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  • Bill Chastain

Much Needed Boost

A popular thought these days is saying that it’s not about getting knocked down it’s about getting back up.

While getting back up normally depends on the individual, sometimes there is a person responsible for helping the process along. I had the good fortune of having somebody do that for me back in the late 1980s when I wanted to become a full-time sportswriter.

I had progressed doing freelance work for a lot of different magazines, but there came a time when I began to wonder if writing sports would ever become my profession. I sent out countless letters to the editors of sports departments all over the country hoping some sports section would bite. I also continued to read everything, absorbing sports knowledge as well as enjoying the writing styles and opinions of many writers. I particularly enjoyed Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post.

Back in those day prior to the Internet, reading writers and columnists from other papers was more difficult. However, I did read a series of books Boswell wrote about baseball. Much of the writing in the books dealt with his coverage of baseball. His stories were entertaining, funny and sometimes poignant, making me fall more in love with the National Pastime as well as the idea of writing about sports for a living. Thus, I wrote Boswell, sending him writing clips along with a letter that made a plea to him for help in finding a full-time job in the business. Sticking said letter into the mailbox felt like being shipwrecked and throwing a message in a bottle into the ocean. Help!

Several weeks passed and my level of discouragement grew daily as the rejections mounted. Maybe I wasn’t destined to be a sportswriter. But on a day when I seemingly had grown most disheartened, I received a letter with a Washington Post return address. Inside the envelope sat a neatly-folded, hand-written letter from Bowell, who complimented me for what I had written and encouraged me in candid language to continue my pursuit.

That letter made all the difference. The timing of its arrival was impeccable. Weeks later I began my first full-time job writing sports for The Tampa Tribune. Boswell’s letter is still framed and hanging on a wall in my office.

Later, while covering the Rays in Baltimore, Boswell sat several chairs down from me inside the press box at Camden Yards. I had met him before, but never really had a chance to talk to him for long. So I re-introduced myself, reminding him about what an impact his letter had had in my journey. That led to a conversation about a wide range of subjects that lasted several innings. What a thrill.

Opinions about Thomas Boswell vary. That’s usually the way it goes for a columnist. Some like his opinions and think he’s a great guy and others disagree with him, which skews their opinion in the other direction. To me, I don’t care if I ever agree with anything he writes or says. He will forever be the guy who reached out to help an aspiring writer when he needed it most. Remembering his kindness serves as a reminder about the impact anybody can make on another person’s life.

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