It was a Tuesday. I know that because the college football Top 20 poll had just come out. Yeah, Top 20. It would be some years later before the Associated Press and United Press International would recognize five more teams.
We were sitting in a Linwood Lunch booth, and my dad asked me to read the Top 20 to him. Macular degeneration had stolen most of his vision but not his fondness for sports. That day, some 40 years ago, was the day I met a friend that would become my friend for life.
Until that day, newspapers were boring to me. Yes, even the sports pages. That all changed when I learned how to read them. Box scores became ballgames. Names became ballplayers. Numbers became accomplishments.
"How did Aaron do?" he would ask.
I learned that "Aaron rf 4-2-3-2" meant Aaron played right field, batted four times, scored two runs, had three hits and drove in two runs.
I learned that the standings were to a baseball fan what the stock market report was to Thurston Howell III.
The league leaders didn't change much from day to day. But there was something magical about reading the names and statistics. Names such as Seaver and Palmer seemed bigger than life in black and white. The Big Red Machine -- Rose, Bench, Morgan, Concepcion, Perez -- read like an All-Star team.
My dad let me ride my bike from Cainwood down Moon Road to the Sing Food Store one Monday to buy a paper so we could read about the NFL draft. I remember another trip for something else but stopping in my tracks and reading the headline through the rack window: "Pirates' Clemente killed in plane crash"
I read the headline over and over, as if hoping the words would somehow change.
Every day's paper was a treasure trove of information. Even the most minute of items -- Transactions -- was loaded with news. Some of it was heartbreaking to a kid who loved his heroes.
"BALTIMORE COLTS -- Traded QB Johnny Unitas to San Diego for future considerations."
I say "paper," singularly, but there were two. I was too young to understand the critical nature of deadlines. I just knew The Ledger, the afternoon paper, had all the late scores and updated standings.
Later, I learned another advantage of the afternoon paper. It was delivered by the time I got home from school. So, just hypothetically speaking, of course, what would be the harm if a kid borrowed the neighbors' paper, read the sports section, then rolled it neatly and put it back on the neighbors' doorstep before they got home?
The Sunday paper combined the morning and afternoon papers and was a weekly treat. Full baseball stats during baseball season, color pictures on the front page and, in the fall, the most spectacular feature of all: page after page of college football game reports.
There was no "GameDay," no "SportsCenter,"
no morning-to-midnight coverage of every game of consequence. Sure, there were score reports on TV and radio. But if you wanted an in-depth recap of Saturday's games, the Sunday paper was a treasure.
It even had the local recreation page. I remember reading the Little League report, with scores and key stats. One of them is preserved in a scrapbook somewhere in a closet.
"Leading hitters -- Pirates: Gary Clegg, 2-3"
When you have one two-hit game your entire A-League career, you don't care much if the paper spells your name wrong.
Cable television changed the way newspapers covered sports. The Internet has changed the way the written word is delivered to readers. The Internet's immediacy, and seemingly unending information, is really cool.
Sometimes, when Dad and I meet for coffee, I'll pull up something on my iPhone, but I also read nuggets from the paper. It also does my heart good to see my kids, products of the data-byte age, reading the sports section.
There's something comforting about the black ink on newsprint, in its unique way just as magical.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org