If you’re not familiar with my story, let me sum it up as quickly as possible so we can move on to more important things, but first, here’s why I am writing this: I received an email from someone that has followed my work for a number of years. His name is Aaron. He’s 23, just out of college and he wants to be a sports writer, baseball in particular. Usually this kind of email is about how one can best get into the business, I get them a few times every week and Aaron has corresponded over the years on a number of occasions to get my take on things. It’s a relevant question of anyone that has ever made a living as a writer. But Aaron was asking me what he should do instead.
I’m fortunate to be where I am. Not only in life but in terms of what I get to do for a living. I’ve written about baseball for more than a dozen years, but I wasn’t lucky enough to make a living doing so until 2008. In my early twenties I fell in love with sportsradio and wanted to get into the business. But going back to school wasn’t really an option for me and it’s always been a difficult field in which to get started. I started off my adult life by accruing debt, owing money to everyone and their distant cousin and feeling confused and frustrated by how life works. Adding another massive debt was not an option for me or anyone in my immediate family. I wasn’t good with money, I wasn’t good at keeping jobs — I got bored and frustrated easily, often taking days off without pay just for the hell of it. I wasn’t good at life, really — Richard Sherman would have run circles around me. Giving up on the idea of getting into sports in any capacity crossed my mind. I soon learned that another thing I wasn’t good at was giving up on my dreams, though I did try.
I got my start writing at InsidethePark.com, thanks to Joe Kaiser, a Tacoma native and now an ESPN.com writer and one my closest friends on the planet. I was 30 by the time I first penned a piece for a local newspaper — again, thanks to Kaiser. Talk about your late starts, eh?. I made little to no money doing it, but I did it anyway, because it kept hope alive, put gas money in my wallet and kept me from going insane working the full-time job outside sports and journalism I should have been all along. There were dozens of instances where I again considered, and even attempted, to give up on my wish and do what was best for me as a person — get a real job and stop hoping against hope. Making ‘stringer’ money isn’t a living. You can’t buy a house with it, you can’t buy a new car with it and you certainly cannot support a family with it. Heck, paying rent with it almost always was a challenge. There were many, many times a Slurpee was out of my network.
But I’m Jason A. Churchill and I’m as stubborn as Eng Bunker
There’s something to be said for perseverance, or refusing to admit the facts that hover directly in front of your pig-headed face, whatever you want to call it. After four years of writing for peanuts at InsidethePark.com, a few local newspapers — The News Tribune, The Kitsap Sun, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer — and ProspectInsider.com, I caught a break. It was December, 2008 and ESPN’s Keith Law asked me to assist him in covering the MLB Draft. That opened the door to other things at ESPN and off I went into the euphoria it is to write about sports for a living. I was 32 years old and unemployed at the time, after spending years working jobs that only depressed me. I wasn’t qualified to do anything else.
I spent years as a semi-regular guest on Seattle-area radio shows, talking Mariners, and even though sportsradio was my first want in sports, I was happy writing about it and occasionally getting the opportunity to have a conversation on the air somewhere. Then I was remarkably fortunate to be hired by CBS Seattle 1090 The Fan, and the rest is, well, you know.
Not only were there times I tried to give up entirely on the idea I’d be able to break into sports, sports writing and sportsradio, but there were times I thought I knew I needed to let go. I was the kid at 4 years old playing catch with dad in the backyard. I was the kid walking around the house, or anywhere else, reciting statistics, rosters, reading box scores before I could tie my own shoes. You can joke I was 15 at that point and I’ll laugh because it’s funny, but I had no interest in anything else. Every time I admitted to myself it was time to move on I felt some relief for a few seconds, but then a constant sense of anxiety took over and never went away. I eventually got to a point where I was sorta-OK not working in sports as long as I knew I hadn’t given up on it and was working toward it, still.
I’m by far not the best person to give advice on this topic. Those that went through conventional channels to become qualified to get where they are in the business are certainly better sources. But considering how tough it is to get such a gig, perhaps I’m one of the better examples for those struggling to break through the door.
I was a wannabe, and for longer than I have actually been. There were a lot of factors that contributed to my fortune — people such as Kaiser, Steve Sandmeyer, family and friends and luck — but the ones I couldn’t have done without were my fear of failure and my downright refusal to give up on the dream.
Aaron, I will not offer advice or ideas on what you should do instead of pursuing your dream to write about baseball, and there are two reasons why: First, you have to be the one to choose your field. I can’t even offer assistance on something that might be halfway similar — I have no idea. Second and perhaps most important, giving up isn’t an option. Not at 23 years of age, not if you’re as determined as it sounds like you are. I’m not suggesting you should avoid another job, I’m advising you to continue your pursuit. Be relentless but patient. Never stop trying to get better so when your time comes the lucky interviewer won’t have a choice but to hand you the keys. There likely will be times when you believe it’s simply time to call it and slide on over to another career choice. Thing is, you can do both. Wherever you go, whatever you do, there’s more harm in allowing your dream to die than keeping it alive. It took me almost 15 years. There were bad days, really bad days, nightmares coming true and not much else along the way. And while it’s not the most lucrative field by a long shot, it’s been my experience the payoff is enormous. Maybe that’s partially because it took so much hard work and a decade and a half to reach it. Mostly, however, it’s because I absolutely love it.
Like Crash Davis, I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe Edgar Martinez should be in the Hall of Fame. I believe Steve Young was every bit the quarterback Joe Montana was, and I believe we landed on the moon. I believe in specific people, I believe in a lot of things, really.
But I don’t believe in giving up on your dreams.
– Jason A. Churchill, 1090 The Fan
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