This may come as a surprise, but before any sports reporter puts a camera on their shoulder, picks up the microphone, or learns to tie a necktie, we are sports fans. Yes, before we become that annoying person standing on the sidelines, filming practice of newly conceived plays for the upcoming game, and giving coaches a new facial tick, we were their supporters.
Most of us have players we look, or looked up to while growing up. Most of us still have moments where we have to double check, with a peak outside of the view finder to get a first hand account, that we are actually speaking to a particular athlete. It's happened to me a few times. George Foreman, Shaq, LeBron James...just to name a few.
We're taught to have thick skin in the media, but sometimes, it's a little disheartening when you meet one of your favorite athletes, only to learn that they're a sports diva. The more people that you know in this industry, the more that you hear about.
I'll admit, I'm not the biggest NASCAR fan. I do like the sport, and my appreciation for it has grown greatly, since covering WGI's Sprint Cup Race this year. My Uncle Mark on the other hand was a regular at Pocono. He lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania, worked for the dragster driver Joe Amato, had a Dale Earnhardt car phone, and a Dale Jr. cell phone. His motto, while never said, had to be: Louder is better.
He was the first to introduce me to the sport, and while he passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2006, he taught me a lot about it.
When it came time to do previews for The Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen, the 18 Sports Department made a few phone calls to drivers who would be doing meet and greets with their fans. I won't name any names, but I was surprised how many said that they not only didn't want to talk on camera, but preferred that we didn't even show up. I can tell you that was not, Brad Keselowski.
The Miller Lite crew held an event at Bleachers in downtown Watkins Glen, and their only stipulation: as long as we can get to the fans first, which of course, we had no problems with, and went to grab a bite.
Fans of Keselowski continue to get in line through out the night. He signed autographs, stood for pictures, and had lengthy conversations with who ever was up for it. When it finally came time to put the mic on, there was no change. He wasn't switching to a politically correct, one-race-at-a-time, interviewee drone. He was still Brad Keselowski. I had never had a guy on the other side of the camera ever offer me a beer, until that night. (Yes, I turned it down as I still had to anchor that night.)
I'll admit, I was jumping on the Blue #2 bandwagon as of that night. Then he went on to finish second in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races that weekend, and was just as entertaining and truthful, in the post-race press conferences.
Through out the season, he showed poise when he needed to, sometimes aggressiveness, but was always Brad Keselowski. NASCAR drivers and probably hockey players are the best at being themselves no matter what the situation they're in.
I'm not trying to convince anyone to change their favorite driver, just giving you a glimpse behind the scenes, which is what the sports blog is about. I'm just saying that it has been fun to watch Keselowski at a member of the media, and as a fan.
(And if anyone saw him on Sportscenter after his race, he was was fun and funny! Youtube it, you won't regret it.)