Working Next to Burwell

When I arrived at The Winter Warmup last January, I was a little anxious. Nervous wouldn’t begin to describe covering your first media event, especially something as big as the Warmup, which provides fans with a first look at their team in the New Year. I was a commentary/editorial writer, and for this particular assignment, I wanted to do a mixture of reporting and providing my usual opinionated position. There were two rooms for the media, and the interview room was staged in the middle. A pair of bloggers, Matt Whitener and Kevin Reynolds, were in the smaller room and we weren’t alone. Rene Knott’s camera team from KSDK was located in there with us and so was a veteran columnist, Bryan Burwell. The longtime writer for places such as USA Today and The New York Times as well as Real Sports at HBO was seated next to me, a jumble of cords and few tablets separating our stations. For some reason, when I started to write, and I looked over at Burwell, I felt a sense of calm and that I was okay to let it rip and just do the job.

This wasn’t a normal feeling. Usually when a younger writer is saddled up to an older wolf, the reactions can be varied. Some reporters at the warmup didn’t want to interact much or they simply had to focus on their work. A few were interested in mixing it up and telling stories. Writers are a tricky breed to spend time around. We all hunt for the perfect quote and the sharpest story. We are hunters whether we like it or not. It’s in our blood. Especially for the pair of bloggers and myself, because we are there on our own time and dime to pull stories for our readers. We are doing it for the love of the game. Our title of “blogger” is a polarizing term in today’s journalistic environment. Print writers either look down on us, feel contempt for us, quietly applaud us, don’t mind us or just shrug their shoulders. It’s part of the new age of digital media slowly chopping down the newspaper. The transformation won’t happen without punches being thrown, even if they are of the vocal nature. It’s normal when change occurs. You either react or resist.

I didn’t get to speak with Burwell much. I was too busy pounding out columns and watching guys like him and Derrick Goold work. That is what you do if you are a rookie at this event. While I have been writing about sports for over 12 years, this was my first sanctioned media event so I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to spy on some of the vets. Like a rookie swinger eyeing a veteran slugger during batting practice, I looked for tricks, secrets and methods while I shaped my own. I watched Burwell a lot. Unlike other reporters, he didn’t climb on top of others during a Q&A with the players. He seemed to know he was going to get a chance to ask a question and was patient. Inside the room between interviews, ten minutes didn’t pass without a huge knowing chuckle from Burwell. He liked to laugh and didn’t feel the need to tone it down. Some people come to public events and check part of their personalities at the door. Burwell didn’t do that at all. I remember talking to him years before during my time on the Manual Scoreboard and nearly 10 years later, his attitude hadn’t changed. He was the same guy.

The thing I remember the most about Burwell was the one time I did talk to him, he listened and looked right at me. He didn’t remember me from the scoreboard or know my name, but as soon as I asked him something, he was centered on me. For a young writer like myself, that was the top of the mountain. That was Bryan Burwell. The rumors I heard and the stories about his dedication to every single person who came into his path were true. Sometimes, the legend isn’t far fetched. He was one of the good guys and that moment from the Winter Warmup was the first thing I thought about when Burwell passed away on December 4th at the age of 59. That time that Bryan gave me 100 percent of his focus and attention while he put together a piece on Instant Replay. Bryan was a pro. He was there to write one story and spent three days putting it together. I was firing off pieces on Daniel Decalso, Mark Ellis, Matt Holliday and any other person who gave me a couple quotes. Burwell had a master plan and he was cool and courteous at the same time. Those things can’t be taken for granted in this business.

59 years isn’t enough for anybody, especially a grand soul like Burwell. I’ll never forget sharing a room with him that weekend. Sometimes you learn so much with only a little interaction rather than loads of discussion. With a guy like Burwell, all you had to do as a writer or common person was open up your heart and he would find you.

The 2015 Winter Warmup takes place at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in St. Louis, MO from January 17th through the 19th. Buy your tickets right here.

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