LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- When I was a high school student, no recruiting service hung five stars on me, not even to become a sports columnist.
Inland Steel in East Chicago, Ind., had the inside track to secure my letter of intent. My father worked at Inland. My grandfathers, European immigrants, worked at the mammoth U.S. Steel plant in nearby Gary. Ditto for four uncles, several cousins and a knot of high school pals, who reported directly from school to the place everybody called The Mill.
I helped make steel on the summer job circuit three years. I still have my green U.S. Steelworkers card. The only reason I have every finger on my left hand is an alert crane-operator noticed my fingers were pinned between a steel cable and a rising pallet of bricks.
I've never worked harder than I did at Inland, losing 30 pounds one summer tearing down blast furnaces at the Number Three Open Hearth.
But I wasn't there to make the final cut as a full-timer at the Open Hearth. My Dad (and, of course, my Mom) had another idea. They wanted me to sample shift work and hot pay (12 extra cents an hour on the furnace tear downs) but explore my journalistic curiosity. In fact, they insisted.
That's something I remember every Father's Day, but especially this one as Eric Crawford and I have started our new opportunity at WDRB.
My Dad, Alex, died more than 31 years ago. What I remember about him on this Father's Day is that as hard as he worked at his job, he worked more relentlessly taking care of my Mom, sister and me. He made every day Family Day.
There are strings of sports clichés that leave me shaking my head. This one is near the top of the list: Man up.
You hear it often, usually about a football player playing through pain or a basketball player trying to make a shot at the end of a close game. Time to "man up."
I don't think being a man has much to do with making a tackle, or singling in a run in the ninth inning.
I cheered for Gale Sayers, Luis Aparicio and many other Chicago sports stars.
But they were all playing for second place. I admired my Dad.
He worked long and exhausting hours. There's little escaping the heat in a steel mill, especially in July or August. But he also worked outside, wrapped in layered long underwear while confronting the biting cold during winters on the tip of Lake Michigan. That was "manning up."
He lost half a finger on one job. I could always tell when he had been working with welders. He'd come home with a problem he called a "flash." He forgot to look away or pull on his goggles quickly enough. His eyes would water and then he couldn't see clearly for several days.
Not that he missed work. After the great Chicago-area snowstorm of 1967, when we received 23 inches in about 29 hours, he didn't leave the mill for more than a week.
But when he was home, he was home. We played catch for hundreds of hours. He had the best knuckleball I've failed to catch. Shoot baskets? He taught me the value of a bank shot. White Sox games? Every summer, usually with my Grandfather.
My Mom never learned to drive so he was the car pool guy, too. He'd make the neighborhood rounds and then pitch batting practice.
I learned to read – and love the news business – because of the papers my Dad brought home every day. They were copies of the Chicago Tribune, Sun-Times, Daily News and Chicago Today that guys had passed around on break at the mill, stained with coffee with an occasional article torn out.
I didn't care. I read every paper he delivered. Sometimes he'd surprise me with a copy of The Sporting News. Heaven. With the statistics and team reports, I could make a Sporting News last forever.
But those weren't the articles I enjoyed most. Whenever the White Sox played on the West Coast during the school year, I'd be in bed by in the fourth or fifth inning. School topped baseball.
So my Dad became a sports writer for those series. He'd leave for work before I was up. But I could expect a note on the kitchen counter.
Final score. Winning pitcher. Losing pitcher. How the game was won or lost. Key hits and home runs. He was my favorite sports writer, too.
Happy Father's Day – to my Dad and to Dads everywhere. Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.