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click to enlarge From our 2013 cover story, "Hometown Hero": Neil Walker, at bat (left); Walker signs a ball for fan Bradyn Roberts.
From our 2013 cover story, "Hometown Hero": Neil Walker, at bat (left); Walker signs a ball for fan Bradyn Roberts.

This month marks the 25th Anniversary of City Paper and elsewhere in this issue I wrote about some of the news stories we’ve written over the years. And while CP’s sports page is a new creation, you can’t have a paper in Pittsburgh without doing some sports coverage. Here’s a list of some of my favorite sports stories from over the years.

“No Yoi in Mudville,” 2007: This is actually one of my favorite CP stories ever, mainly because it was written by Myron Cope three months before his death. Cope was a Steelers guy, but he called us because he wanted to write an opus detailing his frustration with the then-hopeless Pittsburgh Pirates. The brilliant piece begins with a nearly 4,000-word “conversation” between Pirates General Manager Dave Littlefield and then-manager Jim Tracy. That’s followed up by another 2,400 words by Myron breaking it all down: “Baseball has been offered at intervals between Jumbotron scoreboard showings of the pierogies tumbling through our burgh.” For any Pittsburgh Sports fan, it’s pure heaven.

“I Know Why the Caged Man Swings,” 2000: Before I was a co-worker of Bill O’Driscoll’s, I was a fan of this story even though I worked for the competition at the time. Also, I paid close attention to it because we both wrote on the same topic in the same year. It took me years to admit it, but Bill’s was better than mine (although I think highly of mine, as well). MMA was illegal in a lot of states, but a group of local dedicated fighters were training and driving to places like West Virginia and Indiana for fights. It was a brutally elegant piece.

“Hometown Hero: For Neil Walker, Pirates Success is Extra Special,” 2013: This is a solid piece of sports storytelling, but the story behind the story makes it even better. In 2013, the Pirates were preparing to head to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. We decided to do a special issue. In recent years, I have done most of the sports coverage, but a torn Achilles tendon kept me on the shelf, so I sent Lauren Daley, a casual fan but top-notch journalist, to do the story. I told her everyone was friendly and if she needed help to just ask. So, at a press conference honoring Bill Mazeroski before the game, Daley turned to the young man next to her and asked, “Do you know where I can find Neil Walker?” And if you haven’t guessed already, she was talking to Neil Walker.

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