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A whole different ballgame for the displaced sportswriter

A sight not apt to be seen again soon: Reporters crowded around an athlete in the locker room.
A sight not apt to be seen again soon: Reporters crowded around an athlete in the locker room.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

There’s a signature sound to a postgame press box, the tap-tap-tapping of multiple keyboards telling not just the story of a game but of many deadlines. The steady hum of the media is routinely interrupted, from overhead televisions at Gillette Stadium to next-door press conferences at TD Garden, from the shuffle of stat sheets or interview transcripts being delivered by team officials to the punctuated conversations of colleagues divvying up the night’s story lines.

When the cacophony reaches a certain pitch because those writers not on deadline forget about the ones who are, there’s the occasional cry of “Working!,” the universal journalist code for “Hey, you might be finished but I’m not. So shut up or take it elsewhere!” It usually works.

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Trust me on this one: No such code word exists to quiet a crowded house.

After 10-plus weeks of moving from room to room in a home now populated by three generations of my family, after various days hiding in an upstairs bedroom or, as spring began arriving, sitting on the back-yard deck, my wholly unscientific experiment has proven as much. Yet for any challenge in finding a suitable workspace during the pandemic (a challenge that makes me different from exactly no one else), the real hurdle is not so much where to write, but what to write about.

As in: How do you continue to cover sports when no sports are being played?

The sports pause caused by COVID-19 is about to cross into its third month, but now, as we inch toward summer, we are beginning to take our first small steps into its return. Sunday’s enjoyable golf foursome of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady gave us a delicious taste of what we’ve missed (as well as raising an impressive amount of money for COVID-19 relief), and the return of sports like the German Bundesliga, NASCAR, UFC, and Korean baseball have begun to show us what live sports in the time of pandemic might look like.

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How we, as journalists, will cover these events remains to be seen, with parameters for the upcoming return of the PGA Tour (June 11 at Colonial in Texas) just the precursor for the pending return of MLB, the NBA and NHL, a combination of which will surely inform what the NFL plans to do come fall. States are beginning to ease restrictions on team and school training facilities, even those most affected by COVID-19 deaths and infections, and small, focused team practices are evolving into shape.

Whatever it is, we’ll take it.

The absence of live game action has tested every inch of our creative minds. So how do we do it?

Since nearly every one of my friends and family members have asked how I come up with story ideas when no games are actually being played, it got me to thinking about my answers. For me, the options run the gamut. As these pages have shown, there’s the mining of personal history (George Carlin, anyone?), or taking a trip through the city’s sports history (meet Barbara Stevens, Hall of Fame coach), or reacting to news of the day (rest in peace, Don Shula), or writing off of television (the most entertaining NFL draft I can remember). My colleague Dan Shaughnessy has taken some wildly entertaining trips through the wayback machine, and the Globe’s staff across the board has come up with so many inventive ideas.

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What will the view from the press box look like when this is all done?
What will the view from the press box look like when this is all done?John Tlumacki

For me, grateful doesn’t even begin to cover the ability to do all of it, to place phone calls, send emails, send DMs or texts, and connect to a laptop to bring it to life. And grateful doesn’t begin to encompass all the noise that surrounds it, the inclusion of my 83-year-old dad at one end, him discovering the magic of cord-cutting streaming television (History Channel every day, a nightly “Sopranos” re-watch with my husband), and a high school freshman daughter at the other, Zoom meetings and FaceTime homework calls keeping her as stable as humanly possible in the emotional roller coaster world of a teenager.

Grateful for the biweekly Irish dance classes my daughter and I share, me teaching and her dancing in our basement space, the tiny Zoom screens of fellow dancers and teachers providing both reminders of a more normal past and hope for a more normal future. Grateful for an adult niece who is thick in our midst and a grown son and his fiancée living a few hours away, all of whom are healthy and safe.

Perfecting the balance is real, and not just in mostly failed attempts to keep the fridge stocked while the kitchen’s in overdrive, but in respecting each other’s spaces (not to mention feelings), in allaying each other’s fears, in following guidelines for wearing masks and washing hands, in living together without losing patience with each other.

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Through it all, I write.

Like the rest of the work world that quickly moved to work-at-home mode in this time of pandemic, journalists are no different. Truthfully, for some of us, this isn’t that distant from our regular routine. But man, do we miss the games, miss the stakes, miss the action and the interviews, all the things that go on in those frenzied postgame hours, when the rush of making deadline is one of the best highs this job provides.

These days, it’s more about rising early when the house it at its calmest, when the greatest distraction comes from a cat who literally climbs the screen door looking to get outside, only to run away at the first sound of the door actually opening. These days, that counts as action.


Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.