Remembering Nick Peters today. I always will, really.
He taught me how to cover a team each day. He taught me about ball.
Nick died Monday at his home in Elk Grove, California, a suburb of Sacramento, after a long ilness. He was 75. And a one-of-a-kind mentor.
Nick covered the San Francisco Giants better than anyone, and for longer than anyone in the Bay Area -- almost half a century. He filed notebook stories and game stories on deadlines and tromped through airports and hotel lobbies every day, February into October, from 1961 through 2007. That's from before the Civil Right era through the internet era. From godforsaken, cold Candlestick Park through majestic, charming Pac Bell Park, AT&T Park or whatever company it is they call it now. From Willie Mays and Willie McCovey through Barry Bonds and Tim Lincecum.
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Nick was one of the few -- maybe the only one -- who took no crap from the pretentious, contentious Bonds. So it followed that Nick was the one who would get all the one-on-ones with the home-run hero. The rest of the Bay Area and national writers would stand a few feet away in wonder and awe.
When Nick was so well on his way to entering the writers' wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame I was just a new, know-nothing beat writer covering the Oakland Athletics. It was undeserved honor just being on the same staff at the Sacramento Bee.
How good was Nick?
One one of my first couple seasons in sports writing, maybe 1999 or 2000, I was the traveling beat writer for the Bee covering the A's while Nick was, of course, exquisitely covering the Giants. In the middle of the season, Nick didn't propose as much as mandate that he and I swap concurrent trips.
"Just to change it up a little bit, break the monotony," he told me.
Of course, I agreed. Who was I to disagree with Nick Peters? The Bee's editors were cool with it. And besides, I just wanted to cover ball, wherever and whomever it was. Plus, I liked manager Dusty Baker from my occasional times covering the Giants when the A's may have been off and Nick deserved a day of not having to drive 100 miles from each way from Elk Grove to San Francisco and back for one of 162 regular-season games.
So we swapped. Nick covered the A's that week in Chicago and New York, the two greatest road cities on any baseball beat.
I got the Giants in St. Louis and Houston. In the middle of July. It had to have been 200 degrees in each city when I was there. During one Giants game on that trip, giant bugs reveling in the stifling heat and humidity swarmed Busch Stadium so prodigiously it looked like it was snowing.
Is that a Hall-of-Fame move, or what?
This is from columnist Marcos Breton, our former colleague at The Bee who wrote this great tribune to Nick today:
"Peters earned that respect by being a straight shooter. He never sugarcoated how the Giants were playing, which was often quite dismal during the 1970s and ’80s. But Peters always respected the game and the men who devoted their lives to it.
' Nick was always a pleasure to talk to on any subject,' Baker (said). 'The things that stood out after his illness was how much he was respected by his peers.'
"Peters was bestowed the J.G. Taylor Spink Award in 2009. It is the highest honor given to a baseball writer and earned him entry into the writers’ wing of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"When he went to Cooperstown, N.Y., to receive the honor from the Hall, Peters smiled broadly the entire day in a stylish suit. With his trademark silver beard and hair, he cut a distinguished figure that day – one his family and friends remember as the pinnacle of his life’s work."
Thank you, Nick. Thank you and your charming wife Lise for having me over to your condominium in Scottsdale, Arizona, for many spring-training nights that enlightened and enriched me more than they ever knew. Thank you teaching an overarching tenet of fair, honest beat writing that has served me well for 17 years -- and more imprortant made Nick Peters universally respected and admired for 75.
"You know you are really doing your job," Nick used to tell me, "if the team you cover is sometimes mad at you."