SI Writer Tom Verducci Returns to PSU
Tom Verducci is the exception to the rule: he knew he would become a sports journalist by the age of 10. That type of certainty is something many strive for all of their lives, and yet here is a man who had it all figured out before even becoming a teenager. Verducci shared this insight when he spoke at the HUB-Robeson Center last night in an event sponsored by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.
Growing up, Verducci spent his time delivering newspapers and attending baseball games. With the ink rubbing off on his fingers, he relished his early mornings as he was one of the first to see the day’s news, eager to read the writers’ interpretations of the sports games from the night before.
After spending numerous summers visiting State College while his father helped Joe Paterno with summer football camps, Verducci’s fate as a Penn State journalism student was nearly set in stone. Years later he fulfilled this prophecy and spent his time in Happy Valley writing for the Daily Collegian on time-honored typewriters, proving himself as a walk-on to the Penn State baseball team, and habitually going to class.
The environment at Penn State provided a solid foundation for Verducci to build a succesful career in sports journalism. He credits his time spent covering Penn State football as one of the best training grounds available, giving him the opportunity to interact with journalists from major cities as they came to cover the top rated program.
After graduation he ended up at a three month part-time internship with Newsday, which turned into a full-time position a year later covering mostly high school sports. “Parents are excellent fact checkers,” said Verducci, as he recounted the time in his career where he was doing everything for himself: checking facts, keeping stats, etc. Then, as a mere 21 year old, he was pulled up to the big leagues: the Yankees beat.
From that point on Verducci’s career blossomed. He created and fostered relationships while gaining the trust of colleagues, sources, players, and managers. As with any line of journalism, finding the balance between professional and personal conversations was tough: “I don’t want to be their friends; I’m an objective journalist.”
One of the best pieces of advice given out during the conversation between himself and Malcolm Moran was Verducci’s comment on making sure journalists realize they are working on the schedule of their subject. With that being said, he pointed out how important it is to be willing to hang out off the record, with notebooks closed, in order to just listen to people’s stories. This practice helps him achieve hitting the bulls eye with his features: providing inside information by learning as much as you can about a person not just in relation to what story you’re writing.
Verducci also warned against going into a story with expectations about how it will turn out and being accurate. “It’s not the ability to turn a phrase, but the ability to uncover facts. The facts turn the story into something memorable.”
The series ended with questions from the audience ranging from his opinion on accountability to his predictions for the 2011 World Series. On the first subject he stands by the underrated sentiment of “when in doubt leave it out – it’s better to be right than it is to be first,” implying that in today’s world of speedy reporting, being the first to report something is often valued higher than being accurate. As for the 2011 World Series, he predicts the Phillies will overcome the Red Sox thanks to an unmatchable pitching staff.
Another audience member asked what his favorite story was to write, to which he replied his 2005 piece where he was able to participate in spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s no wonder those close to the story were concerned for his safety as he took batting practice with the team against one of the game’s best pitchers.
I step in against righthander Roy Halladay, the 2003 Cy Young Award winner, who is 6’6″, 225 pounds and looks capable of throwing a pitch through the cinder block wall behind the cage. I immediately realize the utter inadequacy of television to capture the power of a major league pitch. Halladay’s fastball is angry, announcing its indignation with an audible hum that grows frighteningly loud as it approaches. His slider is even more evil because it presents itself in the clothing of a fastball but then, like a ball rolling down the street and falling into an open manhole, drops out of sight, down and away. His curveball bends more than an election-year politician.
A final highlight of the night was when Verducci spoke about the atmosphere of life on the road as a traveling sports journalist on the beat. He mentioned the reality that he works alongside his competitors more than his own colleagues, reminiscing over horror stories and bonding over the traditional hatred of their editors. “Good writers complain about their editors,” he insists (sorry Davis and Eli but I think this means I’m going to have to start throwing you under the bus more often).
Verducci wraps up by saying journalism is a people business and no matter what the outcome, he’s just hoping for a great game ending in extra innings.