GoFund Me Prize Announcement

This is the promised post regarding my GoFundMe campaign and the prizes I have teased.

Before I get into the prizes, I wanted to thank those of you who have donated thus far. Though I have raised $1,336 on the campaign, I have received other donations away from the campaign. I am appreciative for each donation and this prize giveaway is one of my ways of saying thank you for your support.

For clarity and honesty’s sake, these prizes were obtained without using campaign money.

Covering Duquesne has been an absolute privilege this year and the ability to take pictures compliments my work and provides an extra dimension to my articles that was not previously there. It is another way to provide my voice in these articles.

I am still actively seeking donations and hoping for a business sponsorship. For those who have disagreed with the intentions of this campaign, and I know there are some, this is no different than asking for an advertisement, just in a more public way. This is a method which has been used before and one I believe will be used frequently in the future by many.

Donations are able to be made using your name or anonymously which is why I chose GoFundMe, not to mention there is no extra charge for you to make a donation, as there is with other cause-related platforms

Please pass this campaign along to friends, family, co-workers, your boss, a business or making more than one donation is certainly welcomed.

Now onto the prizes. I will say that these are a couple of prizes and there will be more as the season progresses.

At this moment, I have secured signed Pittsburgh Pirates jerseys from Francisco Cervelli and Adam Frazier. The Cervelli jersey is the traditional white Pirates jersey, while the Frazier is the yellow Sunday throwback jersey. Each comes with a certificate of authenticity, so you will know the signature is the real deal.

There will be two separate winners and all you need to do to enter is make a donation to my GoFundMe campaign by 12/30, yes that is December 30. The drawing will occur on New Year’s Eve.

To be fair, the winners will be determined by random.org. I will roll two separate dice once again on random.org and whatever number those two add up to will determine how many times I random the order. So if once dice has a six and another a four, then the order will be randomized 10 times.

I also will have a coin which again is a random.org operation and it will represent how I put the names into the random.  Heads will go from most recent donations to least recent and tails will be least recent donations to most.

The first two different names on the list will win.

The amount of entries donors have will be determined by how much money was donated whether a one-time donation or multiple donations and will break down as follows:

  1. $1-$49 = 1 entry
  2. $50-$99 = 2 entries
  3. $100-$249 = 3 entries
  4. $250-$499 = 4 entries
  5. $500- $749 = 5 entries
  6. $750-$999 = 6 entries
  7. $1000 & up = 7 entries

I also want to add that anyone who donated anonymously will still have their identities protected in this random drawing. Depending which way the random.org coin toss lands will determine your place in the random and your name will be entered as anonymous 1, anonymous 2 and so on.

All of the above is being done this way to be as fair as possible to everyone and reward everyone who has donated, while recognizing those who have made larger donations.

For anyone that is interested in making a donation of any kind to enter this contest, you can make a donation at the following link.

https://www.gofundme.com/zacs-duquesne-basketball-coverage

Again, I truly appreciate the support received to date and only hope that continues in order to provide the best Duquesne basketball coverage both men’s and women’s that I possibly can.

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My experience meeting wrestlers

With my career as a sports journalist, I find going to a sporting event as a ticketed patron bizarre. Sure I can enjoy myself a bit, but it does feel like a task where sometimes I feel that there is the shift back into journalism mode.

WWE is the one thing sports related where I certainly do not feel like that. I do not feel like I am breaking any code or anything by meeting a wrestler or attending an event. I always go to WWE events in Pittsburgh with the same couple of friends and it’s just a great release where I actually can enjoy myself and not feel like I should be writing something.

Because of this I have taken advantage of losing plenty of money to the WWE. I have met quite a few wrestling performers. For those of you negative Nancy types who are complaining about a grown man paying to meet someone, just leave this post now. I spend my money how I choose.

Anyways after that digression, I wanted to break down my experience meeting each of the wrestlers and will try to put it in as much order as possible.

1. Paige Wizard World Pittsburgh 2015– Paige was the first WWE person of any kind that I had the chance of meeting, so I really had no clue what to expect. I paid for the VIP package so I was guaranteed to be among the first to get a picture and autograph from Paige. At the time, Paige was easily the most over women’s wrestler in the WWE and was different in a great way.

As you can see by the picture, I was wearing a Total Divas polo and when I went up           to her any nerves I had were instantly gone when she complimented my choice of             attire since she was on Total Divas at the time. She did a different pose for everyone           and I had her autograph the physical copy of the picture. She made the experience             fun and it was well worth the money. If there is a convention type setting or way to           meet Paige, I would recommend it.

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2. Titus O’Neil and Darren Young 96.1 Kiss FM Stuff A Bus 2015– This was at the local event that Mikey and Big Bob DJ’s of the 96.1 Kiss FM Morning Freak Show in Pittsburgh do every December where individuals can donate new and unwrapped toys to Toys For Tots on school busses.

Titus and Darren were in town because there was going to be a Monday Night RAW in Pittsburgh that specific day. The pair came and those who donated a toy that morning were able to meet the duo.

I probably could have found something to get signed, but I never went there, it just did not feel right. The funny thing is that WrestleMania 31 jacket was modeled by Titus on wweshop.com and we actually talked and laughed about it.

These two are genuine guys and I am glad to see Titus succeeding again with his Titus Worldwide gimmick. As for Darren, he is just as genuine of a person and I perhaps that is why both may have done their best work together.

Both of these are great people to meet. They can easily get down to your level and have a genuine conversation.

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3. Daniel Bryan Pittsburgh World of Wheels January 2016– This may have been my favorite individual to meet. He takes his time with the fans and just gets it.

Really I should not have had any chance of meeting “D Bry” at all to be honest.

I got off work at 6 PM when the event started and all you had to do was pay admission to get into the event and then you could meet him.

I could have gotten right in line but instead waited on a couple of my friends. This was a no brainer because this was a relatively cheap signing but also because several people had Bryan among the top people in WWE to meet.

When the three of us got in line, they had already cut the line but we figured why not try and stay in line, just to see what happens. Sure enough, the person who was cutting the line went away. Daniel Bryan wanted to sign for all of his fans.

I bought a copy of his autobiography prior to the signing and he personalized it for me.

Everyone was asking about Daniel Bryan coming back for the Royal Rumble since he was cleared by most if not all of the doctors except the most important one, WWE’s. I did not go that route and though he was kind to everyone, I am sure he was sick of talking about it with everyone.

I decided to talk to Daniel Bryan about why he was the only person who called then WWE wrestler Ryback “The Ryback”. We easily talked for 2-3 minutes about it and he laughed the entire time. It was such a great exchange and he was super nice.

Definitely meet Daniel Bryan if you have the chance. He has such a warm, infectious personality and he gives you time.

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4. Sheamus Cricket Wireless July 2016– I had such high hopes for this signing because so many people had great things to say about when they met Sheamus, but really, this experience was forgettable.

Sheamus was a heel at the time, but I really did not think that had anything to do with this.

I had him sign a Royal Rumble 2014 DVD since it marked his return to the WWE after months away due to injury. I try to strike up a quick conversation with him and he just did not seem to want to talk back to me.

He seemed like he wanted things to just move along. Really I do not blame the guy. It was over 90 degrees outside and the travel everyone does with the WWE is just grueling and maybe it just was not his day.

I do not blame Sheamus, really I don’t, but a lot of these experiences were great and this one was kind of forgettable.

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5. Bob Backlund Bradley’s Books Century III Mall July 2016– Century III Mall in Pittsburgh sadly is what it is at this point and sadly there is not much left in the store.

This was the second of two signings Bob Backlund was doing around the Pittsburgh area and this proximity was much easier for me then what I believe was Upper St. Clair.

All you had to do was buy a book so Backlund would sign and then take a picture.

When I got to that particular store, there was one person talking with him and that was it so the line was sadly nonexistent.

WWE Shop was selling autographed copies for less money as Bradley’s was selling them for list price, but I wanted the experience of meeting Bob Backlund for myself.

Bob was a nice guy and he was certainly unafraid to converse and we talked about his time with the WWE. He was generous with his time and we probably spent a good 10-15 minutes talking. We spoke about his “Make Darren Young Great Again” gimmick and he told me that Darren was treating him well and with respect.

When it was time to part ways, he gave me his card so that I could e-mail him what I thought of the book. I have heard great things about the book, but have not had a chance yet to read it for myself. I will contact him at some point though, and if/when I do hear back from him, I will update this section if at all possible.

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6. Lita Steel City Con December 2016– This signing was a bit on the forgettable side as well to be honest.

Steel City Con occurs several times a year in the Monroeville part of Pittsburgh and they do a great job of booking wrestlers for the event.

With Lita I met her first because the line was on the shorter side and I knew most of the rest of my time would be spent in Chris Jericho’s line.

Though Lita’s table had a decent amount of 8×10 photos there to be signed, I already had purchased one prior to the convention of her with Edge and Edge had pre-signed the piece.

Lita saw this picture and just was not in the mood to have a conversation. She pretty much offered a hello and after she signed it, she said “glad I was able to complete the set”.

She said it kind of aloofly which seemed odd and said it again after the picture. It is towards the bottom of my list with Sheamus too.

I would not call it a bad experience, she at least said something and made eye contact several times.

I like her signature in that it’s clear and of course her rivalry with Trish Stratus is one of if not the best in WWE women’s wrestling.

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7. Chris Jericho Steel City Con December 2016– I had heard things both positive and negative for Jericho with the negative mostly coming when he was a heel.

In December 2016, Jericho was still a heel though his List of Jericho was a big success with the WWE Universe. At age 46, Jericho was having his best run as a WWE performer.

I waited for three hours in his line and it was well worth it.

When I first walked up to Jericho he apologized for my having to wait so long, which he certainly did not have to do. I had a picture of him at Wrestlemania 32 to sign and he personalized it with the G.O.A.T. extra inscription.

We were talking and I thanked him for his wrestling, Talk is Jericho podcast and for Fozzy. He talked about each with me and then right before the picture was snapped asked what my favorite Fozzy song was. I froze not expecting that but recovered in time for the photo.

Jericho was willing to give everyone time which more than made up for the wait.

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Also as a sidebar, Jericho did a livesigning.com to promote his book No Is A Four Letter Words and I was one of two people that had a phone conversation with him to ask a question. Others got to ask as well but not by phone. During this conversation I kind of got a mulligan of sorts talking Fozzy and music with Chris which was awesome. The Instagram post is not of the conversation because that was an over three minute conversation but one which confirms I was the last person he called or texted even though it was through a representative’s phone.

8, 9 & 10 The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods) December 2016– This was prior to WWE’s Roadblock End of the Line pay-per-view at Toys R’ Us. It was an event which was limited to 200 people but the wait was still three hours for them.

The event itself was free and Toys R’ Us made it sound like we could not bring our own stuff for them to sign so I got an 8×10 signed by all three.

Big E was making different faces for everyone and all three were very nice. We actually all talked UpUpDownDown, Xavier Woods’s YouTube gaming channel, specifically about the Madden Tournament, which gave them all something to talk about. This being a Sunday, they all had not seen the finished episode I was talking about but it was great.

The New Day still are the longest reigning tag team champions when they were on Monday Night RAW, breaking Demolition’s record.

Later on the same day, The New Day lost to Sheamus & Cesaro ending their streak but it does not take away how these three came together and made fans care about them. Thank goodness Vince McMahon listened to this trio and for them being persistent.

Meeting The New Day is a great experience that I certainly would recommend.

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11. A.J. Styles World of Wheels Pittsburgh January 2017– A.J. Styles is great to his fans and similar to Daniel Bryan, he wanted to get to everyone. I cannot knock Styles for that, but everything definitely felt rushed because of it.

Just like the Daniel Bryan signing the year prior, all I had to pay was the admission price.

I had him sign a TNA DVD I picked up for $1 that had Sting on the cover. Styles was on Team Sting for that PPV but never even reacted when he saw it. I was at least expecting a look of surprise but he just took it and signed it. I was fortunate to get a handshake, a lot of people before me never did.

This is not meant to rip on Styles at all, I still enjoyed my experience, but not much of it was memorable outside of just being able to say that I met A.J. Styles.

Would I still recommend meeting A.J. Styles? Absolutely. He is a nice enough guy and wants to make sure he gets to meet all of his fans. I just was hoping for a little bit more of an experience.

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12. Sting Steel City Con April 2017– Again Steel City Con is a great place to meet wrestlers so long as you can afford it.

I knew Sting in face paint would attract a crowd and learning my lesson from last time, I got in Sting’s line first. This turned out to be a smart decision as I was only in line for two hours. That being said I lined up as soon as I got in knowing Sting would not arrive until an hour later, so that wait time is a bit skewed, but if I only got in line when Sting did then the wait would have been at least three hours.

Sting was not a man of many words but the experience was still a good one. I had him sign the TNA DVD A.J. Styles already signed. He was pleasant enough and Sting was someone I wanted to meet, so that got checked off the list.

In terms of overall experience, it was kind of quick and middle of the road but Sting is one of the best so it was definitely worth it.

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13. Kurt Angle Steel City Con April 2017– Angle’s line kind of did not know where to turn in the middle, but of course the local guy had a nice line.

I bought his autobiography at the library for $2, definitely a worthwhile purchase.

Each of these wrestlers have handlers and Angle’s handler was the same one who was kind to me at the Lita signing. He saw the book and told me “wow, that’s the first time we’ve seen the book today”.

That was a great feeling and I love bringing things the wrestlers aren’t used to signing because it is a great way to make conversation which hopefully leads to a positive experience for both myself and the person signing.

Angle saw the book and smiled and we had a quick conversation before he told me to sit next to him for the picture.

Meeting Kurt Angle was a great experience and a minute of two longer than the Sting experience 30-45 minutes prior to that.

Also Angle did personalize the autograph inscribing “It’s true” and wrote “HOF ’17” after his name.

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14. Shinsuke Nakamura Awesome Con June 2017- This was the first time I really traveled to meet a wrestler as this convention was in Washington, DC. I did blog a bit about this experience back in June but I’ll write something here so that everything is all together.

There were different groups to meet Nakamura and I was in group two. Group one was for the VIP’s so it was probably 10-15 minutes before any of our lines started moving but another 15-20 minutes later I was in the little tent area to meet him.

I wanted to say something in Japanese to him but everything was rushed and I did not have that chance. Shin was nice enough and smiled for the picture. I did not pay for him to sign anything because I had an autograph of his personalized I ordered from England.

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15. Charlotte (Flair) Awesome Con June 2017– Let’s just cut to the chase. If you have a chance to meet Charlotte, do it. It is well worth your time and money to meet her.

Charlotte is so sweet to her fans, whom I believe she calls Charloteers.

This line process was longer than Nakamura. This was for a variety of reasons. For one, Stan Lee slept in and his photo ops would be around these and both Charlotte and Nakamura had a duo phoyo op before this one.

I even heard the Awesome Con people say they would try to knock our line out quickly and they soon after moved us over to another pod so Stan Lee’s line would have more room.

This did not really matter to me as within minutes after the move, I got to meet Charlotte. I got a “what’s up buddy” from her and got a smile from her, which she usually does not smile, so I was super happy.

I then got in the back of a long Charlotte autograph line and soon after left it with my spot being held because you had to buy an autograph ticket for her line.

All day long I lugged this plaque of Charlotte around from Royal Rumble which was the last PPV she won as part of her 16-0 streak. I only paid $20 for the plaque which was significant.

In my opinion, Charlotte has already secured a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.

When I went up, Charlotte greeted me with another “what’s up buddy”, saw the plaque and wrote her “Always Do It With Flair” personalization with my name on top. She then surprised me by adding 16-0 on there without asking.

I was shocked and that alone made the $40 for the autograph well worth it. Again, Charlotte truly cares about her fans and goes out of her way to make sure you have a great experience. Heck, she even asked what color Sharpie I wanted on the plaque. She understood I was going to be keeping this piece and wanted it to look amazing.

It seems like such a small gesture but many people are particular about that and Charlotte asked in case I had a preference. I let her decide and she went silver.

Once again, Charlotte is definitely someone you’ll want to meet if you get the chance whether it’s a signing before Smackdown Live, a public signing, WWE Live VIP, Wrestlemania Axxess, Summerslam Meet & Greet, or any other event. She is a true sweetheart.

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16. Jerry “The King” Lawler Awesome Con June 2017– When I saw that Jerry Lawler would also be at Awesome Con, I knew that I wanted to meet him.

For $30 you had a chance of a combo with an autograph and a picture. I wish I had spent more to get a comic and his DVD, really I should have, but I am extremely happy to have a picture which is a classic picture of Lawler with Batman.

He signed it in yellow Sharpie and then shook it a few times before opening the marker so he knew it would sign, a small detail. We then took three pictures because he wanted to make sure I had a great picture.

The inscription on the photo reads “To my pal Zac Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler WWE HOF ’07.

Lawler is also someone who gives you a firm opinion on anything WWE related which was refreshing as well.

It was great to meet him and a very fair price. If he is at a convention or wrestling event and you have the chance to meet him, do it.

17. Tim White Wizard World Pittsburgh 2015, World of Wheels Pittsburgh 2016/17, Awesome Con 2017– I am going to count this one since we have said hello to each other when Tim is at a wrestling signing I am at.

Tim of course is a former WWE referee and worked as Andre the Giant’s assistant as well. He is still with the WWE traveling in different capacities including these signings.

When I first met him it was when Paige was signing as part of her Wizard World afternoon in Pittsburgh. I got the chance to talk to him first and knew of him and found him to be very pleasant to speak with.

Clearly I made a good enough impression because a little over four months later at the Daniel Bryan World of Wheels signing we connected again and had another quick but great conversation.

He may have been at the Sheamus signing as well, I do not remember, but when he was at World of Wheels with A.J. Styles we picked right back where we left off as if we had been friends for a while and took the picture you will see below.

We also saw each other at Awesome Con and briefly said our hellos once again. Tim is great and if you ask for a picture, he will more than likely let you do it.

I always look forward for an event Tim is the agent for because I know I will get a firm handshake, a smile, great conversation and at the end a nice pat on the back.

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BONUS Rob Schamberger Awesome Con 2017– I will briefly touch on my meeting with Rob Schamberger. It is not included as a number on this list because he is not a wrestler but he is contracted to make great pieces on anyone and everyone in the WWE and does fantastic work.

I bought two prints from him a Bayley and one of The Miz/Maryse. He and his wife Katy are both fantastic people who you can clearly see absolutely love what they do.

Hopefully I am at another convention next year where I see them both and gladly give them more of my money.

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18. Becky Lynch SummerSlam Week Barnes & Noble 2017– I wanted to meet Becky Lynch SummerSlam week but there was no way I was going to Toys R’ Us and standing out in the hot sun for 4-6 hours and likely not even get to meet her, so the fact I met her the night before at Barnes & Noble was a surprise even to me.

I got off my Megabus and looked at the time seeing 5:35 on my cell phone. I knew Becky had a 6 p.m. signing and opened Google Maps and saw the destination was doable but I had to get the subway right on the first try.

New York City subways are difficult to figure out for those who do not live in the city and I knew I would lose time trying to get a new Metro card.

I did end up picking the right subway and got into the Barnes & Noble at 5:58 p.m. I immediately went to the customer service desk because you had to buy a comic book to gain access to the signing. I went over to ask if they had additional books, since only the first 300 people would gain access to the signing and sure enough, they did.

I was surprised but the signing was before a lot of people got in so that certainly helped my cause and avoid a wasted trip.

It was then to the checkout line, where I got my book and at exact 6:02 p.m, I got in the back of the line, which was exactly when Becky came out to do her signing, so I was not late at all.

The wait was easily over two hours but it was because Becky Lynch talks to her fans and genuinely enjoys it.

In the meantime, I made small talk in line with those near me, a great idea for anyone to make the time pass.

Soon enough it was my turn and everyone was allowed two autographs. One had to be the comic and the other was an item of my choosing whether it be another comic book or a personal item.

The comic was a Seth Rollins comic with no mention of Becky Lynch even in there. Luckily, because I just had gotten off the Megabus, I had all of my belonging with me which included the WrestleMania 33 program, I bought at Monday Night RAW in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks prior for $15.

The WrestleMania program is huge so it was in the biggest backpack pocket I had. I completely blanked out and did not have her sign the big Smackdown Live ladies match but instead her little section of a page.

That led to a funny exchange

“Where am I on here,” she asked.

I had bookmarked the page already to save time for her and in consideration of those behind me.

As I looked she had already found herself.

“Oh there I am, red hair, duh,” Lynch cracked. “How can I miss that?”

We posed for the picture and parted ways after a second handshake. Also if you see my one hand looking awkward in the picture, that is because I was holding the program open. I did not want it to hit Becky.

Meeting Becky Lynch is a great experience and really it does not have to be at a meet and greet style event. If you are someone who can wait hours before a show, Becky Lynch is likely to stop before a Smackdown Live show, or a Smackdown Live VIP signing, a Wizard World and so on.

It is clear that Becky appreciates her fans and you just feel good when you meet her.

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19 & 20 Apollo Crews and Nia Jax SummerSlam week Brooklyn Cyclones game 2017– This is a cool event the Brooklyn Cyclones have done each of the last three years since SummerSlam has been at the Barclays Center.

The Brooklyn Cyclones have a SummerSlam night where fans have different options to participate, or of course can just ignore all of that and just enjoy the ballgame as well.

I opted to spend $25 on the SummerSlam package which was for a ticket right above the Cyclones’ dugout and a SummerSlam shirt. The shirt had this year’s SummerSlam logo on the front and a Brooklyn Cyclones logo on the back.

Additionally the first 100 fans to line up at a certain area got to donate $20 and meet two of four wrestlers between Apollo Crews, Nia Jax, Carmella and Mark Henry. Nia was a very last minute replacement as Charlotte was originally supposed to be in the quartet but was unable to make the trip due to a very understandable family emergency.

I thought the people in charge would just assign us wristbands at random but the setup was nice. I was one of the first 30-35 people and got to pick who I wanted.

It was a tough decision but I went Apollo & Nia.

As I have mentioned on this blog before I had a serious eating disorder, which very nearly ended my life and also had severe body image issues at the same time where I was never satisfied with how I looked to the point that even at my low weight of 105 lbs, I still saw the 180 lbs version of me and thought I had to lose more weight.

Nia has had to overcome body image challenges and she was part of the reason why I came to terms and grips with this challenge whether it is viewed as a setback or roadblock.

I wanted to be able to explain to Nia what I went through and was hoping to meet her during SummerSlam week to thank her in person.

I was third in line and was pleased to add both to my WrestleMania 33 program.

Just a quick sidebar for the card collecting people that read this, Apollo Crews did not sign a small “AC” for me like he does in the Topps product. He gave me a decent sized signature with more letters.

I had Apollo sign the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal page. As he signed it, he looked at me and had a question.

“Don’t you think I should have won the Andre the Giant Battle Royal,” Crews asked.

I started with an “uhh” and a shaky sure.

Nia immediately answered for me

“No you should not have won that,” she exclaimed.

It was fun to see those two playing off of each other and made the mini meet and greet all the more special. You could tell the two wanted to be there and were enjoying themselves.

When I talked to Nia I got serious and explained what I went through. She offered me a high five and as I kept talking, I could tell what I said meant something and had an impact on her.

Of course because I told her my story, I forgot to ask for a picture.

I did come back after I forgot my picture and explained to an employee what happened. The employee and I spoke earlier before the pair of wrestlers came in so he knew I traveled from Pittsburgh and offered to help me out. The security person had no problem at all with it, so I got back in line.

When it was my turn again two minutes later, I told Apollo and Nia I forgot to do my photo and they both told me they wanted to change that.

We smiled and then I turned to Nia again.

“I know what’s coming,” I said. “It’s okay, you can call me nerd.”

The background of this for those who do not know is that Nia and both Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows always get on backstage interviewer Mike Rome for trying to be cool and do the Too Sweet hand signal screaming “nerd” at the top of their lungs.

So when I mentioned this to Nia, in character she screamed “nerd” and it made me smile.

She then offered a correction.

“You’re not a nerd, that’s Mike Rome.”

I laughed even harder and we all parted way.

The exchanges I had with these two were fantastic. Nia is definitely worth meeting if you get the chance. I know she does not do as many signings so if you have the money do a WWE Live VIP on the Monday Night RAW side and maybe you’ll get to meet her. Either that or do a Wrestlemania Axxess signing or maybe a public signing will work out. Either way, she loves her fans and you will love meeting her too.

Apollo is definitely someone worth meeting too. He had a smile pretty much the entire time and enjoys the fan interactions.

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21 & 22 Carmella & Mark Henry 2017 SummerSlam week Brooklyn Cyclones game 2017– This one was a surprise. We were told upon coming in that we could only pay $20 to meet two of the four wrestlers.

Might I add that the $20 donation went to the Boys & Girls Club of America so it was a win-win for everyone.

While I was in line for Apollo Crews and Nia Jax, I was told that there were more wristbands for the second pair which was Carmella and Mark Henry for another $20.

I found the ATM after I met the first duo and quickly raced over to ensure I got to meet the other two.

The line moved fairly quickly and I had both sign my WrestleMania program. Mark Henry signed his squared space on the page and Carmella signed the Smackdown Live ladies WrestleMania match page.

Mark Henry was first and at the time I did not realize he was a surprise guest for one of Sam Robert’s podcasts earlier in the afternoon, so it was a long day for him.

I talked to him about the retirement jacket which put a nice smile on his face. Looking at it now, I almost wish I talked about Neville to him now. If I do meet him again, I will discuss that.

Carmella was nice and of course I fell into the trap of asking how she was.

She responded “fabulous” in character and I pretty much wanted to kick myself for even asking.

There was a younger fan in front of me in all out Carmella gear and I was about to get my picture with the two but the WWE people wanted to have her hold Carmella’s Money in the Bank briefcase.

I probably could have posed with the briefcase but as you see here I did not. I wanted to speed the rest of the line up. Mark Henry pretty much smiled for the kids and that was it, so I was glad to steal a smile here so I wonder if my trying to move the line along helped out.

Either way, both were pleasant to meet. Mark was not too big on conversation but was what I expected in a good way. Carmella is super sweet and great to her fans. I would definitely meet both of them again.

Mark Henry still wants to have one more match before he officially retires, though he mostly is doing backstage stuff rigth now and helping Neville grow as a performer.

It is rare to see Mark Henry do a signing so the place to get him is probably a Wrestlemania Axxess kind of setting. Carmella usually from what I have heard does not sign before going into the arena unless you are decked out in Carmella gear so WWE Live VIP or a signing are probably the best bets and her WrestleMania Axxess line was pretty filled up this year.

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23, 24 & 25 Asuka, Alexa Bliss, Naomi WWE SummerSlam meet & greets 2017 Barclays Center– These were the ticketed meet and greets which after tax cost $154. These tickets were limited and I of course had to pay more thanks to Ticketmaster. I bought my ticket from someone on eBay and overpaid by a good $70 but I wanted to meet Alexa Bliss so it was well worth it.

It was a great thing that I bought from this seller for a variety of reasons.

We kept in touch over eBay messages which then turned into Twitter direct messages where we just communicated about the event, meeting up and answering any q’s the other had.

On the day of the event, I was stuck in the back of the line, but my buddy was in the front, so up to the front I went.

My reasoning for meeting Alexa was the same as Nia and I was looking forward to talking to her. I even put on an Alexa Bliss shirt for the occasion.

It was complicated what I had everyone sign because each of the three ladies got something different.

Asuka got an NXT match card which I purchased shortly before I got in line. Little did I know it would be Asuka’s final match in NXT. She will go down as maybe the best NXT performer and hopefully WWE uses her properly.

Naomi got the Smackdown Live women’s WrestleMania match page from the WrestleMania program. She lost her title to Natalya, something which still confuses me.

Alexa got the rare and numbered to 500 double mat relic plaque which commemorated her being the first woman to win both the Monday Night RAW and Smackdown Live women’s titles.

For those who wonder how I got the picture I took the tape protecting it out and then was able to take the prongs protecting it carefully out. A few using a screwdriver and the rest gently by hand.

From there you can either bubble wrap it down or take one of those bigger unbuilt packing boxes and cut it down to fit the picture. The end were taped but there was a slit so the picture could easily be taken out or placed back in without damage. Because of this arrangement, it did not fit in my backpack and had to go in the bottom of the traveling suitcase so that it was supported.

The people with me in the front of the line had lots of plaques but either did not have or bring the one I did which they said would look awesome and it did.

I wish I could have had the plaques personalized but that did not happen. The people running the area were almost militant.

At least you did not have to take the picture in a chair like in year’s past but these employees took your stuff and you did not get to interact.

The ladies were quite reserved in the beginning too, which I do not blame them for, I blame the handlers. Fans paid so much money to meet these ladies and I get moving the line but giving everyone an extra minute or so to talk would not hurt, especially when this was the last signing for SummerSlam meet and greets for that side.

It was almost as if having three ladies in one signing made them try to speed everything up.

I wanted to speak a little Japanese to Asuka and that did not happen. I obviously wanted to talk with Alexa and that did not happen until only briefly after but I did not get to fully explain what I overcame and how she helped me. I was ready to have a quick conversation with Naomi as well and that did not happen.

When it came time for the picture, Alexa said to me “I like your shirt”.

Naomi quickly fired back “Well I don’t”

I told both of them “There are three of you, I am sorry but I couldn’t please everybody,” and they both laughed.

Both Asuka and Naomi walked right back and Alexa spoke with me for 10-15 seconds and that was it.

Alexa is hard to meet since she does not really do too many community signings. Wizard World may be the best way to go to meet her since WrestleMania Axxess can be crowded, though that is another option.

Naomi does a lot of signings so there is a good chance you can meet her in a city.

Asuka is injured right now but she has an October 7 signing in New Jersey from 10 a.m.- noon EST at a place called Adventureland. I do not know how much she signed at NXT but she is certainly an autograph you will want to get, especially then because once she is healthy again, she likely will go on Monday Night RAW and be the champion sooner rather than later.

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26 & 27 Stephanie McMahon & Triple H WWE SummerSlam meet & greets 2017 Barclays Center– This was quite expensive once again thanks to TicketMaster. I guess this again is where my friend who sold me the Bliss trio meet and greet ticket comes into play.

We both were on it in regards to the on-sale time but TicketMaster had other ideas. The secondary market was absolutely brutal with tickets ranging from $800-$1,200 just for one ticket.

Fortunately I was on SeatGeek and found two tickets for $350 each including the $20 off code so we got lucky and met these two.

Triple H does maybe one public signing a year at WrestleMania Axxess though that did not happen last year and this is Stephanie McMahon’s first public signing I believe, so yes this was definitely a golden ticket.

Again I had both signing different things.

Stephanie had an 8×10 picture of her in the ring against Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania 31 and Triple H had an 8×10 of him in the ring at WrestleMania 31 against Sting that was already signed by Sting.

The wait to get back into the Barclays Center after the previous meet and greet was a good 2.5 hours so I went to a store across the street to buy myself a couple of waters and then get in line where I was one of the first 10 or so people.

When Stephanie saw the photo, she immediately laughed.

“You got the one good photo,” she said through more laughter. “You got the one photo of me looking strong against Ronda.”

She quickly slid the photo for Triple H to see and he couldn’t help but smile which was awesome. Here is the photo autographed so you can see what she saw.

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We then gathered for the picture which was taken and after a couple of handshakes, we parted ways.

Everyone who came in also got a Connor’s Cure bracelet which was a nice touch.

The good news for people who did not make this signing or want to add to their collection is that the duo appears to be having autographed Topps WWE cards in future products which is exciting, albeit not in person.

I could easily see these two doing this again next summer. Either that or Triple H may do another signing as a VIP at WrestleMania 34.

As for Stephanie McMahon unless there is a partnership with Connor’s Cure this may be the last signing she does for a while. I know she had a book that was set to come out that got pushed back until an undetermined date. She may do a few book signings when and if that comes out.

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So that is everyone I have met thus far. I hope you enjoy reading this and got a sense of each individual. Now know that each day is different and sometimes wrestlers have good and bad days, so your experiences may vary.

I will update this post when/if I meet more wrestlers, something which may be in doubt this year, but that remains to be seen.

My favorite articles I’ve written Part 2

This is the second and final part of this list which allows me to go back and look at some of my favorite articles I have written in 10 years as a sports journalist. There will be all kinds of information on each article as well as a link to the piece if it allows.

I also wanted to include two more honorable mentions that I forgot to place in the first post.

1. Mazeroski Statue symbolic for engaged Pirates co-workers (July 7, 2016, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This piece actually was written a year to the day I wrote this blog post.

Thomas Leturgey actually told me this story, his own about the unique circumstances behind his and his now-wife Marion’s proposal and the events that led up to it.

Tom trusted me to tell his story and this was part of a surprise for his wife, with the two having their wedding ceremony at the Mazeroski Statue located by PNC Park’s right field entrance.

It was a fantastic, heartwarming story to tell and of course went well past the sports bubble I normally confine myself to.

I was privileged to be invited to the wedding and gladly accepted. It was a short ceremony with just some family and friends in attendance. Even though there was a post-race party for the Color Run in a parking lot very close by which had blaring music, that was no match for the power of love.

The ceremony was a very enjoyable one and it was nice to meet both Tom and Marion’s family and friends.

Both bride and groom alike thanked me for the story and the whole ceremony was very emotional for everyone.

I cannot thank Tom enough for trusting me to be the one to tell his story. He has been a great friend.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/mazeroski-statue-symbolic-engaged-pirates-co-workers/

2. Pirates draw parallels with Bryant’s hype (April 21, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This feature piece was suggested by my editor Michael Waterloo and was one I really dove into.

The occasion was that Kris Bryant was enjoying the early stages of his rookie season and the series was his first one on the road with the Chicago Cubs.

A lot of times when an article is not about a player themselves let alone the team they are on, a lack of interest is shown, but when I told Andrew McCutchen and Neil Walker about this piece, both were more than game to contribute.

I was pleased to get a couple of quotes from Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s pregame media availability but the thing I worried about most was if Bryant himself would be willing to be quoted.

To gauge Bryant, I spoke with Mark Grote, who does the pre- and post-game shows for the official Cubs radio affiliate. I still keep in touch with Grote, though I am no longer on the Pirates beat and Mark told me I should be fine.

Sure enough, I talked to Kris in a 1-on-1 interview and had no issues. It was a great interview and he could not have been nicer.

Though I published the article, I updated it again the very next day because his agent Scott Boras was in town and spoke to reporters.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/pirates-draw-parallels-with-bryants-hype/21796/

With those articles now having been discussed, it is time for the top-10 list itself.

10. Column: Many pros and cons for Ferry’s dismissal but the wrong decision was made (March 14, 2017, DYST Now)

I will be honest and say that once Duquesne men’s basketball lost to Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship first round, that I knew Jim Ferry’s time with the team would almost certainly end.

I also knew that with Duquesne serving as the host school for the tournament that the school knew better than to part ways with Ferry until the event was over. Massachusetts fired Derek Kellogg after its second round loss at A-10’s but that was a different circumstance.

Sunday night when the tournament was over, I was at the Hard Rock Cafe waiting for my friend to perform when the itch came to start writing the Jim Ferry parts ways with Duquesne article.

When the news officially came the next day, I added quotes from the university press release and was the first to publish the straight news article. By no means was I hoping for Jim to be fired, I got along very well with him and his staff, but it was to be expected.

While other news outlets reported the firing and offered little analysis, I decided to wait a couple of hours, feel the temperature and then write a comprehensive piece on the news.

It was a column so to speak with positives and negatives for Ferry. Ultimately I determined at the time that Ferry should have stayed.

This was without knowing who would be the coach would be and not offering much if any speculation on that.

Fans on social media, message boards and those who talked to me were almost unanimous that they wanted Ferry to be fired, so my column was not going to be well-liked, but I did not care about that.

In my time as a student at Point Park University, I served as a student apprentice in the sports information department and it helped me understand a lot of things from an administrative, coaching and student-athlete perspective and I believe had that not occurred, I would have been right there with the fans. There is more than what the fans see though.

My column was to articulate both sides and what everyone had to way. It certainly was not cut and dry like everyone thought.

This piece easily took an hour to comprise my thoughts and another 2-3 to write. I did not finish writing this until around 2:30 AM but I wanted this piece to be clear on my thought process in my time on the beat and being aware of each side to this issue.

http://dystnow.com/2017/03/14/column-many-pros-and-cons-for-ferrys-dismissal-but-the-wrong-decision-was-made/

9. Duquesne’s Waskowiak finally ready to play (December 15 2015, DYST Now)

Covering Erin Waskowiak was one of the biggest honors during this time I have spent on the Duquesne beat.

Erin was supposed to redshirt her freshman season but her basketball career was jeopardized when her brother accidentally ran her over with the family car.

I talked with Erin at this point for an article I was doing for my class so I was familiar with her story and she sent me several pictures that I could use with the article, so I certainly saw the crash caused.

Erin was set to return to the court in December 2014, but suffered an ACL tear which delayed her return a whole year.

I talked to Erin a couple of times in between that year and coach Dan Burt gave me an update of sorts with the injury and when he told me she would be in uniform for a December 2015, non-conference game against Seton Hill, I knew it would be a good idea to revisit this story.

Erin and I sat at the press conference podium and for 10-15 minutes revisited the story and discussed the future.

It was clear throughout that season that Erin was not 100%, but it was not about that. It was about her inspiring journey onto the court. She even scored a 3-point basket during the team’s NCAA Tournament victory against Seton Hall.

Though Erin did not play during the 2016-17 season and her time as a Duquesne Duke is done, her impact is just as big if not larger than any women’s basketball player to wear the team’s uniform.

This article is behind a paywall.

https://www.dkpittsburghsports.com/2015/12/15/duquesnes-waskowiak-finally-ready-to-play/

8. My experience covering The Summer King (April 24, 26, 27, 29, 30, DYST Now)

Never in a million years did I ever think that covering an opera would be something that I would do, but when Liz Fetchin sent me an e-mail about The Summer King and if this would be something the website wanted to cover, there was no hesitation.

The Summer King dealt with Josh Gibson who had played for Pittsburgh’s Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords of the Negro Leagues and how he helped break baseball’s color barrier. So there was a sports angle, a Pittsburgh angle and of course figuring out how baseball and opera could form a nice marriage throughout the libretto.

When Liz told me who I would be able to interview, the nerves began to kick in but when she told me I would be talking to the lead performer, Alfred Walker, who would play Josh Gibson the very next day, I was extremely worried.

I knew absolutely nothing about opera and within 24 hours, I would be doing an interview. It was trial by fire so to speak and I do not ever remember being that nervous with any interview I had ever conducted.

When it was time to call Alfred, the nerves went away and we talked about The Summer King and his thoughts on Josh Gibson. Soon after the Pittsburgh Steelers came into conversation and Alfred told me about his dislike for Jerry Jones. It was the most free flowing interview I ever had. It was enjoyable and transcribing it was a true joy.

I also got to talk with librettist Daniel Sonenberg, Gibson’s great-grandson Sean Gibson and Christopher Hahn of Pittsburgh Opera.

Part of my experience included tickets to the dress rehearsal and opening night, which helped me better understand the piece, its intent and form a review based on my findings.

After the dress rehearsal, Dan took me backstage to meet the cast and interact with them.

Upon attending opening night, I was actually a row in front of Bob Nutting, the Pittsburgh Pirates Chairman of the Board, something which amused me, but more importantly I observed things from the dress rehearsal and this helped me have a clear vision for my review piece.

This was easily the biggest challenge I ever faced as a writer and though it was three articles that came out of it, this was a month long process.

I educated myself on opera, read Rob Ruck’s Sandlot Seasons to upon Dan’s recommendation to better feel his vision and wrote three pieces which I felt were not too intimidating for any audience with this piece, since so many different types of crowds potentially could have read these articles.

http://dystnow.com/2017/04/24/pittsburgh-opera-set-to-host-the-summer-king/

http://dystnow.com/2017/04/26/josh-gibsons-life-featured-in-the-summer-king/

http://dystnow.com/2017/04/30/review-the-summer-king-hits-a-home-run/

7. Dambrot brings optimism, energy to Duquesne/One-on-one with Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot (March, 31, 2017 & April 2, 2017, DYST Now)

While everyone else was catching up on Keith Dambrot’s hire and getting all of his background information, I already had done that in a column and on social media.

Duquesne’s coaching search really was lampooned by media, both on a local and national scale. This is not meant to pat myself on the back, but I did not break any news unless I knew it to be 100% factual. Some listed 3-6 other names Duquesne supposedly interviewed and then offered them the men’s basketball job (they offered the position to anyone but Dambrot).

It sent many reporters on a spin while I knew exactly what I wanted to ask Dambrot. I was pleased to ask the first question of Duquesne’s Director of Athletics David Harper and of Dambrot.

On a couple of occasions Dambrot praised me for my questions and after the press conference when I had a chance for a 1-on-1 interview, he did so again.

After the interviews were all done, other reporters either left to write their articles or stayed in PPG Paints Arena to write them.

I already had written the article on Dambrot’s hire, so I enjoyed the chance to talk with coaches, administrators and fans.

My intent was to write another in-depth piece on the hire and include a separate piece with the 1-on-1 interview, which is what I did.

These highlighted the press conference and the atmosphere which was a very positive one, something which was needed for the program.

Again, both pieces were 2:30 AM specials and captured the excitement from everyone really. It was almost as if a party was being thrown and my writing conveyed that scene.

http://dystnow.com/2017/03/31/dambrot-brings-optimism-energy-to-duquesne/

http://dystnow.com/2017/04/02/one-on-one-with-duquesne-coach-keith-dambrot/

6. Duquesne women rout Seton Hall in NCAA debut (March 19, 2016, DK Pittsburgh Sports)

This was a pleasure to cover as it involved a 6 AM flight from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. and then a final connecting flight to Hartford as the game was played on UConn’s campus. In women’s basketball there are four teams that play first and second round games at a best seed’s venue.

I had covered Duquesne before Dan Burt took the women’s basketball head coaching position but not necessarily in a beat reporting capacity.

I was a student at Point Park University and as a sports information student apprentice, that was my first priority. When I was not at Point Park, I would cover either a Pitt Panthers or Duquesne Dukes game.

Certainly the familiarity was there with the team.

I actually wrote the online article breaking Burt being named the team’s coach and I have been covering the team both home and sometimes road in the process.

I saw what the team would consider the lows of the first year and what this team has become.

For a while Dayton and George Washington were always the consistent powerhouses in Atlantic 10 women’s basketball, but Duquesne has placed itself on this list under Burt’s tenure.

I remembered the disappointment on the team’s faces after it fell to GW in the conference tournament finals and then the excitement during Selection Monday when Duquesne found out it had done enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

Flying to Dayton I was covering both Duquesne and Robert Morris for DK Pittsburgh Sports.

Robert Morris lost its first round game and that was two articles, a pregame piece and postgame recap.

Duquesne played in the second game that first round and when they won you could not help but feel the emotion they had.

I was the lone reporter at the time who went to the locker room after the players finished their press conferences and did a few interviews and just the smiles did not leave anyone’s faces.

This beat may be the one I enjoy the most because everyone is always thankful when I write something and there is a trust and respect that is there. That goes both ways.

They are an easy team to root for and they make my beat reporting job easy. This article is behind a paywall.

https://www.dkpittsburghsports.com/2016/03/19/duquesne-hoops-family-makes-history/

5. Snow stranded Dukes ‘came a long way’ (January 24, 2016, DK Pittsburgh Sports)

Everyone asks if I wanted to be on the bus during the Duquesne men’s basketball bus debacle and each time, I answer that I did.

The Duquesne Dukes were stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike after trucks jackknifed around Breezewood.

I was one of the last to report in locally and I was basically challenged by Dejan Kovacevic not just to catch up, but to surpass everyone covering it.

That day I specifically remember there was a Duquesne women’s basketball game and I had several responsibilities I was preparing for with that game, when SID Dave Saba got back to me and stated that Nick Foschia, a senior on the men’s basketball team would be able to do a phone interview with me.

At this point Micah Mason and Foschia had done some media rounds. While waiting to confirm that I would speak with a Duquesne player, I reached out to the Atlantic 10 to either obtain an interview or statement with Bernadette McGlade, the conference’s commissioner and rather quickly got a statement.

As I kept a very active scorebook for the women’s basketball game, I was also furiously writing a story and updating the process of the men’s bus situation.

When the women’s basketball game was over, I was able to get video of Dan Burt, the team’s coach as well as April Robinson and Deva’Nyar Workman to speak of the men’s situation, a nice nugget that went with the piece.

I also called the spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and AD David Harper for continuous updates and kept updating my story.

After I did this and wrote my piece on the women’s basketball game, it was time to call it a night.

It seemed as though the men would be stuck on the turnpike for a second day so I comfortably took a 40 minute bus ride to Bravo, an Italian restaurant when a source told me that the team was moving once again and set to make it to Duquesne.

As I ate a chicken parmesan dish with one hand, I updated on the other hand and did more interviews from the table. My poor parents and brother were with me at the dinner table, but knew I had to work and that even dinner would not come between that.

When I got home, I called a friend and Ed Thompson who had taken pictures of the women’s basketball game with me earlier in the day. I had found out through a source what time the team would be back and if both wanted to go.

My friend picked me up and we drove together and met Ed. It was myself and the three local TV stations who sent camera people only to ask stock questions, so really I was the lone reporter there.

Ed got pictures of everything and I was able to talk with Mason, Saba, coach Jim Ferry and play-by-play man Ray Goss.

Going to the event was a chance opportunity where I got footage of the bus arriving back on campus and of the interviews.

What started out as a day where I lagged behind but the way I was able to get interviews while covering another game, get this coverage and then write a totally different article.

After edits, I did not go to sleep until after 4 AM that next day.

There were two articles written but one has been taken down. This is the other article, though it is behind a paywall.

https://www.dkpittsburghsports.com/2016/01/24/snow-stranded-dukes-came-a-long-way-2/

4. Pirates Stewart a creature of habit (April 23, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

One of the first things I learned on the Pittsburgh Pirates beat was that manager Clint Hurdle has a lot to say, and sometimes when you listen, a story idea comes together.

That certainly was the case with this piece.

Hurdle was discussing Chris Stewart and his routine as a catcher. He complimented Stewart’s professionalism and was detailing some of the routing.

While other more experienced beat reporters either ignored this or decided to focus on something else, I am unsure but I immediately saw a story.

When I took the Pittsburgh Pirates beat reporting position with Pittsburgh Sporting News, I knew that my creativity with feature ideas could be what set me apart.

This was my first real feature that I came up with and presented a chance to allow my work to stand out.

From the beginning quote of Stewart diagnosing himself with ADHD, I knew this story would be a winner.

I also asked another catcher David Ross for some insight on this and I still have the opening to our conversation recorded.

Me: “I’m doing a feature on catching, the routine involving catching and being able to have a high IQ to manage guys”

David Ross: “I think you might be asking the wrong guy, but go ahead”.

Ross’s lighthearted sense of humor made the story flow a whole lot more and it really provided an excellent look into the daily life of a catcher.

Back to Stewart for a second. Aside from Jared Hughes, Stewart was my most valuable resource for player quotes in the Pirates clubhouse. This piece helped establish a positive relationship with him.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/pirates-stewart-a-creature-of-habit/

T2. Catchers easily transition into becoming manager (July 25, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News) & Speed kills: is a steal more on a pitcher or catcher (July 10, 2015 Pittsburgh Sporting News)

A tie for second seems like a cop out, but I am equally proud of both of these pieces and how they came about.

As mentioned above, each piece was part of features that were different than what any other Pirates reporter was doing, and this is a very difficult task. It was one I replicated in the 2016 season with the thought process of a hitter at the plate. These two pieces came first though and to paraphrase WWE wrestler Chris Jericho that’s why they made the list.

The speed kills feature was the first of these two and if it were not for my trip to Detroit with Tom Singer, this piece probably does not happen for two reasons.

The first was that the idea again came from listening to what Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said in a pregame press conference. A lot of the questions the Tigers beat reporters asked were not pertinent to my story and Ausmus kind of brushed them aside, but all of a sudden he talked about stolen bases and the idea of who was accountable for them.

Ausmus being a catcher, and a respected one at that maintained it depended on the variance of pitcher’s deliveries.

It was this that got me thinking about the story. Of course I was able to talk to Chris Stewart about it and Clint Hurdle appreciated the question. It was something he’s probably never been asked before, or if it had been, it was something not brought up for quite a while.

What really made the story for me though was the second point, which was getting Dave Roberts and Joe Torre quoted in this piece.

The series played at Comerica Park occurred June 30-July 2 but the article was dated July 10 for a reason.

That first day at Comerica Park, I heard former Pirates and Tigers manager Jim Leyland talk to broadcaster Greg Brown. Leyland told Brown that Joe Torre would be at PNC Park for that game. I was the only reporter that could hear that and immediately I began brainstorming, trying to find a way to get that interview for both of the above features since Torre was a catcher and of course a manager.

When July 4 came, I talked to Greg to confirm Jim’s words and then talked with Pirates Director of Baseball Communications Jim Trdinich to see if there was any way he could help me secure the interview. Unfortunately there was not since any interviews with him would go through Major League Baseball’s office, but he did tell me that I could try.

Before the game, I had an idea of where Torre would be and I decided it was best not to knock on the door but wait to see if he would come out of the door and then talk to him.

Sure enough within minutes he was on the phone and he did see me. I was gesturing with my hands and tried to mouth to him what I was trying to do, but he went straight inside.

I updated Trdinich and he said it was best to try one more time. So back over I went and again after a few minutes of pacing, he was again on the phone. After Torre took a bit longer, his handler with him came out. I was able to explain who I was and what I was looking for. I was told I had three minutes and I got to ask Joe questions for both features in the allotted time.

Joe’s answers were detailed and could not have been better. He did not seem agitated and probably would have talked longer, but I did not dare push the envelope. I thanked both with a handshake and then went to update Trdinich who seemed pleased that I was able to get what I wanted.

I only told Singer and my friend Alex Stumpf after what I did until the next day.

Even then, I wanted to keep the story going since the San Diego Padres were in town July 6-8 and Roberts, who then was the Padres bench coach was my target.

His steal in game four of the 2004 ALCS helped the Boston Red Sox overcome a 3-0 series deficit to the New York Yankees.

I knew his quotes on what he looked for when stealing a base would be the last piece to what would be a great article.

It would have been easy to post the article after the Tigers series but I am so glad I waited. The piece had more integrity to it and I could not have been prouder of the end result.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/speed-kills-is-a-steal-more-on-a-pitcher-or-a-catcher/

As far as the catchers transitioning into managers, that piece came about when I was talking after my seemingly daily interview with Jared Hughes.

I was able to gather Hughes’s thoughts in addition to asking Brad Ausmus about it after his pregame availability on July 1.

As stated above I was able to get Joe Torre’s thoughts on it from his unique perspective and Brad Fischer who was coaching the Pirates catcher followed shortly after.

The last piece to the puzzle was talking to St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after a pre-game media availability and he spoke of himself and the example Red Schoendienst set.

This piece was just as enjoyable because I took my time with it and just enjoyed these two pieces.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/catchers-easily-transition-into-becoming-a-manager/

1. Bison Break: Alphabetical Disorder (February 17, 2014; The Globe)

This article, which came with Point Park University’s student newspaper, did a lot of things for me.

First it proved to me that I could write strong opinion based pieces with the facts guiding the opinions. I owe a huge thank you to Alex Stumpf who let me have his column for the week and the next semester, I became The Globe’s sports columnist.

I had a Potter Box of sorts to deal with when I found out that the Point Park men’s and women’s basketball teams were denied hosting the conference tournament because of what was deemed an unwritten rule.

For some background, Point Park is in what then was the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (now the River States Conference) and the right to host the basketball conference tournament was done on an alphabetical, rotational site process.

For the 2013-14 basketball season it was Midway’s turn to host but due to facilities and a new athletic director it was determined that they would pass on their turn to host, which meant the next team alphabetically, Point Park was due to host.

To make a long story short, Point Park was passed over as they were viewed as a “new” school, even though it was their second year as a program in the KIAC.

I had to report on the topic because I knew it was possibly the most controversial topic for Point Park, an NAIA D-I/D-II institution but had to be careful because of my position as a student apprentice in the athletic communications office.

If I did not properly report this then there easily could be repercussions not just on myself but the athletic department as well.

I informed sports information director Kevin Taylor in person of my intention of doing this column but not interviewing either him or Dan Swalga, the athletic director, that way there was no conflict of interest attached with the column so that all of the fault, if any would be attached would be directed to me. Kevin agreed but told me to be careful.

I had most of the information together the day before I had to submit the column and then decided to contact women’s basketball coach Tony Grenek.

I knew that Grenek was upset about the bylaw and previously told me he wanted to participate in this piece but I called him, warned him of any potential backlash that came from this and asked if he still wanted to be quoted on record. He told me that yes he wanted to go for it.

Grenek already was a good friend of mine and for him to stick his neck out there for my piece was an amazing gesture and him standing up for his team.

Finally, Monday came, the day the piece was due and I tried to get a hold of Bill Melton, then the KIAC Commissioner. Sure enough I was able to connect with him and in the library I did the phone interview. It was ironic that in what should be the most quiet place on a university campus the silence was there but the implication was louder than any sports story to date in my time on campus.

Melton explained his side, which I depicted verbatim in the column.

When I got to the computer to transcribe and write Melton’s quotes, I had maybe 90 minutes until deadline.

Finally when everything was done, I was well over word count and had 20-25 minutes before deadline.

I finished the column with 10 minutes to spare and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

When the article came out, Swalga later told me that he wished he had been quoted but never did he or Kevin ever criticize me for the article.

Tony was pleased that in his words I had “the stones” to write the article.

Melton emailed me disagreeing with the article but we left the conversation very cordial after meeting face-to-face at Alice Lloyd during the KIAC Tournament, in which he was nothing but nice to me, we texted throughout the summer.

When I was in the stands before I was a credentialed Pirates reporter, Melton was with some of the Point Park athletics department, I was invited to come down and we all took a group picture together. Pictured from left to right is myself, Point Park SID Kevin Taylor, Point Park Baseball Coach Loren Torres, KIAC Commissioner Bill Melton and Point Park AD Dan Swalga

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This piece allowed me to trust in myself and my instinct and break some news.

As it turned out, during the next athletic directors meeting, the AD’s all met and the basketball KIAC Tournament procedure was put to a vote and the rule was changed to where the top seed in each matchup would host throughout the tournament.

While I am hesitant to take credit for the rule change, I believe my column certainly opened some eyes and one of the Point Park women’s basketball parents printed out several copies of my column and handed them out to anyone who wanted a copy, something which embarrassed me.

A follow-up column was done the next year and Melton again took part and explained the process.

This is my favorite article I have written and occurred during college. It will be difficult to top because of the changes this column helped create.

The new rule gave each team something to play for, a chance each year to show off their school to fans during the playoff time. Now a top seed would have a home court advantage instead of going to a road gym. It rewards regular season play and while it is tougher for a commissioner to attend it can provide less of a travel strain to some teams, brings more universities more money and gives more seniors a chance to play a conference tournament game at home in front of family and friends.

http://ppuglobe.com/2016/06/word-from-the-weiss-15/

 

 

My favorite articles I’ve written Part 1

I cannot help but be in a reflective mood at this point in time looking back at what is now over 10 years as a sports journalist. I have written a lot of articles, probably 30-40% of which on the iPhone.

It is a difficult task looking back and picking my favorites of myriads of articles I have done. I do not have an exact count of how many articles I have done in these 10 years, but I definitely have some that I felt would be special the minute they were either brainstormed or after an interview.

I figured I would make a big post with some of my favorites, a little subtext around them and the link so you can hopefully enjoy them. There are eight honorable mentions so bare with me and enjoy this post. I will post the other part shortly.

Honorable Mentions:

8. DeLaet finds success in first group of morning wave (June 2, 2017 DYST NOW)

Anyone who knows me knows I love covering golf, it is one of, if not my favorite sport to cover so anytime I get credentialed it gives me a sense of pride.

This year was my fifth year covering the Memorial Tournament and I got into the Muirfield Village Golf Club press room early enough that I decided to do a Friday morning wave round up. It started innocently as Graham DeLaet gave me a great 1-on-1 interview but it was Shane Lowry who made the piece.

It was a 2-on-1 as another reporter joined me and led the interview. When he was done, I asked Lowry about what he learned from his final round at the 2016 U.S. Open. The 2017 U.S. Open was set to tee off in nearly two weeks at that point and it was a chance to allow Lowry to be reflective on a four shot lead he lost to Dustin Johnson.

Lowry was not thrilled with the question, he clearly showed it but to his credit gave me an answer. I appreciated his honesty and did not follow up. It is a tough question I probably would not have asked my first or second year covering golf, but one I am more then comfortable asking.

I found out the next week that an Irish newspaper referenced this soundbite claiming I was “given an earful” by Lowry, which was far from the case, something the reporter would well have known had he showed up.

It was a piece I enjoyed putting together and my question to Lowry was the talk of the small table I sat at for our quick press dinner that night.

http://dystnow.com/2017/06/02/delaet-finds-success-in-first-group-of-morning-wave/

7. Call to the ‘pen benefits Pirates’ Comadena (August 11, 2016, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This was a feature I mulled over for a good week to 10 days. I got the frame work started at the very end of a homestand before the Pirates went on the road.

Jordan Comadena was then the Pirates new bullpen catcher (it is now his second season) and I had a feeling no one else in the media knew who he was. Comadena did not have his name in the media guide since he came on at the start of the regular season and he did not have his picture with the other coaches on the team website.

I went the bullpen catcher route in 2015 with a lengthy feature piece on Heberto “Herbie” Andrade which was very well received and Andrade himself later called me over, complimented me and gave me a nice pat on the back.

This article was a great chance for fans to know who Comadena was and how he got to the Pirates.

I still remember going up to Pittsburgh Pirates Director of Baseball Communications Jim Trdinich as I always did whenever I needed a coach interview.

“Jimmy T, would it be possible to speak to Jordan for a feature,” I asked.

Once he realized that I was talking about Comadena, the plan was made. It was a Sunday afternoon game and we did the 14 minute interview on the field right after the pitchers threw.

It was a great interview and I ended up typing the entire thing on my iPhone on the Greyhound down to cover the U.S. Senior Open.

I was grateful that Jordan appreciated the piece and it certainly was fun to put together.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/pittsburgh-pirates-bullpen-jordan-comadena-purdue/

6. Rahm prepares for U.S. Open (June 5, 2016, DYST Now)

I will be honest and say that for once, I was late. I always insist on being early to things but at the Sunday of the 2016 Memorial Tournament I was completely unaware of what time the Jack Nicklaus Awards were being presented and missed the entire ceremony. The 2016 ceremony had Jon Rahm headlining the winners of that year’s Nicklaus Award. When I got inside the press room, everyone was scattered and pictures were already being taken of the winners with Jack Nicklaus.

I was extremely fortunate to be able to get Jon Rahm in a 1-on-1 situation and it made for a great first article of the day. Rahm was a great interview and we talked about the award and the U.S. Open which he would take part in.

Once we parted ways it was 45 minutes tops that the article was done.

Normally I do not use an athlete’s twitter handle on the article but Rahm was not as known 14 months ago as he is now so I decided to go for it.

I was pleasantly surprised by a retweet, a favorite and a Twitter follow that I still have to this day.

That last graph is not why this makes the list, but the process of that article, the opportunity to walk a couple of holes at the U.S. Open with Edorta his father and the answers he gave me in the U.S. Open second round flash interview. They were just as great as in Ohio.

http://dystnow.com/2016/06/05/rahm-prepares-for-us-open/

5. Luck does not enjoy solo Memorial Tournament round (June 3, 2017, DYST Now)

This was literally a day after the DeLaet and Lowry article. Chris Dazen had come into town Friday night and we were discussing what time we were going to the course.

I saw that Curtis Luck was teeing off as a solo at 7:40 EST and knew that was the ticket. I had never followed a golfer that went out as a single and that early in the morning it was going to be interesting.

A huge thanks goes out to PGA TOUR media relations for giving me inside the ropes access during the third round which allowed me to take plenty of detailed notes which later helped bring a lot of life to this piece.

The top of my article was one of my strongest in a while and the whole thing was fun with the imagery of Luck teetering his driver after another missed fairway and of course the swearing.

It was clear that the 20-year-old Luck was not enjoying being the pacer so to speak and he did not handle the pressure well.

Luck did meet with some media after the round, myself included and other than one question I asked did not go too much into length with his answers.

He did flirt with the lead at times during Quicken Loans National this past week though but on this day his struggles made for a good read.

http://dystnow.com/2017/06/03/luck-does-not-enjoy-solo-memorial-tournament-round/

4. Can rise of women translate to baseball? (September 12, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This was a fun piece to do just because of the topic. The rise of women in sports was at the time and still is a fantastic topic to discuss and write about. Frankly it is about time women get recognition and elevated in sports but my purpose was to observe how that process was going in baseball.

The piece itself was not the best thing I’ve ever wrote but I found the interviews to just be fascinating.

It is rare that I ask anything of Neal Huntington after his Sunday media availability. At that point he’s done a long radio show and then met with reporters while the ice machine and other machinery makes obnoxiously loud noises for another 15. This was one of two occasions where I asked for time after and he was more than willing to discuss the topic.

I was proud that I was able to get Clayton Kershaw to discuss this topic as well. I held onto the piece an extra day despite feeling pleased with what Huntington and Jared Hughes had given me.

All I did was approach Kershaw at his clubhouse locker and ask for an interview. I had done that two or three years earlier and after he threw gave me a couple of minutes.

This time, Kershaw had a bullpen session but told me he would meet with me after he was done.

When Kershaw was done, he first talked to a reporter about a headline and then we talked for a good five minutes, shook hands and parted ways. Just like that other time, it was a good interview, though Pirates PR seemed surprised that I was able to get Kershaw 1-on-1.

I told them when they asked how I secured the interview that I simply went up and asked, ready to accept a no if needed.

The story I believe was a well-rounded one and it is nice to see baseball is finally making some much needed strides in getting women involved in the game.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/can-rise-of-women-in-sports-translate-to-baseball/

3. Dugout advice saves Hughes’ career (June 22, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

Let me preface this by saying I am very thankful for a lot of things in my time as a Pirates beat reporter, but Jared Hughes was my most dependable source, always there for a quote or a hello.

I would throw off the wall pregame or feature pieces his way and he was always game, knowing that it was a unique piece that I hoped would translate well to my readers.

When I found out about Kris Watts, a then Double-A catcher and the role he played in Hughes’ career, this immediately became a feature priority.

Upon approaching Hughes, I barely got out the words Kris Watts before a smile came on his face. It was a great interview and Hughes was his usual candid self.

What made the story even more special was that I found a way to contact Watts and we did a phone interview before a Pirates game.

It made the story so well rounded and though he was over 2,500 miles away from PNC Park, I could just feel the emotion through the phone.

Both Jared and Kris each were grateful for the article. It was one of the highlights of my 2015 season.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/dugout-advice-saves-hughes-career/

2. GW’s Prange working hard to shed labels (March 2, 2017, DYST Now)

I have to give credit where it is due. I am extremely thankful to Jennifer Rizzotti and Dan DiVeglio or else this piece certainly would not have been possible, or at least to the desired effect.

Both Dan and Jen allowed me into their practice at the Richmond Coliseum the day before their Atlantic 10 Championship quarterfinal game against Duquesne.

It is one thing just to do that, but it was a tremendous leap of faith, because both knew that I was a beat reporter covering the opposing team.

The easy thing to do would have been to say no, make me do the interview after the quarterfinal game, done a phone interview or meet at the team hotel lobby for the interview. None of these are what Dan and Jen did.

I was fortunate to meet both prior to the season in Richmond at Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball media day, again in January during the GW-Duquesne game in Pittsburgh and again at the end of January in Foggy Bottom.

Each time both were very accommodating to me and this time when the time of year is most stressful, they let me watch their entire practice, Jen talked to me a little after the middle of practice and I had an extended interview with Kelli Prange, the subject matter of this particular feature.

Kelli was a great interview, which made my job very easy, at least on paper.

I remember going back to the Best Western Hotel and that article was honestly the most stressed I was in writing all season.

When I finished the article it felt good and I knew it was my best piece of the season, not even close.

Kelli was nice enough to retweet and favorite it, Jen retweeted it by mentioning and promoting it and the George Washington Women’s Basketball Twitter account also retweeted and mentioned it.

When GW did lose to Duquesne, Jen and I had a nice moment after the postgame press conference where we thanked each other and we hugged.

I have nothing but respect for Jen and of course Dan. I consider both of them to be friends and know I will see both soon.

http://dystnow.com/2017/03/02/gws-prange-working-hard-shed-labels/

1. Pirates headed to wild card game after loss to Cardinals (September 30, 2015, Pittsburgh Sporting News)

This one just misses the cut but this piece easily was my biggest learning lesson. It was the day the St. Louis Cardinals won the National League Central at PNC Park.

Being my first year on the beat, I had always wondered what the experience would be like to cover a clubhouse celebration.

I had someone help me get quotes from the Pirates side and went over to the Cardinals clubhouse. There, reporters all had raincoats on, except for me that is.

All I had to defend myself was the stick of peppermint gum that I was chewing.

When we were let inside the clubhouse, it was loud and both beer and champagne was everywhere.

I quickly surveyed the scene and after we all talked to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, I was able to secure a 1-on-1 interview with Cardinals Senior Vice President and General Manager John Mozeliak and Mark Reynolds got him with a little bit of beer, but “Moz” hung in there and got the interview in.

The other person I wanted to interview was Adam Wainwright. Wainwright has been a leader of this Cardinals team and made what a lot of the team would consider the ultimate sacrifice.

His season was supposed to be over after getting an Achilles injury in late April but was able to battle back and return to the team in a relief capacity the rest of the season.

The day Wainwright came back was the day the Cardinals secured the division and I believed it to happen for a reason.

Upon asking Wainwright for an interview he looked me square in the eyes and offered the following.

“I will only let you interview me if I can pour this beer on your head,” Wainwright stated.

I processed the situation very quickly offering a stern “hit me” in return.

It was a pound of ice cold Budweiser and I was very fortunate to have that stick of gum in my mouth because I never shivered or flinched. At this point most of the coaching staff and at least five Cardinals players were watching.

After Wainwright finished pouring the beer on me, he granted me permission to start the interview. As I asked the first question, he started pouring another cold Budweiser on me. My voice of course went up but I still did not react.

Mind you my glasses were on at the time and my voice recorder was also in the line of fire. Risks I felt were worth taking.

I wanted a chance to experience what the celebration would be like, but I ended up way more involved than I ever would have thought.

A couple or so years before I was a beat reporter, I actually was a very big Wainwright fan. I loved his curveball and thought it was the best non-Kershaw curveball in the league. So to have someone I respected pour two full pounds of beer on me, was quite interesting to say the least.

After the interview, Wainwright gave me a handshake and a pat on the back while complimenting me on handling things so well.

I ended using one of Wainwright’s quotes in the article. Yes getting doused with two pounds of beer for one quote was well worth it in my book. I was more impressed I could actually hear any of the quotes to be honest.

Still I did learn a lesson in 2016 as the Nationals clinched when I was covering. I brought a raincoat, change of pants and shoes.

It was an experience that became way more interactive than I would have liked but one which I believe captured the moment very well for both teams.

http://www.pittsburghsportingnews.com/pirates-headed-to-wild-card-game-with-loss-to-cardinals/

My experience at Awesome Con 2017

One evening a couple of months ago, I found out about Awesome Con in Washington, DC and saw the guest list. I love the city and in my experience at local comic cons, plus my enjoyment of Washington DC as a whole, this was a no brainer.

So my friend Colston and I made the drive early Saturday morning for the busiest day and got there at 10:15, 15 minutes after the convention opened.

Awesome Con was very protective of its fans by offering one entrance citing security but this really was a double edged sword.

Saturday of any convention is always extremely crowded and Awesome Con is no different. Everyone is off work and ready to start their weekend. Having general admission have to wait 45 minutes after picking up badges just to escalator down to the exhibit hall is a tough ask.

That line wait was tiring for a lot of people. Many fans sat and slid to the next spot and were overheated. The line was organized, but it should not have to come to that.

I understand and respect the mindset behind being safe, especially with the events this past month or two, but paying $200 plus extra to be a VIP so you immediately go down an escalator is not fair to the general admission people who also paid to be there, especially for the first timers of the event. This was their first impression and it was not a favorable one.

While in line, I had a 12 PM photo op and I was close to the front of the line for the escalator at 11:30. It made me nervous about missing my photo op. Even with a map given in the official program, I still had to find everything and with so many people it would be longer than normal to navigate.

Fortunately when I found my bearings I took a quick pit stop to meet my first person on the day, Kel Mitchell.

Kel is most known for Keenan and Kel on Nickelodeon with Keenan Thompson, currently of SNL fame. Mitchell is currently on Game Shakers, which also is on Nickelodeon.

I did this because Kel’s line was rather short at the time and four people were ahead of me.

Kel had a nice selection of 8×10’s and even sold Good Burger hats for $10. I bought a combo getting a signed 8×10 and a picture for $60.

I already felt at home at the booth because Kel turned on music and was just nice to everyone, offering both smiles and handshakes to everyone.

When it was my turn, Kel first shook my hand and as he signed the photo I thanked him for the childhood memories he gave me. He could not have been more gracious.

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We then took two photos and of course he called me back because I forgot my photo, a rookie move.

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I then went back to the photo op area for my first set picture.

Everyone who knows me is aware that I am a WWE fan so it is no surprise that I ordered a Shinsuke Nakamura photo op.

I was in group one meaning my photo op would come after the VIP’s.

After a small wait it was my turn. Nakamura greeted me with a warm smile and handshake before we quickly posed. We then shook hands as he thanked me and I left to get my stuff. Well worth the $40.

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I had another photo op but that was not scheduled for another 20 minutes after I left the photo op era so I decided to go look for Rob Schamberger’s booth.

Rob paints magnificent masterpieces of man WWE wrestlers and I am a big fan of his work.

When I found the booth I immediately went to the autographed prints section and there were many to choose from.

I ended up going with Bayley print and a Miz & Maryse print. Bayley’s piece looked amazing and I had nothing in my collection signed by her and same with Miz & Maryse.

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The Miz in my opinion has been the best wrestler on the roster since the Raw after Wrestlemania 32 and his wife Maryse is a big reason for that as well.

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Each piece was $50 and that was money very well spent.

Throughout the process I got to interact with Rob and he could not have been nicer.

After the transaction was over, I asked for and was given a chance to get a picture with him.

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After this photo, which Rob called his shot how we would pose, an old school wrestling promo style picture, I went back to the photo op area. It was time to meet WWE’s Charlotte Flair.

The wait to line up was longer than it was for Nakamura but that was only because Stan Lee, the headlining guest for the con apparently slept in. He’s 94, that’s more than acceptable.

As a side effect his first of two signings that day was pushed back two hours and all of his fans waited and were clogging up the waiting area.

When they called us Charlotte photo op people we were placed in a line. The session was set to start at 12:45 but at 12:55 we were still standing there and were moved to accomodate the Stan Les photo op people.

After we were moved, the line started moving and in no time I was in.

Charlotte is always one of the friendliest WWE wrestlers and this experience, my first, was no different.

I walked up and quickly was greeted with a “what’s up buddy” and a handshake.

We posed for the photo and she gave me a smile and a handshake. Again well worth the $40.

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After the photo op, I saw her handler, former WWE referee Tim White. I have been to several WWE signings in the Pittsburgh area and Tim has practically been to all of them so he quickly recognized me. We shook hands and gave each other a pat on the back before I left the photo op area.

After this I power walked over to Charlotte’s autograph line. I already had a Nakamura autograph and did not need another.

All day I had lugged a plaque I purchased for $20 at WWE Shop. It was from Royal Rumble and Charlotte defeated Bayley there. The importance of this plaque was Royal Rumble served as the final pay-per-view Charlotte won as part of her 16-0 streak before dropping the title at Fastlane in March to Bayley, so this plaque was rather significant.

It was my main goal of the event to get this plaque signed. I could not get in line fast enough.

Though it took a while, I found the back of the line and fortunately someone held my place multiple times.

The first time was because you had to pay $40 for a wristband to secure an autograph from Charlotte or Nakamura.

After this we looked at the time and saw she had a panel scheduled and not much time for autographs since the photo ops went long.

Thankfully we were reassured that a wristband guaranteed an autograph so I would be good to go.

As I waited I saw Ellis Mbeh better known as “Shocked Undertaker Guy” and Malcolm a WWE YouTuber known as “Muscle Man Malcolm”. I had tweeted Ellis a couple of times and for a second time my spot was saved so I could meet them. We got a picture as well.

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Later on, I saw Malcolm (pictured left) parallel to me, further behind the Charlotre line which snaked over and told him he could come over by me if he would like. No one objected and we talked a bit more before we got to the front of the line.

Charlotte gave me another “what’s up buddy” when I came up there. She immediately noticed my plaque and asked which color I wanted, which was thoughtful. I told her to go with what she thought was best and that I trusted her judgment.

She took longer to sign it than I thought and when I read it back the inscription included a recognition of the PPV streak in addition to “Do It With Flair”, which I thought was amazing and very generous. She took her time on it which made it even better.

Then we shook hands and parted ways once again.

Please forgive me for the sticky note being at the bottom of the picture. I wanted to take a quick picture of the signing and a combination of excitement and having to wait longer for the sharpie and surface of the plaque to dry, I decided to take this quick shot.

image.jpegThe Charlotte signing used up my last $40 before I had to refuel my cash. This took quite a while as the ATM line by the celebrity area resembled a Black Friday line. This was actually a good thing as it allowed my Charlotte autograph to dry.

It was only after the ATM withdrawal that I could safely put the plaque away, that was a good 20-30 minutes after I got the autograph.

My next stop was to Jerry “The King” Lawler’s booth. For $30, I got a signed 8×10 and a picture.

The picture selection was nice and I settled on a Batman themed one. This picture is sideways but still very readable.

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Jerry was very generous with his time and actually did three pictures with me. The $30 was an extreme bargain.

After this I had to take care of a birthday present and got Sean Schemmel to sign a picture and got it inscribed to that person. I just got an autograph on this one.

I then hopped in the line next to Sean’s and that was Phil LaMarr.

Phil has been at Awesome Con each of the five years and though his line was short, went the slowest because he had genuine conversations with everyone and made sure they enjoyed their experience.

He offered a photo/autograph combo for $40 and I could not pay fast enough.

Phil does many voices and impressions but it is his Ollie Williams from Family Guy which always brings a smile to my face. There was an 8×10 of Ollie on the table and I could not grab it fast enough.

After a handshake and a quick conversation we talked Ollie and I did my best “It’s gon rain”.

Phil was more than game and said “It’s raining sideways” back to me and we both laughed.

image.jpegPhil then came around for a picture before we parted ways with a final handshake.

imageThe only thing I was unable to get that was on my list was a photo with Eliza Dushku. By the time I got to try and buy a photo op ticket for her, it was sold out. Eliza did not do photos at her table as just autographs for a $50 fee were listed.

I waited in line a little bit with others while we waited for her to come back from several different photo ops.

When we did get to her table, the line moved fairly quickly. She clutched a coffee in one hand and a Sharpie in the other.

I, like many others congratulated her on her engagement which was reported on Friday. She offered a smile and we covers see for around a minute before we parted ways.

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After buying photo protectors, Colston and I decided to leave. By that point it was 5:30 Saturday afternoon. I got a lot done at the con.

Instead of leaving the area though, we went out to dinner with a friend, George Washington SID Dan DiVeglio.

Of course none of us knew the area well so we went to the first restaurant we saw, Arcadiana. Needless to say my wallet with not happy with my purchase, but the combination of the New York strip steak and red potatoes were very delicious and well worth it.

Dan was fantastic company and we all traded stories and laughs over our meals, biscuits and the desert they gave us.

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Despite the hardship of just getting into Awesome Con, the event was well worth going to and I would definitely consider going again next year depending on the guest list.

Beyond fortunate

As far as I was concerned, there really was not a problem.
Initially it was thought that I had a gluten allergy, so I spent the first semester eating solely gluten free foods and there was little to no difference.
It got to the point that most of my time in college, I did three hour workouts each weekday in college just to build some muscle, gain some sorely needed confidence in myself and make sure I would not revert back to my old ways.
By my junior year, I was on top of my weight, had plenty of writing responsibilities and finally was on a solid footing, which some travel that allowed me to clear my mind.
The most important thing of my college experience was certainly not my degree. It was how I physically and mentally hit rock bottom but found my way back to good physical shape and my strongest mental shape.

Most unique interviews I have ever done

Part of being a journalist is doing some downright bizarre interviews. It could be because of the timing, location, signal or something else. Usually these interviews are bizarre because of circumstances beyond your control. When the individual or people you are trying to interview return your call, it normally is at the worst time, but if you are passionate about your craft, you will pick up, tell them you are fine and that yes, this is a perfect time for an interview.

Here are some of my favorite unique interviews.

Honorable mention: My first interview writing on deadline was for the Jewish Chronicle. I did not yet have a voice recorder and I was covering a high school basketball game. I got to interview the coach, Andy Pakler, and I have an orange Under Armour gym shirt (big no no) on and have a pen and paper. I am furiously writing trying to get what Andy is saying, which was downright impossible. Thank goodness my editor was there with me. You always remember your first interview and I definitely can agree with that.