of seeing me get outrebounded in rec league even though I was taller than all of my siblings. 

Then she took the ball, and told me we weren’t going to school until I boxed her out like TJ used to. 

As for Vin, well, baseball was his sport. I have no shame in admitting I might have set a record for Little League strikeouts. But one day he walked in the door and asked me how I was. I told him I was good, end of sentence. Then came the sarcasm that I’ve gotten used to — “I’m doing good too, thanks for asking.”

I was nine. I haven’t failed to ask someone how they’re doing since.  

I tell you all of this so that you can understand why my plan was never to end up in Ann Arbor. 

As I grew older, the admiration for my siblings materialized in different ways. As a junior in high school, it just so happened to manifest itself in my college application process. 

Vinnie and TJ had gone to Cornell, so I wanted to go there too. I told my guidance counselor I was applying there early decision. That wasn’t good enough for him, so he rattled off a list of colleges I should also plan on applying to. 

Eventually, he told me to consider Michigan. 

I was incredulous. Michigan was a “sports school,” I told him. Then he showed me the average SAT score of admitted students, and I realized how wrong I was. 

I think Mr. Moss would laugh at me now. I never got into Cornell. I came to Michigan, and joined The Daily a month into my freshman year. I’ve been writing about a “sports school” ever since. 

***

Before I decided to come here, my dad and I ended up visiting Ann Arbor in the middle of my senior year. 

After our campus tour, he pulled the rental car out of what was a foreign parking structure and turned right on to what was a foreign street.

Coincidentially, as he stopped at the first intersection, I told him that maybe I could write for the business section of the school newspaper. It was a passing thought. 

Now I know there is no editorial business section at the Daily. Now I know that was the intersection of Maynard and East William. Now I know that if he drove straight, I would have seen 420 Maynard about seven months prior. 

But he turned left, and we watched the Michigan basketball team play in the Big Ten Tournament at Cantina. I never imagined covering that same tournament three years later or going to a bar to write about that same team a year after that, and I realize now why an 18-year-old with braces and his dad were getting funny looks. 

When I got home, I was still apprehensive about going to college so far away from New York. My siblings told me to go, to enjoy a big-university experience that they had never had. I put off the decision as long as possible, then told my dad on the drive back from visiting SUNY Binghamton that I was going to Michigan. 

***

I arrived in Ann Arbor with a new plan: I was going to join a fraternity, enjoy the college experience and apply to the Ross School of Business. 

By the end of September, I had a C in Econ 101, and I hadn’t received a bid to a fraternity. 

Desperate for a way to fill my time, I stumbled upon the contact information for the sports editors at The Daily.

I typed up an email that I now know was too formal. I attached a resume. I explained that I’d never written for a newspaper, but I’d really appreciate an interview.

I got a response from Greg at 2 a.m., which now makes perfect sense to me.

“Just come to a meeting this Sunday, there’s no application,” it read.

I went to that meeting, found Greg, was ushered into a conference room full of strangers, and the icebreaker began. The third person to speak enlightened us about how he/she had received a hickey the size of a tennis ball that weekend. One guy was wearing a suit and tie (Hey, Jake).

I questioned what I was getting myself into, until I didn’t. As the icebreaker moved on, I realized I was surrounded by some characters. They were weird, but in the best way. I knew this was a community I wanted to be a part of.

I didn’t know then that the same community would teach me chairmonkey, land me inside the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, thrust me into Wild Tymes in St. Paul, make me fall in love with Lincoln, introduce me to Kansas City barbecue, send me to Tampa to cover a bowl game, or allow me to find some some of my best friends. 

But here we are.

***

I called my parents this November. 

I started crying like a baby. 

I had two papers and a presentation due the next day, one of which was already late. 

I hadn’t had time to work on them, because I’d been working at The Daily all week.

I told them I wanted this to be over. 

My mom said everything would be ok. My dad said it would be over soon. 

When I was a freshman, I told them I wanted to chase this newspaper thing as far as it could go. They both gave me their support. They’ve done so countless times since. And I couldn’t have done any of this without them. 

But there I was on some November night, letting stress consume me enough that I uttered six words I never imagined saying in my life.

I want this to be over. 

The notion seems blasphemous to me now.

Because it is over. 

And I’d give anything for Janet, or Vinnie, or TJ, or Mike or James to have gone here, so I would have never questioned coming here myself.

And I’d give anything for Mr. Moss to have told me about Michigan’s student newspaper in his office that day, so I could have emailed the sports editors earlier. 

And I’d give anything for my dad to have driven straight, so I could have seen this building an extra time. 

And I’d give anything to know I wasn’t getting into a fraternity the first day I stepped on campus, so I could have walked into this newsroom sooner. 

And I’d give anything to take back that phone call, if it meant I had just one more day. 

Santo can be reached by email at kmsanto@umich.edu or on Twitter @Kevin_M_Santo. He wants Meg to know she deserves a column too. And he wants to thank anyone who has ever read one of his stories.