We of Toy Department are not a sentimental bunch. There's no crying in baseball and most other games we covered--except for a Brett Farve retirement news conference.
But it would be impossible to ignore the events of last week and the effect they had had on Toy Department, just five weeks old. The shelves, while not empty, just don't look right.
Cutbacks at the Sun took three of our members: Rick Maese, Bill Ordine and Childs Walker. Their loss and the loss of others in the newsroom brought things to a screeching halt. Nothing was posted on the site because, frankly, no one had the heart. Sports seemed pretty irrelevant.
Toy Department really isn't of the Sun. It was designed on bar napkins at the Midtown Yacht Club, home of the never-ending peanuts and plastic pitchers of beer, a couple blocks away. Five of us kicked around ideas for a month, and with the help of our Web gurus, finally fired the site up just after the start of March Madness.
Unfortunately, the madness didn't stop after North Carolina won, so here we are.
So this is both Today's Special and an appreciation of our fellow toy makers. In honor of the Preakness, it's a daily double.
In a world of words, Walker also is a man of numbers. He keeps stats--the important ones, the silly ones, the "wow" ones. If you want to make a little money, he's the perfect guy to have next to you at a bar trivia contest. He may be looking for work, so keep that in mind. Our most versatile member, he was stateside backup to our Olympic coverage team during the Turin and Beijing Games, only bitching slightly. He enjoys a good political debate, too.
A love of the odds and the odd sports makes Ordine good company. He can talk poker and competitive eating, horse betting and darts. He can explain Philadelphia sports, no small task. He's served time as an editor, so he's battled-tested. A calming influence, he can tell hilarious stories about the nasty people we are forced to cover, making contact a little less icky.
Finally, we come to Maese, really the driving force behind Toy Department ("What if we took management's totally crappy blog idea and made it something worth reading?"). I'll tell just one story about him, mostly because it's the only one that doesn't require heavy redaction.
The two of us are at the 2006 Winter Olympics, our primary responsibility covering local figure skater Kimmie Meissner. We learn that she's training not in Turin, but in the Alps, two hours away. So Maese hires us a car and driver to get there. Now most reporters are tooling around in Mercedes and other high-end Euro cars. Our driver shows up in a Chysler mini-van.
As we climb out of the city, it begins snowing--hard. Our driver, who speaks little English, keeps to a steady 80 mph, fishtailing past tractor-trailers and saner-moving traffic and sliding toward the guardrail and a plunge to a certain death.
In the middle of a white-knuckle panic in the back seat, Maese pulls out a small digital camera, turns the lense toward us and pushes the shutter. "If we live, this will make a great blog post," he says.
We did, and it did. The photo a testament to I don't know what.
This is a new week, and those of us remaining at Toy Department will give it a go. It won't be easy. Bear with us.