“You’re going from L.A. to Baltimore. Boooyyyy, good luck to you.”
I’ve heard that sentiment more than a few times since I started discreetly telling folks that I would be leaving my job covering the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps the most well-known brand in American sports, to write about my hometown.
But those words hit a little differently coming from LeBron James.
On my last day of work at my last job, James — whom I covered for five seasons of roller-coaster highs and lows — became the latest to suggest I was making a head-scratching decision, wondering why I would leave the temperate, sunny shores of Southern California for the mid-Atlantic. What could I possibly be seeking that I couldn’t get from rubbing elbows with A-listers sitting courtside at Lakers games?
Here’s why I’m here, back in Maryland after 13 years as a new sports columnist with The Baltimore Banner: to rediscover and reconnect with the place I grew up and learned to love sports. To tell stories about the beloved teams of my childhood, yes, but also to hold the people who run them accountable to one of the most passionate, full-throated fan bases I know. To use the tools and lessons I’ve learned in journalism covering one of the biggest sports brands to stir things up back on the East Coast.
As much as anyone, LeBron should understand the irresistible urge to come home.
Yes, I’m going to miss my beachy Santa Monica apartment. But across a decade and change in sports media — a nomadic path that led me west until I stood on the edge of the Pacific Ocean — I’ve found what I actually love about sports has little to do with the spotlight.
I’m a native Marylander, and Baltimore sports are my birthright. I grew up in an era when Howard County Youth Program baseball teams didn’t issue Cal Ripken’s No. 8, lest would-be ballplayers whip themselves into a frenzy fighting for it. As a child, I could imagine no greater villain than Jeffrey Maier, who heartlessly stole a catch from Tony Tarasco that inept umpires would call a home run.
Long before I ever set foot in an NBA arena, I would shoot hoops in my driveway, casting myself as Juan Dixon and Steve Blake. As the region quickly adopted the wildly successful Ravens, the kids in my neighborhood would play backyard football as one of the three Lewises: Jamal, Jermaine or Ray. High school weekday nights were a good time to pile in the car and head out to the ballpark for $7 tickets in the upper reserves, before inevitably snaking our way down to the lower decks as Camden Yards started to empty out.
As a journalist, you develop calluses for out-and-out fandom, pushing away childhood affinities and putting down the pom-poms. But you still search for the deep wells of feeling that, somehow, sports allow us to access.
My U-turn back East is all about people. Not the athletes who wear the jerseys, or the gazillionaires who shell out the salaries — but the fans in the stands.
There’s plenty to talk about, and you’d best believe that this space will be dedicated to dishing about the Orioles’ lease with Camden Yards and the tsunami of NIL money that is washing over the college sports landscape. Lamar Jackson is sticking around town? Great, so am I, and I’m looking forward to writing a lot about him now that he’ll be wreaking havoc on the field instead of off it.
We’re going to be talking about the wins and losses, sure, but also the up-and-comers — from pros, colleges and high schools. We’re going to be talking about how much access fans get to the sports they love, from the prices of tickets to how games are (or aren’t) shown on TV or made available for streaming online. The Banner, a community-driven nonprofit outfit, has a mission that perfectly aligns with my own: Do good for the people where you live.
I want to connect with Baltimore — a city that I strongly identified as my hometown because of its sports teams. My family is here. My Mt. Hebron High classmates. My fellow Terps. When the Catonsville church where I grew up lets out, many of the faithful are hurrying to their other sacred places at the games downtown.
For years, I’ve been part of the small, misshapen tribe of Maryland expats, watching Ravens games Sunday morning at far-flung L.A. bars, bringing along our personal stashes of Old Bay. I can’t wait to be in the thick of tailgates, the smell of pit beef sandwiches and Natty Boh wafting in the air. I’ve already been back to Camden Yards, and I’m expecting those rows of seats to fill in as the weather warms to match one of the hottest teams in baseball.
This is where I’m from, and more than rooting for any team, I’m rooting for Baltimore. I’m rooting for Maryland. I’m rooting for sports to bind us, to inspire us, to get us talking at the bar stools and water coolers. L.A. glitz and glamor may be for some people — it’s not what draws me back to the court or the field.
Passion does. Community does. And, for me, there’s only one place I’m going to be able to combine those with all I’ve learned so far in my career.