INTERLUDE: A Letter to My Younger Self
Hey, kid! Yeah, you. I’m you, 15 years down the line. Scary, isn’t it? The thought that the future version of you is in any position to write a letter to his younger self? Trust me, I didn’t expect this, either.
Like with pretty much everything else, you can blame this on professional wrestling (yep, you’ll still be watching). One of the guys you grew up watching, Diamond Dallas Page, wrote one of these, and he did it so well that it brought up things I’d forgotten. One of those things is that you just came back from your ninth-grade orientation at Kingston High School, and in that folder you’re carrying was a copy of the next day’s Daily Racing Form past performances for Saratoga.
Here’s the kicker, kid. What if I told you that, by the time you’re 29, you’ll be working for them and doing a lot of the things you’ve always wanted to do? Cool, right? It is. There’s just one thing you need to know.
That family curse your dad talks about, the one where a Champagne can’t ever do things quietly? You’ve got it, and you’ve got it bad.
Because of this, your trip to where I’m at now will be a long, strange one, complete with many twists, turns, and crazy moments that you’ll swear can only happen to you. Just bear with me on this one, because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
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You know that audio-visual club you joined, KHS-TV? That’ll be one of the best things that’s ever happened to you. Your advisors, John Moriarty and Andrew Sheber, will learn a lot about you over the next few years, and they’ll be instrumental in forging the person you want to be.
It seems daunting as a nervous, pudgy high school freshman, but over the next few years, you’ll wind up being the main sports reporter for the club. Your junior and senior years will consist of traveling with teams, going in extra early the next day to cut highlights, picking up PA announcing work on the side, and ultimately becoming one of the most visible people at the school.
Your senior year, you’ll also write for the newspaper. Your attitude won’t sit well with some people. In fact, at the end of the year, the award you’ll win from advisor Sean O’Brien (one of the good guys) is entitled, “I used to be conceited, but now I’m perfect.” That won’t bother you, and it won’t bother you for a defined reason: Nobody can ever accuse you of not putting in the necessary work. Hell, there will be one newspaper where your grade for the journalism class that puts out the newspaper is something in the 210’s out of 100, simply because your name is on five or six different stories.
Opinions of you will vary widely. Some teachers (including your English and science fiction teacher, Mr. Stein, who you’ll co-host a game show with) will love you, and so will some students, including Ted King-Smith, your best friend since kindergarten (want to feel old? You’ll be in his wedding in 2018). As a senior, you’ll even mentor a kid named Ron Miles who reminds you a lot of yourself. Get ready for this: He’ll go into football coaching, win a national championship as a graduate assistant with Ohio State, and work for an NFL team. Others (namely some fellow students and an athletic director at a rival high school you almost get in a fistfight with) won’t care for your shtick. Some student-athletes will have other problems with you, namely the music you play at certain sporting events. If you’re disturbed by how much I remember, know that I am as well. At this point, there isn’t much I can do about my mind being Sicilian in nature. I apologize in advance, because this won’t get better.
When it comes time to go to college, you’ll get lucky. You’ll have two top choices, Ithaca College and Syracuse University. Syracuse will make your decision really simple, because they’ll reject you. Don’t sweat this, because you’ll wind up going EXACTLY where you’re supposed to go.
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Be very thankful that you have two good parents. You’ve always been close to your dad, and he’s the one that took you to the track as a kid and to high school sporting events when he worked for a small local paper. You don’t share a lot of interests with your mother, and even today, she gets angry when you get frustrated about not picking a winning horse. That said, she’s always enabled you to do what you want to do, even when your desired career path isn’t glamorous.
All of that plays a large part in getting you to Ithaca College, specifically the TV/Radio program at the world-renowned Park School of Communications. The reason you pick Ithaca is the ability to do what you want to do right away, and you were right to do it. Immediately, you become the primary PA announcer for Ithaca College athletics thanks to associate athletic director Mike Lindberg and his staff, and you also pick up TV and radio work, too.
As good as Mike Lindberg, Ernie McClatchie, and his team are, though, there’s one negative constant, and it’s your first exposure to someone with actual power not liking you. The head sports information director will be a thorn in your side for the better part of four years, including once berating you in front of the entire press box for having the nerve to go to the men’s room during a delay in a football game. He’ll even go after your father when he shows up for a few games, solely because he thinks he can do whatever he wants without any repercussions (he can’t, but more on that later).
That one person, though, doesn’t cancel out all of the good things you’ll do and all of the people you meet. As a senior, you’ll become one of the voices of Ithaca College football on WICB, and you’d better bring it, because the people you’ll work with are GOOD. Your partner is Josh Getzoff, who’ll wind up calling games for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Your sports director is Nate March, who, in addition to becoming one of the top minor league baseball broadcasters in the country in his mid-20’s, will become one of your best friends (you’ll be in his wedding, too). You’ll call a game with Josh Canu, who’ll work for NBC Sports, and you’ll have a story for years to come when his car breaks down 40 miles from campus. Someone a few years younger than you, Gavin Cote, will work at ESPN and name-drop your beloved 1994 Chrysler LeBaron in a speech at Nate’s wedding (somehow, by the way, that car will get you through college). The sports radio and TV staffs become one big family, complete with irrational blowups at one another and wars about everything from women to the intramural flag football team (spoiler alert: your team stinks), but you’ll meet some of the best friends you’ll ever have by doing that.
You’ll also make real connections with some of your professors. You’ll play golf with a guy named Stephen Mosher, who’s pretty much Robin Williams’s character from “Good Will Hunting” come to life. You’ll talk horses with Jack Powers, whose credits include consultations on a hit TV show called “Modern Family.” You’ll love Peter Johanns, especially since he won’t kill you for counting the number of times he says the phrase, “something along those lines,” during his Advanced Studio Production class.
Even better, you’ll get the experience of a lifetime in 2010. Crazy as it sounds, NBC uses student interns from Ithaca and Syracuse during the Olympics. You’ll intern at the Winter Games in Vancouver as part of the Highlights Factory. You’ll meet Lester Holt, Mary Carillo, Al Michaels, and Bob Costas. You’ll go to the women’s curling semifinals with Nick Karski, who will spend most of his time wondering why he went to a curling match with a guy who never shuts up (don’t worry, part of that is why you two get along splendidly). You’ll work side-by-side with high-level guys like Brian Gilmore, Eric Hamilton, and Gary Quinn, all of whom are tremendous at their jobs, but even better people. Furthermore, it turns out you’ve got distant family in Vancouver who will show you around, even taking you in for a home-cooked meal when they have no obligation to do so.
Those six weeks will be some of the best weeks of your life. You’d better enjoy them, though, because when you get home, it’s going to be tough.
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For all of the shtick you put forth sometimes, you’re also pretty conscientious about planning things. You major in TV/Radio at Ithaca while somehow pulling off a double-minor in Sport Studies and Speech Communication and somehow do it in 3 1/2 years, allowing you to get a three-month head start on a job hunt once you fly back from Vancouver. Having said that, I need to warn you: These next few months won’t go well.
You’ll send your resume to every single college athletic department, TV station, radio station, and newspaper you can think of. You’ll get varying responses, including some very nice rejections and a few mean ones (one of which you’ll still have in a separate email folder in 2017 because it stuck with you). Finally, in October, you’ll get a call from Siena College, and you’ll go to work…pretty much doing everything in the one department you swore you’d never work for at Ithaca: Sports information.
(By the way, remember how I said there’d be more on the Ithaca SID? Yeah, he’ll get fired a few years after you leave, and by the accounts of some people you trust, nobody will stand up for him as his fate is decided.)
You’ll work there for two years, and you’ll bust your butt before getting a full-time offer from The Saratogian. That puts you back at the racetrack, and in the stands at high school and college games in the area. You’ll love going to games, and you’ll love the people you work with (some of whom you’ll be close to years after you leave that paper). People loving you, though? That’s going to be dicey sometimes. You’ll get yelled at by a few people for impersonating “The West Wing” communications director Toby Ziegler’s ball-throwing tendency when thinking, and one of your co-workers will act in an unforgivable way at the track in the summer of 2013. Still, nobody can ever logically accuse you of not putting in the work, and that’s what gets you through that summer.
The day after Labor Day, you’ll take a train to New York City. You’ll head into a lounge at a hotel and meet a man named Phil Kubel, who’s hiring for the digital media arm of HRTV. It’s based at Santa Anita, and after meeting you, he’ll fly you out to California. You’ll sit in on meetings with execs like Amy Zimmerman and Michael Canale, and ultimately, you’ll move west the next month, in need of a fresh start that the job provides.
You’ll get it, and then some. You’ll love what you do, you’ll love being at the track every day, and, six weeks after you move, you’ll meet someone you’ll fall head over heels for. Trust me, kid. As bad as things seem directly before your move, you’ll know instantly that you’ve made the right decision to move when you meet her. She’s infinitely better-looking than you are, she’s actually got a desire to do the dirty work 99% of Americans will never want to do, and even though she doesn’t know it when you meet her, she’s destined to be the best third-grade teacher anyone could ever ask for.
You’ll get sent to Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races, some of the most well-known broadcasters will take a liking to you (namely Caton Bredar, Jeff Siegel, and Aaron Vercruysse), and even after a brief hiccup in the summer of 2014 that you’ll save the full story about for your memoirs (to be written once certain people retire or die), things will seem to be going incredibly well…and then you’ll get a monkey wrench thrown into everything.
You see, the TV station you work for will be sold to its main competitor, TVG, in early-2015. There’ll be a few weeks of uncertainty with regard to future employment, and you won’t know where money will come from. Thankfully, two men, Bhavesh Patel and Stephen Kennelly, will bring you into the fold, and, even better, they know how to manage you. You’re going to stun Bhavesh into silence at a meeting when you display your expertise, and rather than micromanage you, he and Stephen will simply recognize that you know how to do your job and leave you to it.
You won’t just handle digital media for them. You’ll handicap for them, and bluntly, you’ll be surprisingly good at it. In an age where people will look for any reason to complain about public handicappers (if you think it’s bad now, kid, just wait a few years until something called Twitter comes along), you’ll post a $500 profit on Pick Four tickets in 2015 and pick winners at a 27% clip in 2016. You’ll also host online broadcasts for them and be in charge of getting eyeballs on online content. You’ll gladly go the extra mile for what you do, especially since you’re paid hourly. What’s more, they’ll let you handicap for The Saratogian, where you’ve ascended to the role of featured handicapper following the retirement of Nick Kling (one of the best to ever pick horses on a daily basis).
Better still, you’ll meet people like you. There’ll be a guy in marketing who you work next to, and you won’t know a thing about him when you start. However, on a random walk to the other side of the office in your first week at TVG, you’ll notice Danny Kovoloff is reading the same wrestling blog you read. You’ll exclaim, “YOU’RE A SCOTT KEITH GUY!!!,” and giggle like a schoolgirl, and that’s how you’ll know you’re going to be okay.
You’ll meet two different Italian versions of yourself. One of them is headed out the door of TVG as soon as you arrive, it seems, but you wind up getting so close after he leaves that you get a standing invitation to Gino Buccola’s family’s annual Fourth of July extravaganza. Two side notes: One, his family may consist of the nicest people on the planet. Two, the greatest play of your athletic career will come at a softball game hosted near his house. Pro tip: At some point between now and Fourth of July in 2017, learn how to slide into third base.
The other Italian version of yourself is a track announcer that knows every small track like the back of his hand, it seems, and one who you’ll become close with in a bizarre way. You see, he’ll call a race at Gulfstream Park featuring a horse named Fallen Leaf, who appears to be on her way to victory. He’ll say, “No antics of any kind…,” only for the horse to prop near the wire and throw the jockey. He’ll deadpan, “…and there we go with the antics,” and your crazy mind will deduce that this must take off as a Twitter phenomenon. By Pete Aiello’s own admission, the era of the Aiellobomb will be a very strange time, but the two of you will begin bantering back and forth, and you’ll be better off for it.
You’ll also meet another guy to whom you’ll owe a debt you can’t repay. See, in 2017, your job at TVG will change drastically, to the point that you realize it’s time to look around (this is another story for the memoirs that can’t be written until certain people retire or die). This guy, who has never met you and barely knows who you are, will listen as you look for someone, ANYONE, to talk to about your situation. You’ll ramble, all while trying to sound somewhat coherent, and, bless his kind, Midwestern heart, he’ll give you an email address for Jody Swavy, the editor-in-chief at the Daily Racing Form. Within two months of the change in status at TVG, you’ll be on a plane to New York City to train for a job in digital media at the publication you just spent your high school orientation reading, and you’ll have Joe Nevills (and, by extension, fellow DRF Breeding colleague/former Saratogian sports editor Nicole Russo) to thank for a large portion of it.
Some of these people probably won’t like being name-dropped. The fact is, though, you won’t get anywhere without them. You’ll put in the work, but life’s about the people you meet and the relationships you forge. You don’t do Christmas cards, because you find them too time-consuming and boring, so you naturally choose to write 3,000 words (exactly 3,000, per Microsoft Word) to express your gratitude to those who deserve it, from your friends and family to a girlfriend that you’ve been with for four years and love very much. Like pretty much everything else you do, what some people think of as ego or a strong personality is really just trying to do the best you can at all times.
I don’t have a lot of other tips for you, because as I write this, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. It doesn’t matter that the journey followed a circuitous route. I’m happy.
Do what makes you happy. Everything else will take care of itself.
P.S.: Avoid the organic ice cream at the casino you visit in Aruba your senior year of high school. Just trust me.