The first press box I stepped foot into was at the then-AT&T Park. It was the summer after my junior year of high school, I think. I don’t know, but it was one of the Giants’ World Series years, and I was still young enough to know I was in way in over my head, sharing a press box with writers more than double my age.
For some reason, Jesse and SFBay took a chance on me that day. And I will be forever grateful for the Bay Area sports moments I have since witnessed and covered, from Joonas Donskoi’s game-winning goal in Game 3 of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, to Kevin Durant pulling up in LeBron James’ face in Game 3 of the 2017 NBA Finals.
But moreover, it led to a passion in sports journalism, and invaluable experience covering professional teams — the teams I grew up watching, no less. Born and raised in the Bay Area, I remember watching in my living room as Barry Bonds broke the all-time home run record like it was yesterday.
I remember Frank Thomas playing for the A’s; JaMarcus Russell for the Raiders; Mike Dunleavy for the Warriors. I sat in the second to last row in the first Sharks game I attended, and a drunk lady behind me kept yelling Jonathan Cheechoo’s last name like she was on a freight train. I filled out math worksheets as part of an old A’s “Mathletics” promotion so I could get free tickets to a game, then follow my dad to work in Oakland just so we could watch the A’s that night.
I finished undergrad at USC last month and start grad school in Columbia in a few months. But even as I’ve moved away from the Bay Area in recent years, I’ve still kept track of scores, standings and news — trust me, staying up on the East Coast to watch the end of a game that starts at 10:30 p.m. local time is a grind. And it’s hard to be a Bay Area sports transplant in L.A.. But somehow, I’ve done it.
That’s partially why I am launching this column: because the Bay Area sports scene is one of a few remaining staples of my childhood that I refuse to let go of. The mid-2000s — my prime childhood sports-watching years — saw Bay Area sports wallow through a period of irrelevance.
But the last decade has elevated the Bay Area to the pinnacle of the sports world on a regular basis. The Giants won three World Series, then handed the baton to the Warriors. The 49ers reached a Super Bowl, and Colin Kaepernick started an entire social movement. The Raiders are bound for Las Vegas. The A’s keep pulling off magical underdog seasons. And even the Sharks made a Stanley Cup Final.
My goal for this column is not to be entirely about X’s and O’s — that specific play call on third down, the final possession of the game or why the manager pulled the starter after seven innings when he could have gone eight. That’s what game stories are for.
Of course, there will be game analysis. But I like looking beyond the game perhaps more than the game itself. Like, exactly how much is riding on Kevin Durant’s calf, not just for the Warriors but the entire NBA? What does Kaepernick’s continued unemployment tell us about football? Can the A’s emulate the Giants and finally build a ballpark that fans will be proud of? And how weird is it that the Raiders have one-and-a-half feet out the door yet still have “Oakland” in front of their name?
For seven semesters, I wrote a weekly sports column for the Daily Trojan, USC’s student newspaper called “Grinding Gears.” It was a Monday column, so during the fall, it would run alongside the football recap as a sort of “instant analysis” to the USC football game the previous Saturday. And, if you follow USC football, you’ll understand when I say that some columns were less than enthusiastic about the program.
The criticism, for whatever reason, resonated with readers. People started recognizing me from my column headshot, whether it was a random student in the library or a barista at the coffee shop. I don’t care for the recognition, but the validation from the feedback told me I was doing something right: being fair and honest, writing from the heart, not afraid to rip into the team, despite being a USC student.
That is my objective here as well. And one more thing: this is the last time I’ll use the word “I” or talk about myself in this space. Because I didn’t get into journalism for personal attention. I’m in this field to tell stories, and there are countless stories worth writing about in the Bay Area sports scene. So, let’s get started. See you next week.
Eric He is a freelance writer and a USC graduate currently interning at the Southern California News Group. He has been Sharks beat writer and covered a variety of Bay Area sports teams for SFBay. His column runs every Monday.