Chris Jones authored "The Things We Forget," a chronicle of 2008 in sports that appeared in the December 15, 2008 issue of ESPN The Magazine. Online, it's presented in 11 parts, which are listed at the bottom of this piece. Here, Jones explains a few personal receipts he racked up along the way.
When you're going somewhere you've never been before, you're always a little off-balance—never quite sure you're where you're supposed to be. I drove into Pittsburgh, which is all rivers and bridges, and of course I crossed the wrong bridge and ended up somewhere in Ohio, I think. By the time I finally got to my dodgy hotel, I was running pretty hard into game time, Penguins-Flyers, after which I was hoping to grab Sidney Crosby. I decided to take a taxi to the Igloo, to give myself a breather, but even the taxi driver got lost, and we ended up taking a nice tour of greater Pittsburgh. I'd seen everything but a frigging hockey game. At last, I got out of the cab and hoofed it over to the arena. I had about twenty minutes to spare before the game. I'd never been to the Igloo before, but I stumbled on the media dining room, which is every reporter's happiest place on earth. Ten bucks, and I got a plate of hot food and a couple of cookies and a few minutes to chill. I was happier still after the game. One of the Penguins PR folks thought Crosby wouldn't want to talk, but after he spoke to the beat guys, he gave me all I needed, which meant I could leave Pittsburgh and get lost somewhere else. Sidney Crosby can do no wrong for me from now on. Sidney—if you need a ghostwriter, I'm available.
We tried to do as many interviews in person as possible. It's always better that way. Rocco Mediate had been tough to pin down, but he was scheduled to play in the Children's Miracle Network Classic at Disney in Orlando, the last tournament of the year. Rocco seemed like a personable guy, so I thought I'd be able to talk to him on the driving range before the tournament started. I flew down to Florida, and because the tournament was at Disney, it kind of made sense to stay in one of the Disney hotels. You want to feel like a pervert? Be that creepy guy staying at a Disney hotel, sitting alone with his laptop in the lobby filled with children. I couldn't deal with the weird looks from concerned mothers, so I ate a lot of room service. This receipt's mostly room service—including these really good boneless Buffalo wings, one of which is still wedged in an artery near my left ventricle. Anyway, I made the short trip to the course the next morning and found out Rocco had withdrawn from the tournament and was home in California. Perfect. After a couple of wasted days and a few frantic phone calls by my ever-patient editor, Chris Berend, Rocco finally called me when I was in line at the airport for my flight home. He was very good—in fact, he was the last interview conducted for this story. So I got Rocco in Orlando after all. Only he was in Los Angeles.
By the time the World Series rolled around, I was ready to go home. I'd spent a lot of time on the road, and while I'd seen some cool things and met some really impressive athletes, I wanted my wife and kids to remember what I looked like. That meant I wanted Philadelphia to win Game 5. The Phillies did what they were supposed to do; Bud Selig was the one who choked. We were stranded. I was staying at an airport hotel, which turned into bedlam that night—so many flights were cancelled, plus everyone connected with the Series had to stay over. But the hotel bar was humming. I sat at the bar next to a guy who turned out to be a pilot from San Francisco. Writers and pilots spend a lot of time (too much time, probably) inside their own heads, so I think we were both happy for the conversation. He was actually a pretty interesting guy. He was asking what I was doing and I told him, and he lit up, talking about when he was a kid and he saw Mickey Mantle in a hotel lobby. He asked Mantle for an autograph, and Mantle told him to beat it. So, the future pilot's dad tells his son to go wait over there in the corner, and the dad lays into Mantle. "I'd never seen my dad that mad before," the pilot said. "You wouldn't have believed it." Mantle apologized and signed the autograph, and the pilot had kept it all these years. His story actually fit into my story pretty well, and early on, the pilot in the bar waiting out the rain made the cut. In the end, I took him out, but I still liked having met him. I like meeting people I never would have met otherwise, except that it started raining.
I really did become obsessed with Thurman Munson's locker that last night at Yankee Stadium, and seeing his son, Michael, at home plate turned something over in me. I really wanted to talk to him. I'd read somewhere that he owned a bar in Canton, so I hit the road. I didn't call ahead or anything like that. I just went. If he wasn't there, at least I'd get something to eat. As it turned out, Michael wasn't there when I walked in, but I sat down and ordered The Captain, this giant cheeseburger with onion rings on top of it. I've eaten a lot of cheeseburgers on the road—I really eat like crap on the road—but it was one of the best ones I've had. I kind of took my time with it, and I drank a couple of bottles of beer, and then I paid my bill, just kind of lingering. I was wiping up my hands with a napkin to leave when Michael walked in. I am one of those people who confuse coincidence with signs, but I could have left two minutes earlier and never spoken to him. Instead, here he was, and he pulled out a beer and we sat down at a table near the door. He was terrific—I mean, really great. I liked him a lot as a guy, for sure, but as the subject for a story, he was rock solid too. I think Michael probably deserves his own story, but I hope he likes how I weaved him into this one, and I hope he knows how I thought of him and his dad. Talking to Michael made me want to be the kind of father for my sons that Thurman Munson was for his. This story for me started as an exploration of memory, but that's the night it became more about what happens next— less about what we leave behind, and more about what we can make for ourselves and the people we love in the time we have left.
All Parts of "The Things We Forget"
Part 1: The Closing of Yankee Stadium
Part 2: Michael Phelps
Part 3: Lance Armstrong and David Tyree
Part 4: Annika Sorenstam
Part 5: Josh Hamilton
Part 6: Venus and Serena Williams
Part 7: The Boston Celtics
Part 8: Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods
Part 9: Sidney Crosby
Part 10: Thurman Munson's old locker at Yankee Stadium
Part 11: The 2008 World Series
Bonus: See the author's receipts from putting together this story.