LOUISVILLE, Colo. — As a kid one of my daily destinations was the entry into our subdivision at the corner of Hoover Avenue and whatever that length of Cherry Street was called that week (Bella Vista?). There, every morning, no matter the weather — rain, snow, sleet or sun-drenched — I found a new gift to unwrap. I could count on it being something different every time I went. Sometimes it would contain a surprise or two. And, as I opened this present each day, I knew it would contain exactly what I wanted.
On that corner was, of course, a street box with that day’s newspaper.
To be honest, there were three boxes — one from each of the area’s big daily papers: The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, and Boulder’s Daily Camera. On summer days, I’d grab a quarter from my Thundercats change cup and pedal my bike or ride my skateboard to the street box to buy the morning paper. If I didn’t have a quarter, I’d (ahem) borrow one from my father’s change dish. I had to have enough to buy the Rocky. That was the purpose of the trip. If I happened to have a few extra quarters that day I’d buy the other papers as well. You never knew if that was the day the Post would run a picture of a New York Yankee on its baseball page. This was my routine. It became my inspiration.
My trips to the newspaper boxes, or “single-copy” boxes, at the corner of Hoover and Cherry is a foreign concept to my son. Why ride when you can log on? Before the Internet, the Web and the one-click access to the world’s newspapers that everyone has today, this was the only way to get the info I craved. I could wait a week or so for my subscription to Baseball America or USA Baseball Weekly to arrive, or I could go get the morning paper and have access to the stats and standings and pictures from the previous day’s games (minus those pesky late games in Oakland and Seattle). The morning paper met me at the single-copy box. In modern terms, I was the Foursquare mayor of that corner.
I came each day for the box scores.
I came to love the newspaper.
Today’s drive was the purpose of the this guys’ trip. The boy wonder picked Colorado as the destination because he wanted to see the house where I grew up. After breakfast off Pearl Street and a few hours roaming the stores there, we hopped in the speederbike-like rental car and hit the hot spots of my youth. We drove by the music school at CU, stopped by my high school, saw a handful of the baseball fields where I shagged flies and played games, visited the middle school I attended and his grandma worked, wheeled by the building that housed our Boy Scout meetings, looked a the cul-de-sac we once turned into a mountain of snow for one epic game of King of the Hill … and visited my boyhood home. Ian said the house was pretty, and he was especially happy to see all the kids walking home from elementary school and three kids — three! — darting into my former home.
I felt uncomfortable loitering, so I took the quickest way out of the subdivision that I knew — the route I biked each day to get the newspaper.
As we reached Hoover’s intersection with Bella Vista Drive — it is Bella Vista! — I looked to the corner for the single-copy boxes out of habit.
I am, proudly, the product of the newspaper war. I wasn’t at the Rocky long enough for the war to shape me professionally, but it sure did mold me personally. The ink in those days was contagious. Throughout my life in Colorado, the Post and the Rocky waged an epic battle for readers and news. Choosing which Denver paper was your own was not something taken lightly. You were enlisting. Sure we all subscribed to the Camera and the weekly Louisville Times in the same we all attended school together, out of necessity. But the Post or Rocky was a choice, like selecting a political party, picking a favorite mountain to ski, or deciding on a favorite Three Amigo. (I was a Mark Jackson guy.) The paper you picked said something about you.
The Rocky was a tabloid, and came in easy pull-out sections after awhile. The Post was the broadsheet. The Rocky was the oldest paper in the region. The Post momentarily lured me away with its plan to “adopt a major-league team.” On the top of the sports page, the Post listed the numbers to call to vote on what team would be “adopted” by the paper and covered like a local beat. I spent evenings dialing the number for the Yankees. The St. Louis Cardinals, in an upset over the Chicago Cubs, won.
It was back to the Rocky for me.
The box scores were better.
As a boy, I clipped box scores — mostly just Yankees box scores — and pasted them into a spiral notebook, one for each season. I would also clip the standings and jot little notes in the margins about the schedule ahead (“Need to win in LA!”) or hitting streaks (“Kevin Maas homers again!”). My diligent clipping lost its zeal each season as the Yankees faded from the race, and it was rare that I clipped a box score after the standings showed they were “eliminated.”
It was through the box scores, though, that I discovered the rest of the sports section and continued to fall for the wonder of newspapers. I looked forward to Drew Litton’s cartoons, highlighted favorite sentences in Bob Kravitz’s columns, and, whether I realized it or not, started shaping a fondness for newspapers and baseball coverage that would inspire my career. The opportunity to compete was a big part of that, and the newspaper war brought that competition directly to my favorite newspaper box. When the duel between the Post and the Rocky was at its most-heated, there were more than 400,000 subscribers to the newspapers. Subscriptions could be had for a $1 a year or a penny a day or something like that. I seem to recall one of the papers actually offering lifetime subscriptions. Winning mattered. The seeds of newspapers as a form of competition were planted each time pulled a Rocky out of that single-copy box and they eventually blossomed in South Florida during my internship with The Palm Beach Post.
There are few moments in my professional life that can match the day that the Rocky offered me a job. I was not only going home, I was pledging final allegiance to the paper I grew up reading, the paper that helped inspire to be a newspaperman. The sadness I felt on the day of the ceasefire — the day the Rocky surrendered Sunday to the Post and the two papers joined forces against an uncertain economic future — and the heartsick sensation I had when returning to Denver after the Rocky died can be traced to the delight I had each day plugging quarters into that single-copy box.
Look, I get progress happens.
Baseball coverage has never been better. Fans have real-time access to news, scores and stats — as they happen. A few times this winter, I’ve covered negotiations as they happened, from offer to acceptance to physical to completion. This kind of coverage wasn’t possible when we had to wait for the morning paper to break news. The Internet has made us all better reporters, and perhaps even better writers. Certainly we’re all faster typists.
The Turnpike between Denver and Boulder no longer has pockets of fields. It’s one long example of urban sprawl. There’s a movie theater in Louisville. Superior used to be a baseball field, a gas station, and the place to go watch the Coors Classic bike race. Now it’s a wilderness of subdivisions. Heck, Radiohead is playing Broomfield. But as we drove out of the subdivision I called home during those formative school years, I looked reflexive to my right to catch sight of that important corner of my youth, that newspaper box that showed me a direction I could go. This is what I saw, and it was the saddest sight I’ll see on this trip:
The newspapers that stood sentry here have retreated, surrendering the corner.
The box that opened up to a career is gone.