IN LATE JUNE, I covered John Rocker's return to Shea Stadium, a ridiculous story if there ever was one. But watching the Braves and Mets play two scintillating games, it suddenly hit me:
I miss this.
I miss watching baseball at its highest level.
I miss writing about the game.
It was right around that time that the Sporting News contacted me about becoming its national baseball writer and columnist, a job in which I would fulfill both online and magazine duties.
At first, I was dismissive - I had rejected a similar offer from another company to remain a general sports columnist at The Sun last year. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought, "Hey, this job might be fun."
Which probably is the best place to begin in explaining my decision to leave The Sun.
Today is my last column. I begin at the Sporting News on Aug. 14. And the best part is, I get to stay in Baltimore, a place where I've enjoyed the best years of my life, both professionally and personally.
Leaving the paper is not easy. The Sun hired me as a baseball writer at 24, made me a columnist at 28, supported me past the point where other newspapers would have stopped. Newspaper people are notorious complainers, but you'll hear none of that out of me.
For those wishing to engage in wild, irresponsible speculation surrounding my departure ... be my guest! But for you conspiracy theorists out there, let's set the record straight:
I'm not leaving The Sun because Orioles owner Peter Angelos ordered the newspaper to fire me, though it is indeed possible (likely?) that such a request (demand?) was made once or twice over the years.
I'm not leaving The Sun because new columnist Mike Preston beat me up in the third-floor men's room, screaming, "Get out of town, shrimp!"
And I'm not leaving The Sun because the paper's new owner, Tribune Co., is dumping all employees who swing and miss at alarming rates, no matter if they're columnists in Baltimore or sluggers in Chicago.
Really, there's no one reason for my decision. Basically, I just want to try something else.
I'm almost 38. I've written the column for nine years. And to me, there are just so many times you can criticize Angelos for running the Orioles into the ground or even Gary Williams for failing to reach the Elite Eight. I'll still do columns in my new position. But writing for a national audience, I'll have a broader focus.
Don't get this wrong - I've loved my job. For the most part, I've called my own shots, written about what I've wanted, when I've wanted, how I've wanted. My fellow columnist, John Eisenberg, would joke that we were on "independent study," and he wasn't far off.
In my 13 years at The Evening Sun and The Sun, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, Olympics, you name it. The whole thing boggles my mind. All I ever wanted was to cover a major sport for a big-city paper. I accomplished that at a young age, and everything else has sort of been a bonus.
For a time, I aspired to be like another fellow columnist, John Steadman, and remain a Baltimore newspaperman for the rest of my career. It amazes me that John has been able to do that and retain his passion. But even he would tell you that the business has changed - the sports business, and the newspaper business, too.
As the Orioles writer at The Evening Sun, I would stay up writing until the early-morning hours, trying to give a different slant on the previous night's game, sometimes chasing information that was appearing in the next day's Sun.
As a columnist at The Sun, I tried to master the high-wire act of deadline writing for a morning paper, a task that is becoming increasingly difficult with major sporting events ending so late.
Now, at the Sporting News, it will be something else again.
My job will be to write a weekly column for the magazine and provide online analysis - frequently, before the news even appears in the morning paper.
It's exciting and intimidating, like any new position. I'll miss covering different sports, especially now that the Ravens seem on the verge of a breakthrough. I'll also miss tapping into Baltimore's passion, though I will continue to live here with my family and continue my weekend radio shows on WJFK.
Writing a newspaper column can be a lonely endeavor, especially after you criticize someone and then have to confront him face-to-face. But I've received so much encouragement from past and present colleagues at The Sun, I can honestly say that I was never alone.
Who knows? If not for John Rocker, I might never have seen the Braves play the Mets, never considered the possibility of changing jobs. But things happen for a reason. And now it's time to move on.
I'll pass on thanking Rocker.
My thanks go to my readers. To my co-workers. And to my adopted hometown.