Mark Purdy Says Farewell After 33 Years At The Mercury News

Let me tell you a story.  In the summer of 1984, the Purdy family vehicle motored west from Ohio.  After several days of interstate fast food and rest stops, we cut through the Sunol notch of Interstate 680 and emerged into the glorious wilds of Fremont before the road bent left to San Jose where we viewed . . . the future.

I was soon to begin a sports column gig at the San Jose Mercury News. I had no clue what I was getting myself into, although I pretended to do so for writing purposes. How was I to know that we were about to settle in the most interesting place on earth?

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Silicon Valley was just sprouting from a toddler into a full-fledged international revolutionary adult. In sports, Bill Walsh was coaching the 49ers to the second of their eventual five championships. The Giants were pursuing a new ballpark. Rickey Henderson was about to be traded from the A’s to the Yankees. The Warriors’ biggest star, Joe Barry Carroll, had decided to leave the team and spend the 1984-85 season with a team in Italy. Italy? Italy.

Then things became even more fascinating. And damn, was it fun to write about it all.

You are reading my final column for this newspaper. As I’ve previously explained, it’s time for me to put behind the grind of daily content providing and hit the exit ramp to enjoy a slower pace of writing projects. As such, I find myself grasping for the proper farewell words–especially when it comes to those folks who have stuck with me all this time. Frankly, I am better at just telling stories.

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So I was thinking about that day of arrival in 1984. I vividly recall a few things. The heat was intense. The smog was much worse that it is now. And I had lots of questions about how my wife, our 2-year-old daughter and our soon-to-be-born son would deal with their new life in Northern California. But I knew that the life of a regional sports columnist was exactly what I wanted. And I knew that if I could not find compelling stuff to write about in this region, I deserved to be fired. I’m proud to say that never occurred.

Let me tell you a story. Once, there was a kid from an Ohio small town who would sit in his family’s basement rec room and watch sports. He would see the Olympics and the Super Bowl and World Series, the US Open Golf Tournament and NCAA Final Four. They seemed to take place on some sort of fantasy planet. He wondered what it would be like to actually see those things in person, what it would sound like and feel like.

And then, all of a sudden, he was right there, at all those places, year after year. He worked hard to get there. But he was fortunate enough to be employed by newspapers who sent him around the world and readers who supported the idea by buying subscriptions. The kid was me, of course. Funny enough, my goal was not to become a national traveler or work for a national publication. My goal was to land someplace where I could stay for many years and raise a family along with a wife who could also find a fulfilling job. And look how it all turned out.

My reputation as a defender of all things San Jose is something to which I plead guilty.  It is a most awesome mongrel, an urban-suburban experiment in shopping mall terror and great ethnic restaurants. And I love it. But I’ve also grown to love the entire Bay Area. San Francisco, as a charming smaller city to the north of San Jose, has many cool spots.. Oakland is undergoing a renaissance with some speed bumps but I think will figure it out and may even help the A’s build a ballpark one day.

San Jose, however, is my address. Too many people look at the city’s modern spread-out landscape and presume there is no soul beneath. That’s so wrong. Check out San Pedro Square on any given weekend (or weekday) night. Check out the heartbeat. For several years, I organized a goofy event called the “Tour de French Fry,” in which I led a motley band of bike riders around town to sample fast food fries. When a tragedy occurred on my street — a junior high girl was killed while riding her bike and wasn’t wearing a helmet because her family couldn’t afford one — I turned the Tour de Fry into a fundraiser to buy bike helmets for such kids.

People came out of the woodwork to donate generously, enough that we were able to buy helmets for three entire schools. Much to my surprise, the goofy Tour became cool. Folks such as Joey Chestnut (the world eating champ) and Beth Heiden (the Olympic bronze medalist) showed up to ride with us. I had hoped to organize one final Tour de Fry before signing off as a columnist but couldn’t quite pull it off. Maybe I’ll try it guerilla style at some random future date. But that’s just one adventure I’ll cherish from the last 33 years. There are so many others.

Let me tell you a story. At a Giants-Cubs baseball playoff game last autumn, a friend from a Chicago newspaper came up and said: “I didn’t realize you were the guy who named McCovey Cove. You know that’s in the first paragraph when you die, right?”

I preferred not to ponder that fact. Hadn’t even pondered it, for obvious reasons.  But if my friend is correct, I will happily accept the honor in deceased absentia. The brainstorm struck me one day when I passed by the under-construction AT&T Park (at that time, known as Pac Bell Park) in the summer of 1999.

At that time, plans called for Willie Mays being honored by a statue on the plaza behind home plate, which happened. I wondered in print why McCovey couldn’t be honored with his own liquid “monument” and suggested that China Basin Channel beyond right field acquire a new identity. Happily, the Giants went for the pitch. It may be the first and only time that anybody from San Francisco thought someone from San Jose had a good idea.

Being linked in even the smallest way to such a wonderful human being as McCovey — who also happens to be a Hall of Famer and maybe the most popular San Francisco Giants’ player ever — is something I will always treasure. I haven’t had many terrific ideas in my life. I’m glad I had that one. On the wall of my study at home, there are zero photos of my sports writing life. I definitely plan to frame a photo of myself and McCovey, standing above the cove in 2001, and hang it proudly.

Let me tell you a story. In 1995, I sat down at a computer terminal in our newspaper’s office because an editor wanted to show me an exciting development called a “web page.”

“Crap,” I said to the editor. “Are we screwed?”

We weren’t screwed. But we were on the path to a lot of changes. It is fantastic that this newspaper’s stories are reaching more eyeballs than ever. It is not fantastic that the business has not figured out how to better monetize those eyeballs. In many ways, the shift to 24/7 has actually made my journalistic life far more fulfilling, Being able to go online and post instant commentary on a big trade or story is an adrenaline kick. My wish is that younger people take advantage of the opportunities and raise the bar even higher.

What don’t I like about sports in 2017? The media climate has become more about what’s happening RIGHT NOW rather than stepping back to assess events in a broader context. In an effort to grab fans’ attention and wallets, pro sports leagues are making themselves less about sports and more about promoting and multi-stream price points. The NFL once consisted of 16 football games with a little sizzle wrapped around them. Now the league seems to be 16 marketing opportunities with a little football wrapped somewhere deep inside. Other sports see how successful that’s been, then follow suit.

Sports is regularly scheduled unpredictable drama. It is not performance theater with links to twitter feeds. Sports is about people, not revenue streams.  I have been in hundreds of post-game locker rooms. I have seen how much pain players endure to play their games, how they overcome big challenges in their personal lives to do so. Can we please keep remembering that? I know it’s difficult to do when your fantasy team is tanking. But fans should fight through the promotional drumbeat weeds to enjoy the heart and grit of what they’re seeing. Media members should help them. Good journalism is good journalism. Readers want solid information and commentary. And if you’re lucky, people will remember a few of the columns you write.

When someone says to me, “I’ve been reading you since I was 10 years old,” that doesn’t make me feel old. It makes me feel fortunate. When someone tells me they enjoyed a piece I wrote in 1998, that’s just about the most flattering thing a sportswriter can hear. Really? They remember something I typed 19 years ago? How can that be possible?

Let me tell you a story. Back in 1984 when my family made that drive through the Sunol notch, I was warned that the Bay Area could be a cruel and pretentious place, that San Jose had no soul and that Oakland was a noxious place. I was also told the Bay Area was a sprawling, weird territory full of freaky people and horrible traffic.

Those people were right about the sprawl and traffic. They were wrong about everything else. You learn quite a bit when you work in one place for so many years.

What did I learn?  I learned that we worry too much about city vs. city feuds around here. I had fun with it myself by taunting San Francisco incessantly for its arrogance in regarding itself as The City. The combined population of San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland is roughly 2.2 million. The combined Bay Area population is roughly 7.5 million. In other words, most people live in none of those three cities. And those people access their favorite sports as they see fit, no matter where the teams play. So why even argue about where the teams should play?

I learned through the years that Bay Area citizens are wildly fascinating and smart and creative. I learned that my fellow Bay Area News Group employees are some of the most earnest human beings on the planet, dedicated to getting it right even as our resources have dwindled–while, incredibly, putting up with my quirks and deadline-disturbing.

I learned that Northern California remains America’s best chance to get it right, to blend together all sorts of folks and cultures. Despite the best efforts of hate-spinners to break us apart, in NorCal we tend to want to get along. And we do so better than in most places. My daughter and son played youth sports with – or against – kids who spoke half a dozen different languages. I’m so happy that our children were raised in that environment, because that’s tomorrow.

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What else?  I learned that those 49ers teams of the 1980s will be impossible to duplicate, but good luck to John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan as they try.  I learned that the Raiders are eternally portable. I learned that it is possible for a World Series to have an earthquake delay. I learned that the Warriors can show the rest of the NBA how to play the highest form of basketball by being unselfish and. I learned that ice hockey will work in Northern California and can even fill up a football stadium. I learned that a football stadium can be built next to a theme park and host a Super Bowl.

And I learned that even when I was the most beat and weary, following 13 or 14 straight days of 12-hour shifts covering the Olympics, I could walk across a near-empty plaza in Athens or Beijing or London, look up to see the Olympic torch burning — even hear the flame if the night was quiet enough — and find the energy for a 15th and 16th and 17th day. The Games are a hypocritical mess in many ways. But something about that flame pushes people to the max.

Let me tell you a story. If someone in 1984 had informed me as I drove through that Sunol notch that this is exactly how it would all turn out, I would have agreed to that deal in a flash. Sometimes I think back to that small town kid in Ohio and wonder if all of this really happened to him. I relished telling all those stories.  But I’m pulling over, getting out of the car and allowing other people to take the ride. They may enjoy it as much as I did. They’ll never enjoy it more. Thank you to anyone and everyone who took a few minutes to read even one of my columns. This is the last sentence of the last one.

Source : http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/11/purdy-the-finish-line-of-a-33-year-journey/

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