If someone asked the seven-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them I wanted to be an astronomer. There was a time in my senior year in high school when I carried around a large paperback edition of Grey’s Anatomy. I would study it in spare moments, and if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them I wanted to be a doctor.
As a freshman in college, I was a physics major, closer to an astronomer than a physician, but that didn’t last. I hit a wall with integral calculus, which did as much as anything to tell me that I was not cut out to be a physicist. I considered a degree in computer science, but I found the classes too rigid. I liked hacking away on my computer without the constraints and formalism of theory.
Early in my junior year, I began a minor in journalism; at roughly the same time, I began to write stories with the idea of submitting them for publication. I joined the college newspaper as a lowly reporter and gave it up halfway through my first assignment, where I was supposed to interview someone in the adminstration building about some trivial matter. It never occurred to me to be a writer for a living.
I think about that decision a lot. With thirty additional years of experience under my belt (a larger belt than the one that circumnavigated my svelt figure at twenty) I realize that, trivial though the assignment might be, it was the experience of it that was important.
I’ve aruged that there is a practical value in reading biographies as a youth and teenager: that they allow you to experience all different kinds of work through the eyes of those that have lived the jobs: from presidents to pilots to janitors and journalists. By my estimate, I’ve read about 300 biographies and memoirs over the last 26+ years. When I finish one, I frequently come away with the sense that I want to be whatever it is I’d just read about: if I read about a soldier, I want to be a soldier; if I read about an astronaut, I want to fly into space. Of all of the biographies and memoirs that I have read, however, there is only one that, in hindsight, I truly regret not pursuing:
Specifically: a baseball writer.
Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. I love baseball and I love writing. Baseball writing is a uniquely American art form. For those who are not sports fans, this may seem impossible, but I’d say reserve your judgment until you’ve read some good baseball writing.
And so, I frequently lament the day I decided to blow off the interview with the administration person for the small article for the college paper I was assigned to write. Everyone has to start somewhere. That was my beginning. It was my fork in the road. Yogi Berra famously quipped, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
I did not take it, but I wish I had.
Written on May 21, 2022 – with a tip of the baseball cap to Roger Angell, baseball writer extraordinaire, who died yesterday at 101.
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