Breaking in a shiny new toy at the absolute best time of the year

Published 12:22 pm Friday, March 19, 2021

By Rick Cleveland

Mississippi Today

These are the first words I have typed on my shiny new laptop, and I am pretty pumped about it. It arrives, after all, at my favorite time of the sporting year.

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Spring is here and with it college baseball and soon the Final Four. They will play 16 games of March Madness on TV today. If I want, I can watch several of those games on this shiny new laptop, replete with a sharp picture and bright colors. It does not even resemble the manual Underwood typewriter on which I typed my first game stories all those years ago. My late daddy, who bequeathed me that Underwood, would be greatly amazed.

He would be excited, too. After all, the Masters is just around the corner, along with Major League Baseball. Our own golf courses are greening. Flowers are blooming. Every indication is we might be nearing the end of this god-awful pandemic that has so changed the way we play — and watch — sports.

But before I wax on about the future on this shiny new computer, I must first pay homage to the one that is retiring and bears the scars of 10 years of loyal service. You can scarcely read the letters on her keys. Indeed, she’d probably still be with me if I hadn’t pounded those keys so hard. When you learned to type on an Underwood manual, the adjustment to sensitive, 21st century keyboards apparently takes longer than a lifetime.

My retiring computer was dependable almost to the end. She endured through three jobs, 10 March Madnesses and more deadlines than either of us care to remember. She couldn’t have enjoyed the deadlines any more than I did. You see, the less time I have to write, the harder and more furiously I type. Go figure.

And still, I had to replace her keyboard only once.

She endured. She was a plugger. An old coach would describe her as solid and dependable, a team player. She endured Ole Miss winning the Sugar Bowl on deadline. She endured two NCAA Women’s Final Fours on deadline, several College World Series and nine Egg Bowls. She endured being lost in the Atlanta airport. Twice. She made it through a working, golf vacation in Ireland. I typed on that old computer in the Crow’s Nest at Augusta National, in a Tuscan villa, and at 30,000-feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

She outlasted three football coaches each at Mississippi State and Ole Miss and four at Southern Miss. Rick Comegy was the Jackson State football coach when I put her into service. Deion Sanders is the JSU coach as I take her out. There were three in between, five total.

As I mentioned, I began typing on a creaky, old Underwood that I still have in my attic. I was 13 and not quite five feet tall. I looked more like eight or nine. But I wanted to cover games for my hometown newspaper and the editors said I would need to learn to type. So I took a typing class at the university, and you should have seen the looks I got when I walked in that classroom.

I can tell you, for certain, it was a long climb to the press box with a manual typewriter before press boxes had elevators. The evolution of how sports writers type and send their stories has gone through several phases since. We used to type our stories and then read them over the telephone to somebody back on the copy desk. Often, in those early days, my stories thankfully were edited as I talked.

Then came something called telecopiers, which transmitted the printed pages back to the office, often in blurry, almost unreadable condition. Then, there were these things called portabubbles, sort of a precursor to today’s computers. Those early portabubbles were sensitive to loud noise. Once, during a rowdy Alcorn-Mississippi State basketball game at Biloxi, my portabubble began spitting gibberish every time the crowd went crazy, which was about every 30 seconds in those Davey Whitney days. I lifted that damnable thing above my head and was about to heave all 25 pounds of it to mid-court when Orley Hood, bless his soul, snatched it out of my hands, thus saving my job and probably keeping me out of jail.

“You’ll thank me later, Pards,” Orley said.

And so now, on my shiny new laptop I could almost throw like a frisbee, I am. Thanks, Pards.