VIERA, Fla. -- Life on the baseball beat is a unique experience, one that really isn't replicated in other sports. Think about it, you cover six weeks of spring training, 162 regular-season games and sometimes another month of the postseason. (No, not in the Nationals' case, but I did use to cover the playoffs and World Series every October for The Washington Times.)
In one respect, you spend all those long days and nights on the road, in press boxes and in hotels, on your own. You're away from family members. You book your own flights, your own accommodations. And yet, you're really never on your own, because you're part of another family: the family of fellow beat writers. It's an interesting relationship, because we do compete with each other for news, but we also become close friends and spend countless hours together.
So when one member of the group leaves and another arrives, it makes for a bittersweet moment, and today we're experiencing one of those.
Chico Harlan, who has covered the Nats for The Washington Post since May 2008, is on his last day on the beat. He departs Viera tomorrow, heads back to D.C. for a little while and then in a few months heads off on a truly grand adventure. He'll be the Post's new East Asia correspondent, based out of Tokyo.
I had never met Chico prior to his arrival in D.C., but I immediately knew we'd forge a strong relationship once I learned of his background. Turns out we were both born in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh. Now, we never actually crossed paths there. My family moved west to Arizona several years before Chico was even born. But as anyone with ties to Western Pennsylvania can attest, the bond between fellow natives runs deep, no matter how far removed from the area you become.
More than the geographic ties, though, Chico and I were able to develop a strong friendship because of our shared experiences on the beat. When Daniel Cabrera blew us off following one of his countless wretched performances early last season, we shared the same disgust. When the Nats and Braves refused to let 2009 come to end until they played one more 15-inning marathon on the final day of the season, we shared the same panic that comes from wondering if we were still going to make our flight home. When Joel Hanrahan blew a save or Ryan Zimmerman slugged a walk-off homer, we shared that momentary feeling only a sportswriter understands: The game stories we had all ready to go suddenly needed to be re-written from the top and still filed to our editors within five minutes.
I've met plenty of sportswriters during my time. I've met few who have the genuine appreciation for great writing -- and more importantly, the ability to consistently churn out that kind of fantastic prose -- as Chico. I know he may not fit the mold of the classic sportswriter (and he'd be the first to admit it) but he respected the job and did the best he could to become good at it. Remember his name, because some day when he's a bestselling author or award-winning magazine writer, you'll remember you knew him back when he was a mere baseball scribe. And it will happen, trust me.
Chico's departure opens the door for a new face in the Nats beat writer corps, Adam Kilgore, and I can't think of anyone I'd rather welcome to the club. I've known Adam since he began as an intern at the Post in 2006 and have maintained a friendship with him in the 3 1/2 years since, both while he was in Washington and then later in Boston.
Like Chico, and like Barry Svrluga (one of the best sportswriters in the country and also a good friend) before him, Adam will put his own stamp on the Nats beat. He's already hit the ground running, posting video segments, blog updates and a steady stream of tweets in his first 24 hours in Viera. The boy came to play, and we'll all be better off for it. He'll do fantastic work, just as long as he avoids any hot-dog eating contests. (Sorry, Adam, I had to. But I promise that's the only time I'll mention it in print.)
So, citizens of NatsTown, please welcome Adam with open arms, and please wish Chico well in his new endeavors. On this day, they both deserve our praise.