Vahe Gregorian edited transcript
[00:00:01.510] - Todd Jones
Vaughe, thanks for joining us in our Tavern known as Press Box Access.
[00:00:07.770] - Vahe
Todd, I am thrilled to be with you. It's so great just to have a chance to catch up with you after so long. We don't see each other enough anymore, but you're a forever friend, and what a delight to get to do this.
[00:00:20.720] - Todd Jones
My motto is anytime with Vahe is time well spent. I think one time in New York City, you and I were at the Olympic Media Summit and we were at Ground zero, and we started talking and walking and we kept walking and talking and talking and walking and walking and talking. And next thing you know, we were at Times Square. We went from lower Manhattan to midnight. That's a good Midtown.
[00:00:46.990] - Vahe
And it occurs to me, as you say, that I've been looking forward to this for a while. But I thought about not only the adventures each of us had the opportunity to have in this, but the adventures we've had together, of course. And I think the first picture we ever had taken together is maybe the first picture I ever posted on Facebook. It was one of you and Lori, Sean and me on the beach, and I'm suddenly forgetting which.
[00:01:17.140] - Todd Jones
I think it was Manly Beach.
[00:01:18.640] - Vahe
But it was Manly Beach, and it was when the torch was about to come by. And what I remember about that moment was our joy in being there. But I think we all felt kind of emotional seeing the joy of the Australian people. You had the sense that they felt the world coming to them in a way that that generation hadn't known. I remember seeing tears. I think we posed for pictures with some of the Australians. And anyway, it's a powerful little microcosm of some of the things we've gotten to do together from Ground Zero to Australia to.
[00:02:00.750] - Todd Jones
Yeah, we've been around and never been convicted either. So there you go. In all seriousness, Congratulations are in order. The US Basketball Writers Association has selected you a member of its 2022 hall of Fame class, an honor well deserved. I'm so happy for you, Vaughan. What does that mean to you?
[00:02:24.790] - Vahe
I'll tell you what the funny way to look at it is. It means you've been around a while. It made me think of one of the terms, though, that Norm Stewart used when he went into the College basketball hall of Fame, about how if you see a turtle up on a fence post, you figure it didn't get there by itself. And I do think of that. But I'll tell you what it took me to. This is really true. In some capacities with the Basketball Writers Association, I had the opportunity to let a couple of people know they were going in and to interview them about their experience. And a couple of those people were ones that are very either very familiar to you or near and dear to you. Tom Archdeacon, which led me to get to interview Tom to write about him, which I mean, think what a gift that was. And I think I was the last person to interview Frank To Ford before he died because Frank was in a funny kind of category for a long time. The Basketball Writers Association wasn't necessarily recognizing people who weren't in the association, and that was sort of determined to be an oversight and all, which is to say it's very nice to stop and pause and kind of have at least your professional life flash before your eyes, which, as you know, is more than just your professional life.
[00:03:47.250] - Vahe
We probably all get a little too entwined with our identities in this work. I'm saying that not exactly the way I meant it, but I think you understand what I mean. In some ways, it's inseparable and really nice just to hear from so many peers. And that is a lot of the joy of this work as our relationship attests to. But also the fact that you have this podcast with an infinite amount of people that you're getting to talk to that are all interesting, and I think that in itself reveals something special about the business.
[00:04:35.050] - Todd Jones
Yeah, well, Vahe, the fact that you plugged our podcast while you're on our podcast says everything there is about you. You're always thinking of others. I raised this idea that you're getting honored. You immediately start talking about other people who are honored. And hey, in all seriousness, the fact that you're going to be in New Orleans for the Final Four receiving that honor, I couldn't be happier. I, unfortunately, will not be there. If you see my liver anywhere in the streets of the French Quarter, it's from years past. I will not be there. I will be there in spirit. And really, spirit is part of it.
[00:05:30.520] - Vahe
Let me add R1 quick thing there, Todd, just because it really moved me as a Kansas City Star columnist, our friend Shannon Ryan, a writer who makes you think of the Basketball Riders Association.
[00:05:41.940] - Todd Jones
And that's not easy to do in this day and age.
[00:05:45.450] - Vahe
Some term, I was a little shaken up. That was such a lovely thing to say. And that's all. Nothing more, I guess, needs to be said about it. But I was, for once, at a loss for words.
[00:06:41.630] - Todd Jones
Well, it taps into the emotion, right? It's the emotion of what we write about, what we covered, the athletes, the coaches, we sometimes forget, the humans. And you've always been one who's been able to capture that emotion. You mentioned that day at the Sydney Olympics at Manley Beach. And I often think of that, too. I mean, I could still see that flame off in the distance coming towards us. And as it did these thousands of people, just the noise, the crescendo of noise. It was like a wave overcoming us. And I think about that, and I also think about those games about a story that you wrote for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, who you then worked for and worked for 25 years. By the way, there was a wrestler named yeah.
[00:07:26.100] - Vahe
I'm so glad you're asking about that, just because I think about gold metal in a lot of different ways.
[00:07:32.900] - Todd Jones
In some ways, gold metal match at £118.
[00:07:37.490] - Vahe
This sounds like a little lottery, but part of the whatever we feel like this calling is to try devastating, try to understand that's.
[00:07:44.330] - Todd Jones
[00:07:51.450] - Vahe
Confront all these things at once as the challenge in the job. I think that happens often. And this one sort of sizzled that altogether for me. So one little quick piece of background on this before I go to that moment. Todd, the precious thing about covering the Olympics isn't necessarily getting to see Michael Phelps win eight gold medals for a lot of us. And I know this was true for you and certainly for me. The thing that's most moving about the Olympics often is what you take in on the ground there, but also the chance to cover your local athletes, the people that you've gotten to know that are looking to talk to you, want to talk to you because you've cared about them, paid attention to them, written about them, know their families over the years. And Sammy is a great example of that. And the sort of thing that I fear gets lost as the changing of the guard and how the business is unfurling. I think that kind of thing is less value today. But I digress. Sammy grew up in the St. Charles area, St. Louis, and I'd gotten to know him a little bit over the years.
[00:09:07.980] - Vahe
But as it led up to the Olympics and we knew he was going to have a great chance to meddle, I went spend a day and a half or so with him in Oklahoma. That was a great commitment by the Post Dispatch. Go send somebody down there for a couple of days. But that led to a feeling of trust between Sammy and me that you wouldn't have otherwise. Right. If you're just somebody that shows up there. So long story short, you described it well. The match ends and Sammy is in a frenzy. I mean, he is overcome. He's in despair. I think that's the word I used in my lead, that he was in panic and despair and he runs off the mat into the stand, screaming, tearing the top of his singlet down. It sounds like a spectacle, but it was truly horrifying. I mean, what you saw before you was what felt like somebody broken and shattered is a better word, I guess. And now what do you do as a journalist? You don't want to be an ambulance chaser. On the other hand, I'm there to document what happens because you're local, right?
[00:10:22.350] - Vahe
He's my local. That's the main reason I'm there. So a few of us, I think it was Jack McCallum from Sports Illustrated. And I don't remember who else sort of tried to gently follow Sammy's path and find him in the fetal position in a hallway weeping. And one of his coaches had to pick them up and carry him back out of view. I think everyone standing there, there were many of us, maybe four or five of us was feeling this strange straddling of shame. And what do I do? I'm watching this. What do I do with this? So hours pass and others just at that point have to move on to other stories. But again, he's my local and I obviously understand there's something very deep and profound in this. But I also know that he's not ready to talk. So I waited like 3 hours for him to come out and he came out and he said he couldn't talk. And at that point I'm like, I don't know what to do, but I respect it and I understand it. And he called me in my hotel room in a little while. So now you know the pace of these things.
[00:11:43.820] - Vahe
But luckily we've got a little buffer on this time zone. We've already missed the Saturday paper, I think is how it was. So now I'm into the next cycle and try to simmer down this long story. So I get Sammy on the phone and this is 5 hours after the match. He's still in his singlet and he's just opening up about everything. How he threw the silver metal down, he didn't want it and we just talked about everything. He was very emotional. And so I ended up writing it and I wrote it rather personally. And I bring that up because that was not everybody's cup of tea. I heard from people who were furious that thought I had betrayed him by being so direct about what he had gone through. And that doesn't just roll off your shoulders. I mean, you're trying to think this through. On the other hand, I felt like I was true to the story he was telling me. And anyway, just to finally bring this in for a landing, I heard from him a few hours later, which is hard to believe. I guess even in 2000, that the Jurassic days of the internet.
[00:13:07.600] - Vahe
We were seeing this stuff and he thanked me so much because he said he felt like somebody understood. That sends chills through me. And you know, the complication of this, you have to be thinking about writing for your audience and you have to be considered to the people you're writing about. On the other hand, you're writing the story. You can't be just thinking about them in the story. There's so many things going on in our heads and I don't mean to make it sound like rocket science, but there are a lot of different things, plates to spin and things to consider as you do these things. But I suppose I felt like it was okay for me to hear you say that it was more than okay. It was probably just a huge reassurance that I hadn't violated him when writing about something.
[00:14:07.190] - Todd Jones
Well, it's a fine line you had to walk down. And the fact that he was willing to talk to you shows the trust that you built up with him beforehand, and he trusted that you would handle it in a way that was true to the story. And then he thanked you for it. And I got to tell you, I went back this morning and reread that story. I have it in the Best American Sports Riding collection, and I reread it just to reconnect with that type of emotion. And that story was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and that says a lot right there. Right. But what I really think it says is it says that you captured the moment when a human was in despair and handled it very graciously.
[00:14:57.930] - Vahe
Well, thank you. And really, of all the things you could, it's funny because you say there's a fine line and all this thing, all these things, but I suppose that might be the best feeling of all, to feel like you cared about another person in such a way that you could represent their story properly, even for all it's sort of warts and thorns. I don't know, Todd, what the whole mission is exactly in this line of work. I mean, we're in journalism, but we're in a little subset. And now once you become a columnist, that's a little different, too. But I do think if you can feel like you're somehow speaking to whatever you want to call it, the human condition, the human spirit, that's a pretty good motivator for the work for me. I think if you're able to make people feel and that's a big challenge. I don't know. A lot of times you try to make people feel, and maybe you don't. But if you're able to do that, I feel like that's quite a lot more important than just pontificating or telling it like it is. Exactly, so to speak. I'm doing air quotes around that.
[00:16:22.620] - Vahe
But I think that's the mission in some cases. And I don't want to say that people are wrong that view it that way. I just think that we do all need to gravitate to what moves us, and I think our own personalities or what are you doing as well?
[00:16:38.280] - Todd Jones
Well, it certainly moved a lot of people. You put people in that moment and captured that moment for a person. And you've also done that in basketball arenas around the country. You've covered what, 21 Final Fours, I think, 22, 21. And in your 25 years at the St. Louis Post Dispatch before you went to Kansas City, you covered a lot of College sports, a lot of College basketball. When I think about what you had to write about, it was Kansas, Missouri, right. That was the rivalry.
[00:17:13.190] - Vahe
Yeah. Listen, that's a great, great rivalry. And it is funny. We always feel the need to compare these things, and I think they're not really comparable a lot of times. I mean, I think we understand that Louisville Kentucky is its own thing. Duke Carolina is its own thing, but each thing is sort of about its own audience and it's own context. And Missouri Kansas has sort of roots in history and entanglements that are different. And I should just say different. I wouldn't presume to say that rivalry is better per se. Those things really are.
[00:18:01.910] - Todd Jones
Well, think about this. It predates College sports itself. Yeah.
[00:18:07.770] - Vahe
And look, that's the thing. And here we live in a city that people pay attention to the fact which side of State Line Road you're on. And there's some sort of legendary stuff that may or may not be true. One example is that how Norm Stewart always fed into the rivalry with such statements as they'll never spend money in Kansas, et cetera. Well, toward the end of Norm Stewart's career, actually well, after Norm Stewart's career, when Missouri went to the SEC and the rivalry was sort of gone for the moment, I did a piece on the end of the rivalry, and I got Norm on the phone, and for some reason I can't remember how it came up. I think I said, So you really never spent money in Kansas? And he goes, oh, no, I just made that up. It played well and I just kept saying it. And in fact, Norm's wife grew up in Kansas and his son lives in the house she grew up in. Yeah, a lot of theater involved in that, but that's kind of what well.
[00:19:19.120] - Todd Jones
Norm was a longtime Missouri coach. I think from 67 to 1999. You had over on the Kansas side. You were dealing with Roy Williams for many years and Bill Self since 2003. You've witnessed a lot of those games. Is there one that stands out or a moment that stands out to you when you think about Kansas, Missouri?
[00:19:41.150] - Vahe
Well, a lot of amazing moments. Maybe the book end of it is what comes to mind for me. The first Missouri Kansas game I ever went to was I think it was 1989 in Allen field house, and it was number one versus number two. It might have been 90. I think it was 89. And I could not believe the Wonderland I was walking into. I mean, it was unbelievable and intoxicated.
[00:20:13.820] - Todd Jones
What was it like for somebody who's never been in field house? What was that like?
[00:20:18.770] - Vahe
Yeah, that's a great way to ask, too. I mean, it's important to say that it was sort of sense around the sense of everything around you was crackling, the constant roar of the crowd. You've been in these different environments where there's something always sort of percolating bubbling, a noise. It's not background, but it's just always there. And then of course, with its peaks and then with things like at that point, it was quite a novelty to have ESPN with its game day or whatever the right term was for it on site. First time I'd ever seen it as a young writer stepping into this. I'm walking down on the court and there's Dick by towel next to me talking to somebody, and I just smorgasborne of the senses. I'm reaching for words. But the arena itself makes that there's something that only a few arenas can really conjure in you just because of the history you can practically feel sweating out.
[00:21:36.260] - Todd Jones
Yeah. It was what I think it was built open to 1955, holds about $16,000.
[00:21:44.230] - Vahe
Yeah. Right. In the mid 50s and Bleachers, and people are in a sense, people are all just pressed up against each other. Right.
[00:21:55.690] - Todd Jones
It's like a punk rock concert with basketball in the middle of it.
[00:22:00.430] - Vahe
Yeah. Might as well have been one thing. So this is just a quick aside, but my parents took a sweet and special interest in they didn't exactly relate to the work, but they took a sweet and special interest in it. And at one point I kept trying to explain to them how consuming a lot of these things were, and they decided they want to come out for Milton Kansas game. It was in Columbia. And I still remember after the game seeing how red my mom's face was from the excitement and the noise and all that. She was overwhelmed. I don't know if she loved it because she was overwhelmed. And then when I say the book and the other thing is that the last two games of the rivalry, as we knew it in that final season before Missouri left for the SEC, were two of the best basketball games you'll ever see back and forth on each court. And we did a big project at the Star on it recently with the sort of an oral history of all that, Todd, you know, this just pick it up and put it into any different rivalry, the characters involved.
[00:23:17.830] - Vahe
And that also comes from a day where we knew people a little better than we might now. Right. Especially in Covet. But, I mean, that's a day when the writers were we knew all the coaches at the other schools in ways we don't know.
[00:23:32.880] - Todd Jones
You knew the backstory, right.
[00:23:34.300] - Vahe
I still remember. Yeah, I knew their backstory. But it was important for the St. Louis Post Dispatch to go sit down with Roy Williams at Kansas and visit with him about who he was or write about things from the Ku perspective, even for the St. Louis audience. So Roy, I remember being fortunate to get to know Roy and how quaint this is. I remember him calling me back from payphones at his son's high school games, and I say that it's really nothing about like, oh, I knew Roy so well. I don't mean that I did know Roy, in a way, I really enjoyed. But that was what Roy did with media. He got to know these days there aren't too many people that are as accessible as that. I mean, Bill Self really is. He's a bit of a throwback, too. But anyway, there's a lot of colorful people around all this, and it certainly keeps you.
[00:24:38.750] - Todd Jones
Being an Allen Field House in that cauldron of noise and heat and emotion. And you think about those years. You did 25 years at St. Louis Post Dispatch, and then you moved to Kansas City in 2013 to become the columnist where you're still writing as a columnist. St. Louis is a pro town, but you're in a different city, Kansas City, where you're starting to get to know some of the icons of that city, people like Tom Watson, George Brett. How's that transition for a writer to go from these big giant moments and games and scenes to getting to know an individual like a Kansas City icon like Tom Watson?
I mean, the thing that all of us encounter this all the time in the work is how to build a new relationship, or how do you get to know somebody and a little daunting to try to get to know George Brett or Tom Watson, I suppose, from the outside looking in. But on the other hand, after all this time, I think you come to realize that once you can get face to face with somebody, they're not that giant the same way that you might see them from the outside.
[00:29:55.310] - Vahe
I'm not diminishing the status of any of these people. I don't mean that. I just mean they are people. I don't know if this is true for you, but I'll say this. The times I've struggled most with, Whoa. I'm not sure if I can talk to him or her isn't when it's somebody that's of such stature now, it's somebody that was exactly right.
[00:30:17.390] - Todd Jones
Well, funny, you mentioned Watson. I grew up watching golf as a child, and he was the guy he was battling Nicholas. I remember being a young writer, and I was working in Cincinnati, and I got sent up to Columbus for the Memorial Tournament, which is Nicholas tournament, PGA Tour. And I arranged to have breakfast with Watson. So I'm a little nervous the night before. I'm trying to do all my prep work. I'm trying to get all my security blankets in line to show that I'm prepared. And I meet him the next morning. And he stopped early on. And one of the questions I asked and said, well, you really did your homework or you're very prepared. And that kind of eased my tension. And then what really eased my tension was he was answering a question while he was eating, and a grape flew out of his mouth and landed on my plate. And you're right, they are people. They are human.
[00:31:33.090] - Vahe
That will go a long way towards mystifying somebody. My experience with Tom was a little bit like yours. I actually first met him up in Nebraska at an event up there. And I called his office a day or two before just to see if it's possible to arrange time with them. And no sooner did you come off the podium, we didn't get breakfast. I didn't have a chance to get a grape shot at me, but we just sat down over on the side, and I thought he'd give me two or three minutes. And it wasn't an hour, but it was a good 20 minutes and one of those 20 minutes where it's like, okay, you got everything you need. I mean, it was very cordial that way and helpful. And it was a really fun story to write. And certainly I've had a chance to spend maybe a half dozen times with Tom and his office now covered his last Masters. And really a neat thing to get to do, certainly on whatever we consider the Mount Rushmore of Kansas City sports figures, Tom and George Brett are certainly two of them. Maybe you have to do one from 50 years ago and another more modern one.
[00:32:54.200] - Vahe
I don't know. We don't need to debate that now, but it's been nice to spend some time with both of them.
[00:33:03.050] - Todd Jones
They've both suffered human loss of a friend from AOLs. So they have this bond that you wouldn't think that again, they're these icons in sports, but you don't think that they have their own personal issues or ups and downs. And here they are with Watson losing his Caddy, Bruce Edwards. And I know George Brett lost a friend to AOLs, and those two guys have worked together to try to help with an ALS cure, right?
[00:33:30.950] - Vahe
They have. And it's really alerted you to know that and surely reflects either knowledge or preparation. I'm so glad you know that because they joined together at an event every year, and we're pretty faithful about going to that event. The legendary star sports columnist and later editor Joe McGuff died from ALS, and his name has been attached to this for a long time. So Tom and George always have something interesting and compelling to say. And our friends at the ALS Society or association are always providing important information to get out there every year. This is a twist on this, but I wrote about this a few years ago. It turns out that Luke Garrick played his last baseball game in Kansas City because he had been suffering from some conditions they weren't able to determine. And the Yankees had a farm team here, the Kansas City Blues. And in 1939, they played an exhibition game here. And Gary kept feeling increasingly weak, just bad at once. You got a train got on a train from Union Station here up to Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic. And next thing you know.
[00:34:48.460] - Todd Jones
Wow, I never knew he had this high with Kansas City in that regard.
[00:34:55.470] - Vahe
Just a little.
[00:34:56.500] - Todd Jones
Well, again, you think of these iconic names and sports and you see them do what they do so well on the field or on a court, and you don't think of them behind the scenes. And I think as a writer, trying to get them to know them behind the scenes helps conceptualize the way you present them to an audience. At the same time, it also is difficult because it could be somebody, like you said, that you grow up with. And I wanted to ask you about a person in that regard and that's the Lake Gail Sairs. Gail passed away in 2020 at the age of 77, the Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back. And you wrote a column a few years prior to that in March of 2017, which kind of broke the news about the fact that he was dealing with dementia. And I wanted to hear from you about the day that you went to Gail's house and spent 7 hours with him and his wife, Hardy.
[00:35:59.770] - Vahe
Yeah. Well, I really like how you connected that point, Todd, because I'm a little older than you, but I'm sure for you a lot of your first impressions of Gail Sayers were like a lot of us actually from Brian Song, because his career was kind of cut short. Those of us of a certain age, I think, have that aspect of him seared into us more than what an incredible player he was, just because that's how we came to know him. So, Gail, I had written something to Fall before that mentioned that a chief player, Tyree Kil, had accomplished a couple of records that hadn't been reached since Galesayers or maybe even surpassed them. And that led to a friend of mine, a long time former Ku sports information director Jeff Boley, saying, hey, Gail, you might want to check into Gail Sayers and see how he's doing. I think Jeff had some understanding of the situation. And long story short, Gail was to be honored at a banquet in Topeka as a Kansas Man of the Year or something, which is a little over a little bit.
[00:37:20.960] - Todd Jones
I mean, how did they miss the Mark on that one?
[00:37:23.310] - Vahe
Yeah. Nonetheless, I went and in the first moments of meeting Gail, you certainly wouldn't have thought there was anything amiss, but you could tell that he wearied fast. And I ended up sitting at a table with him as time went on during the banquet. I certainly had the sense he was a little disoriented and required a lot of attention. But what was really jarring was that Brian Kay, you put on a great film of highlights of his career, and it included some Brian Song. Yeah.
[00:38:03.260] - Todd Jones
By the way, that's the movie about his friendship with Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer while they were teenagers, and again, of a certain generation, it's a movie that we immediately have emotion about.
[00:38:17.310] - Vahe
Yeah. I'm glad you clarified that. So this movie, that is a lot of how we all remember him or look at him is playing. And it becomes clear to me that Gail does not know what he's watching.
[00:38:33.210] - Todd Jones
[00:38:34.570] - Vahe
And I just wanted a weep. It was just so strange. Somehow or another, I came to think that a lot of people had a little sense of this, but that people didn't really know what was up with Gail. And I came to think that it might be important for the family for people to know what's happening with Gail instead of sort of just he's not himself or things like that. And so I met his wife that night, and we kept up a little bit of a dialogue, but I think she was not altogether sure she wanted to put the spotlight on this. And then just this oddity that I had to go to Dayton for NCAA tournament game, and I just thought I should check in with her, that I'm kind of in the neighborhood. Neighborhood is 3 hours away because they lived in Indiana, right? Yeah, up near Chicago. And she said, sure, why don't you come up? It was a very emotional day. I spent all day with them, and I really was privileged to get to write about it. And I had to say, certainly one of the most emotional days of my professional life, and I'll never forget it.
[00:40:11.120] - Vahe
I took some pictures that day, and we ran a couple with them. I wanted to make sure I asked permission from Ardy's wife about the appropriate of them, because they did, I think, kind of illustrate something more than maybe the words could say about his state. So I'm glad you asked about it. I'm glad I did it. I felt like it was actually helpful to the family for people to understand what was happening with Gayle, but it was still unsettling.
[00:40:45.710] - Todd Jones
Why do you think his wife already invited you off? Do you think she wanted the story told?
[00:40:54.030] - Vahe
I think she did, but I think it became one of those things where she didn't really know whether she wanted to until I was actually in the house.
[00:41:06.240] - Todd Jones
[00:41:07.590] - Vahe
As I recall, it might well have been that I was there and she might have said and believe me, I'm not saying there was some great charm in play. I think the point is that as she got talking about it in this context, trying to explain what's become of Gail and who he is, I think she felt more and more momentum about that. It could be constructive, help others.
[00:41:31.940] - Todd Jones
[00:41:32.220] - Vahe
And help others. I think that was a really important point for her because I think a lot of people in these situations are in doubt about what to do. I think also they're stigmatized, and I think that was a lot of her motivation.
[00:48:23.070] - Todd Jones
The fact that Gail, Sarah's wife, trusted you to invite you up is kind of like the story about Sammy Henson. You have to build that trust, and then when that person is willing to tell their story, you have to be able to handle it in a way that serves the greater good. And I think Calm about SARS did that because it helped shine a light on a topic that does need more discussion and debate and thought. And that's a game. Football is a game that takes a physical toll and it can lead to some bad things. But, you know, sometimes things happen in life that you're a journalist and you just get thrown into suddenly. And there's another moment, I think of that, and that's in January of 2017 when your Dono Ventura, the great Kansas City Royals pitcher, young pitcher, died at age 25 in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic. And you got on a plane and went down there. And I think you've told me that you think about that a lot.
[00:49:36.690] - Vahe
I do think about that a lot. And it represents a lot of things at once. The Royals are, to me, a little bit of a model organization in terms of how they feel not just connected to the community, but actually engaged. And this was, to me a very prime example. Irdano Ventura died early on a Sunday morning, and by that afternoon, my dear colleague, Sam Mellinger, he was in Atlanta, and the Royal general manager happens to be in Atlanta dating more. And by the afternoon, Sam was over in Dayton's hotel room. Now, I don't know what it's like in a lot of other towns. I just don't. But I suppose I could count on one hand the amount of franchises that would go through such a thing and have sports columnist from the town in their hotel room that afternoon. And at that point, Sam I asked Sam to ask Dayton if it's okay to embed with the team in the Dominican. And Dayton said absolutely. So I got on a plane the next day and went to Santo Domingo. I've been there before to do a story on Yordano.
[00:51:04.620] - Vahe
And the next morning at 06:00 A.m., we got on a bus to ride 3 hours to Las Terrain. And it might have been one of the most important days of work of my life because it was such a remote location and there was a fan base really suffering. I mean, this guy was very popular and seemed to have a brilliant future in front of them, represented the rise of the Royals from going nowhere to backtoback World Series. And now suddenly he's gone. And I started tweeting from the bus that morning and tried to be also, you know, this complication try to be gentle about when to see if you could talk to guys on the bus. The bus was not full. People were spread out and wanted it's a little strange for them to have me and our wonderful photographer John Sleazer on the bus. On the other hand, these guys knew us, and we could pick some spots to sort of feel that if somebody wanted to talk and they did. But the reason I bring up Twitter is pretty soon we realized that a lot of Kansas City was following along. I mean, any photo or video was being tweeted or retweeted hundreds, if not thousands of times.
[00:52:38.530] - Vahe
And there's a lot of reasons we do this job, whether it's the adventure or the emotion or all these things. But if you ask what the duty is, it's to serve your community one way or another. And I felt like John and I were in a position to do that in a way we would probably never know before or after again because there were some other media outlets down there, but they weren't embedded. I'm sure they did a great job, but we were sort of in a fortunate position. It felt like it felt important to our community. And that's what I asked Dayton at the end. I said, Dayton, why did you let us come along? This is a pretty intimate and excruciating day for the organization. And he said, Kansas City needs to be here with us. Basically the words he said, excuse me, really. I just don't know many people to think that way.
[00:53:45.410] - Todd Jones
I have seen video of the day, and I read your beautiful, heart wrenching column, but it was like 90 deg and there's hundreds of people on rooftops. Does that stick out of your mind? What was it like to actually be in that procession?
[00:54:03.650] - Vahe
Yeah, a couple of different things. Todd were really very powerful. One of the things was we went to the funeral or really more of a it really was a funeral, but I'm a room in my house now. It was in a room no bigger than this and with probably 70 people in there with David Ortiz greeting people at the door to console them. And now we're all crammed in this room. And he left the Royals by then a former player, Jarrod Dyson. I'll never forget him, just kind of crumbling into Dayton Moore's arms, just weeping. And then to see I know I'm talking a lot about Dayton, but he's an extraordinary man. And there was a moment where he just stepped up and took the hands of Jordano's family and told them what an honor it is to mourn with them. And I just remember thinking I'm probably not quoting the words exactly right but it was out of body emotional to see that, the way he was saying it and the way he was feeling it. So we left from there and went over to the baseball field where Yordano had played. And that was more public.
[00:55:31.110] - Vahe
And then the walk you're referring to was a good mile and a half. Thousands of people walking in the street. And all these people with the Royals walking with them, not getting on the bus. I mean, David Glass, the owner, Dayton, just all of them just Ned Jose, the manager, the player, warm. Yeah, Ned, all these people. So hot. But what struck me was they're just walking among the Dominican people sort of as one. I remember seeing a sign on the side of the road. A woman was holding up a sign that said, thank you, Kansas City, for your love and support. And then, of course, to the burial. Anyway, it was really surreal in a lot of ways. But to see that connection with Royals front office, Royals players, just being as one, really with the Dominican people, that was unforgettable. And it, I think, made a great impact on people who are suffering.
[00:56:39.460] - Todd Jones
Yeah. Like you said, the people of Kansas City, they wanted to be there with you, and you were kind of a representative. That's what a journalist does. A journalist is a conduit and takes the reader or the viewer takes those people to places that they don't get the privilege to go to. And I say privilege in an honorable way because at a funeral, you're honoring that person and the people that are hurting. And you're there. You're there on the scene. And that takes a lot it takes a lot as a writer to try to articulate what it's like to be there. And you did it in such a fashion. That column, the sales column, several others that year, APSC named you the top columnist in the nation for large newspapers because of those type of columns. And that's what I've always thought about, the emotion that you're able to get across to people who aren't there. And sometimes that emotion is great and fun emotion, too. I mean, think about it, Kansas City, since you arrived, it's been like titled. I mean, there's nothing for years, you show up and all of a sudden they're in two World Series, they're in two Super Bowls, they got these great players.
[00:57:59.610] - Todd Jones
It's all Bahe. Right. What has it been like to Chronicle the great emotion of Kansas City sports in the last decade?
[00:58:09.410] - Vahe
It's been incredibly fortunate. And just what a twist on the narrative of three decades. Right. But I'm glad you phrased that and framed that the way you did, because remember the whole theme of the wide world of sports, agony of defeat, but also the joy of these things. And again, this is really true. When the Royals went to the World Series in 2014 and just when they won the wildcard game, which was one of the most bizarre and remarkable sites you'll ever see the way they came back. Let me say it this way. That's 2014. I've been here about a year at that point. And getting to write about those things was like getting slingshotted in the fast forward in the sense of being here, like living here, being connected to something vital to people. Our audience won't see this because we're talking to each other in a call where we can see each other. Behind me is a plate of, I think, the 30 days of the covers every day. And that was it. We do this for a lot of reasons, but that's certainly one of them. Right. To get a cover, Chronicle a Championship run, and suddenly you're going coast to coast to coast doing it, and you're out of your mind, tired, but you're compensated for with adrenaline and caffeine, a couple beers.
[00:59:56.290] - Vahe
But look, those aren't those times where think again, to Olympics, for instance. I mean, no sleep, you're a little tired, you're a little frustrated, maybe a little cranky here and there. But ultimately you're just infused with this adrenaline of I can't believe I'm here and I get to do this and I get to talk to these people and try to bring it back. Yeah.
[01:00:21.110] - Todd Jones
I mean, think about it. Even when you're not at the Olympics, just when you're in your town, if it's Kansas City or whatever city you're working in, if that town is enjoying success the way the Chiefs and the Royals have in the last decade, it just lifts everybody up. There is something. It's artificial. Right. The sense of community. But it's real, too. It's a bizarre thing. It's games. It's sports. And yet it does mean something more than that when a city can just celebrate and Lord knows we all need to feel better. And so when you're writing about that, it's like you're getting to spread some joy. You're like Santa Claus.
[01:01:00.100] - Vahe
Yeah, you're right. And really, you just happen to be occupying the seat where whatever's happening is what you get the type of type. Right. When it's that, that's it. There's a term, there's probably other better terms, but one of the ones I think sports sociologists or psychologists use is called birds basking and reflective glory. And that's what towns come to feel when these things happen. Right. They're burging. And when you've gone through all these, like the Chiefs are a good example. So many just horrific, bizarre playoff losses over the years.
[01:01:46.250] - Todd Jones
You know, they're always bad losses when they become something known as.
[01:01:53.310] - Vahe
The no punt game, the pass to himself game, all that stuff. So there is something about the collective self image in all this. I don't know how you quantify it exactly, but you know it when you see it.
[01:02:10.600] - Todd Jones
Well, that sense of community again, Kansas City was struggling until you showed up. All Kansas City needed was Baha on the scene because everything is made better when Vahe is there. I do mean that seriously. The basketball writers, they once said that you're considered the ultimate teammate and his colleagues the USBWA, the basketball writers once said that you're considered the ultimate teammate among his colleagues and a role model among his peers. And I couldn't agree more. Everything is better when Vahe is there. I think of that night. We were sitting together on the croppolis Hill underneath the lit Parthenon at the conclusion of the Olympics in Athens, Greece, in 2004. And you and I are sitting there amidst hundreds of people who are singing, playing guitars. And I think there can't be a better night than this.
[01:03:14.470] - Vahe
That was great. And as I recall, Sean Gregory and Jody Burger and maybe John Branch was with us before we went up to the Parthenon, something like that. And it was Mexican music. That was what was weird here in there was something. It was in Spanish. But I'll tell you something, for all the joy I felt in that moment, we had such relief. I learned a valuable lesson in marriage that night. I called my wife later and thought she'd be so thrilled for me to describe this scene. She was like, I'm stuck back here. I thought she'd appreciate it's been a long slog with my dear friends. But I'm glad. Also, you mentioned that, Todd, for another reason. I mean, this is really so true. Think how much different all this work would be if you were just in a silo. Like, okay, I'm carrying my briefcase into the Stadium. I don't know anybody. You don't go to dinner or beer outside the lines with people like you and Arch and 100 other people were lucky to know the way we do. That is, I think a lot of the sustaining impact is the wrong word, but the sustaining force in this.
[01:04:36.610] - Vahe
We're lucky to have this feeling with each other. And I'm lucky to work with people I feel this way about every day. It would be pretty empty, even for all the adventures we get without.
[01:04:48.460] - Todd Jones
Yeah, that camaraderie among journalists is what gets you through. And it makes you think about who am I doing this for? I'm doing this for the audience who can't be here. And you've done it as well as anybody in 35 years. Last year you mentioned your father Farton died in April of 2021. What a fabulous career he had. President of the Carnegie Corporation in New York Public Library, Brown University, Presidential Medal of Freedom Honor winner, National Human Presidential Medal. And I was thinking about you because I read all these tributes, including your beautiful eulogy to your father. And there was a comment made by everybody around the world, but one in particular from the former New York City Mayor, who said that the passion for your father's public service was matched only by his kindness and compassion for others. And I said, you know what? He could have said that about Fahe and I really do mean that. I felt like I had the privilege of getting to know you over these years and I think all the readers have gotten to know you and by getting to know you, they've gotten to know all these coaches and athletes and gone to places that they haven't been able to go to.
[01:06:08.080] - Todd Jones
So I just want to say thank you for that. Bye.
[01:06:12.850] - Vahe
Well, you could hardly say anything more touching and I really appreciate that, especially as I'm thinking about we're closing in on the one year anniversary of my father's death. I know you've had loss in your life and I've learned from some of your feelings over the years and I think this is true for you. I was able to move into a place of appreciation pretty fast. I mean, it's still piercing and you still miss the conversations, but I think you have much the same sense about Catherine.
[01:06:52.130] - Todd Jones
Thank you, Vai, and thank you so much for joining us on press box access. It's been so much fun to have you share your stories from your career and I hope to see you again soon.
[01:07:04.610] - Vahe
Same here. Todd.