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Lockridge: Sportswriting career ends where it began

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In a weird, coincidental sort of way, my career as a Missoulian sportswriter ended in exactly the same place that it began – the press box at a Missoula Osprey game.

In the journalism biz, that’s what we call a circle kicker.

A kicker is the ending of a story. A circle kicker is when the ending refers to something that was in the lead, leaving the reader with the sense that the story came full circle.

Here’s my kicker:

On Friday I sat in the press box at Ogren-Allegiance Park and watched as the Osprey took on the Great Falls Voyagers in the first game of the Pioneer League North Division Series. Missoula won the opener 8-3. That story also appears on this page.

I said a handful of good-byes to some of the more familiar faces, season ticket holders like Kyle Fortner, a fine example of the nice people I’ve come to know from my perch inside the press box.

Thirteen years earlier I was on the other end of that opening, albeit across town at Lindborg-Cregg Field, which was the Osprey’s first home.

In July of 1999, I went to a game with my family to watch these new creatures, the Osprey, as minor league baseball returned to Missoula for the first time since the days of the Timberjacks in the late 1950s. From inside the press box I heard a voice calling my name. It was Jon Hay, a part-timer here at the paper, who I did a job shadow with the previous winter.

Hay told me he was leaving soon – for a gig at Syracuse, I believe – and if I wanted a shot at sportswriting, now was the time to put my name in.

I had just graduated from high school a month earlier, so the thought of being even a part-time sports reporter sounded pretty cool.

At an impromptu interview, my current boss, Bob Meseroll, sifted through the clips I’d saved from my high school paper – you were right, Wayne Seitz, they do come in handy – and offered me a job, but on one condition.

“You don’t have any other jobs lined up for this summer, do you?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said. “I was just going to mow lawns.”

A few weeks later I got my first byline – covering the final round of the Bull-O-Rama at the Western Montana Fair – and the rest is history.

Since then, I’ve covered everything from 10-year-old Little League all-stars to an NBA exhibition game with all-stars that act like 10-year-olds. I’ve reported on every high school sport Montana has to offer and many of those it doesn’t: rugby, fixed-heel ski jumping and my new favorite, thanks to Sam Schultz, pro mountain bike racing.

And speaking of the Olympics, there are some sports I never covered – women’s beach volleyball – but desperately wanted to, and other sports I never thought I would cover, like youth gymnastics, but ended up loving. To this day, the Montana State Gymnastics Championships is the only event where one of the organizers physically made me take a piece of swag.

From time to time I still wear that blue long-sleeve gymnastics shirt, which, years later, got me recognized in the Salty Dawg Saloon in tiny Homer, Alaska, by Ryan Leaf’s kid brother. True story.

What can I say? Missoula, it’s been a wonderful ride. Don’t fret, though, I’m not going far. In fact, I’ll be just up the road at UM, trying my hand at grad school.

And in case you’re wondering, I’ve already found work. That’s right, after 13 years of not having weekends off, I have a job to do next Saturday.

My parents are going on vacation and I promised them I’d mow their yard while they’re away.

How’s that for a kicker?

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