So driving to Newark---aka The Brick City---earlier today for the Rangers' and Devils' morning skates at The Prudential Center, my mind was not focused on the prospects of the Rangers making the playoffs, or on Marian Gaborik's health concenerns, or Martin Brodeur's mental well-being following his recent struggles during the Olympics and in the games following the Winter Games.
In fact, my mind was clear of any hockey-related thoughts really.
Instead I was thinking about baseball.
That's right, baseball.
A hint of spring in the air here in the northeast contributed to this thought process. But really there was something much more specific that made me think of baseball, and that was the city of Newark, The Brick City itself.
You see I spent seven springs/summers making this exact same 51-mile drive each way from my home in Westchester, NY to the city of Newak, NJ day-in and day-out, all because of baseball. And as I passed Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium off McCarter Highway the memories flooded back of my time working for the Newark Bears minor league baseball team.
I joined the Bears as the club's radio play-by-play broadcaster at the start of the 2003 season. Within a few weeks I added the duties of Media Relations Director. It was a special summer in Newark, what with future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson plying his craft and sharing his unique wisdom while playing for the Bears before signing with the Dodgers and heading back to the majors where he still belonged. Rickey and I developed a friendship, one cemented with the special way he treated my son, Ryan.
Though still working in hockey---hosting NHL Live and covering the league for The New York Times---during the fall, winter, and early spring, I was also able to enjoy the daily 140-game routine of working with the Bears. That routine of being employed in the NHL and in minor league baseball continued through the 2004 baseball season, and included much juggling of my schedule when I covered the Tampa-Calgary Stanley Cup Finals that lasted more than two weeks and necessitated me being away from the Bears the entire time. All I can say is thank you to Kim, my assistsant in Media Relations, and Jared, my backup radio announcer, for covering for me so well!
The NHL lockout, which wiped out the entire 2004-05 hockey season, altered things for me, however. Faced with no income from hockey, I accepted a full-time position with the Bears, and eventually became the club's Assistant General Manager, in charge of everything from sponsorship sales to player procurement.
I greatly missed working in hockey. But at the same time---despite the 100-mile roundtrip every day---I was fortunate over the next several years to gather a great life experience, being part of the core group trying to build a successful baseball franchise in as difficult a market as you can imagine.
Our successes---increasing sponsorship revenues, winning the 2007 Atlantic League championship---were sweet and extremely hard-fought. It was with this great group of young, talented individuals in the front office that I was fortunate enough to spend my 15-hour days with. I will never forget what an amazing group of people worked there, the amount of zany antics and laughs we shared.
Most of all I will remember The Den, as the stadium is affectionately known, as a second home to Ryan, my son, and how many life-long memories he created there. From sitting with me in the broadcast booth during games, to hanging out in the clubhouse and manager's office before and after games, to father-son practice long after the crowds had gone home, to proudly taking his friends into empty suites for VIP access, to sharing the championship trophy for the team I helped build in '07, Ryan will have a flood of memories to look back on one day. For this I am grateful.
And as I drove past The Den earlier today I also remembered one of my other favorite things about that place. I used to love having the whole stadium to myself in the off-season, after everyone went home. As the sun set earlier in the fall and winter, I would change into workout gear, turn on the stadium's sound system, put on some Pearl Jam or Led Zeppelin, and run the steps inside the ballpark, as good a mental escape as it was a physical workout.
It all came to an end in the fall of 2008, and I returned full-time to hockey, where I was fortunate to land with the New York Rangers, writing for the team's web site, something I had done part-time even while still working for the Bears in 2007-08.
Hockey is where I want to be. But I am better in so many ways for the time I spent with the Bears, here in this city of Newark, where I now write this at The Prudential Center.
All that said, now it's time to shift attention back to the Rangers' pursuit of 8th place, Gaborik's groin, and Brodeur's lost game.
Three-and-a-half hours 'til they drop the puck.