This whole thing was started, basically, out of spite. I don’t mean the opinion column. I don’t mean my oddly successful Twitter account @thefakened. I don’t even mean the publication of my two books (available on Amazon.) I mean all of this. The whole hustle. The podcasts. The writing. The articles in Referee Magazine. The appearances on ESPN and NPR. The broadcasting and the public address announcing. All 500 of these columns were written out of spite.
I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be Don Fortune. Who wouldn’t have wanted to be Don Fortune? I fell asleep to Denny Matthews and Fred White (with producer/engineer Don Free!) every night from April to October on KMBZ. Every day when I got home from school, I’d turn the radio on and Don Fortune was talking about my Kansas City Royals and my Chiefs and he’d bloviate about how Freddy Patek missed a pop fly or how U.L. Washington hit in the game winning run last night. Who wouldn’t want that job?
My passion for sports outgrew my athletic ability to play sports my freshman year of high school when our high school baseball coach felt that my ability to run a mile around Macken Park somehow translated to a low-motor power hitting left-handed first baseman. I don’t need to run around Macken Park, coach, I just need to whack a ball in the gap and make it to first. The little voice in my head said “time to hang ’em up.”
Alas, my sports career certainly didn’t end there, it only grew as I learned about the logistics of baseball by becoming an umpire. There I swallowed all 10 rules of the Baseball Rulebook. I had control over the game. I got to wear a uniform. I was in charge. It also taught me about criticism because there’s all kinds of criticism when you’re a 14-year old umpire working a 16-year old baseball game.
All the while, I continued to listen to the radio. Don Fortune gave way to Kevin Kietzman who gave way to Soren Petro and Danny Clinkscale. And other voices such as Danny Parkins, Nick Wright, Carrington Harrison, Steven St. John, Jason Whitlock, Greg Hall, Nate Bukaty, and so many others along the way filled my ears as I continued on my life’s journeys.
I went to college to become a sports journalist. It is there that I learned about prerequisite classes that have nothing to do with journalism school. Why someone needs four years of German to report that the Chiefs lost to the Dolphins 21-7 still boggles my mind. I also learned about Miller Lite and how well it goes with Buffalo wings. I learned about depression and having to pay for utilities and rent. Don Fortune never had these struggles. The little voice in my head said “time to find something else.”
Don Fortune never had to take a job at an IT help desk ramping up to Y2K. He only had to tell you about Steve DeBerg and Mike Sweeney and how he hated soccer and loved Tippins pies. He was probably paid entirely with Tippins pies.
Life comes at you fast and then you find you’re married with a kid on the way and your day-to-day becomes your 9-5. You sit down in your easy chair and your remote control and 10 years have gone by. It’s easy to believe because the Royals are still bad and will never win the World Series again.
Maybe the spark goes out a little bit. Maybe it does for everyone as they reach their 30’s. Umpiring baseball is less an opportunity and more a chore. Getting up for work seems like the Dunkin’ Donuts man muttering “time to make the donuts” over and over again. Your hope of being Don Fortune faded in the distance. The Royals aren’t even on KMBZ and Don Fortune isn’t even on the radio anymore.
But the spark never truly dies. It just needs a little bit of oxygen and a little bit of magic to burn. In walks Twitter. It fit the way my brain thought…in these 140 character blurts. “Hey, Trey Hillman is really a terrible manager.” “I wish the city would plow my street.” “I sure hate wearing pants.”
I wasn’t alone. At the height of my account, it had nearly 20,000 followers listening to the short, dumb things my brain blurted out. One of those was Ivan Foley. Ivan is one part businessman and one part evil genius. “Sure,” he thought to himself, “he can make me laugh during a Royals game with 140 characters, I wonder if he can do it with 500 words.” It turns out, my brain can also think in one page humor columns as well.
It started out, as all good things do, with talking about your favorite food at the gas station. Five hundred columns later, it’s talked about the serious, the sublime, the sad, and the silly. It’s talked about my family, my job, my mental state, my government, my taxes, and my bowel movements. The column has covered things I love, things I hate, things I’m scared of, and also Olathe. I guess that should’ve been in the “things I hate” part.
I’ve loved writing every word. Five hundred columns later, I hope you’ve at least enjoyed a few of them.
Twelve years is a long time. Look at how much you’ve changed – hell, the whole world has changed – in 12 years. My brain is still just as mushy and I still like to talk in 500 word and 140 character bursts. I still look at life just a little off center from most. I still love writing this column every week.
Thank you for sticking with me here on page 3 every week. Thank you for supporting local journalism and your favorite local newspaper. Thank you.
I’ve accepted that I’ll never be Don Fortune, but the joy that this column has given me has been worth even more than a fortune.
(Follow a Twitter account worth more than a fortune: @TheFakeNed)