If I ever wrote a book – and please don’t hold me to it – I would title it, “The Last One To Leave.”
Top priority for every sports writer hammering toward another deadline is that he or she stays until the end. Talk to the coaches and athletes afterward, assemble your notes, think for about 30 seconds and make that story sing like a bluebird at dawn.
And by the time you’ve pressed the button and filed, you find yourself alone or with a few of your peers – in frigid press boxes, drafty arenas and press rooms that emptied out long before you punched out the perfect final word.
I was notorious for closing any room labeled “working media.” Ask Lawrence Fan, the eternal sports information director for San Jose State. Anxious to get home after a long day, he’d stare at me and simply say, “While we’re still young, Ron.”
I’d finally pack my bag and leave: From cavernous Rupp Arena, majestic Pebble Beach, the Superdome in New Orleans, Augusta National, AT&T Park, the Coliseum, Strawberry Canyon at Cal, Kezar Pavilion, the Farm at Stanford, the Rose Bowl, Candlestick Park, the Olympic Club and nearly every gym and stadium in the Stanislaus District. I’ve sweet-talked impatient janitors for an extra 15 minutes, climbed over locked gates, plodded carefully down darkened stairways and, on a few occasions, literally turned out the lights.
This weekend marks my exit from The Bee. I’ve worked here for 40 years and 18 days and it feels like three months. Someone once said a key to professional happiness is to find something you’re good at, and get paid for it. I’m not sure of the former but I’m thankful for the latter. And I’m especially grateful to you for putting up with me for so long.
I probably didn’t have a choice about The Bee. I was destined to land at 14th and H. When I was 3 and living on a dairy near the Stanislaus River, I was determined to see my godmother Angie, a student at College of the Pacific. So I jumped on my tricycle, pedaled down the dirt path and onto the soft shoulder of Highway 99.
I should have become a statistic that day, but I somehow crossed the bridge before I was picked up by police. When asked to smile for a photograph, I said, “How? Like Liberace?”
My adventure made Page A-1 of what must have been a slow news day at The Bee. But from that time, my future was pre-ordained.
Not long after I was hired, I hustled to Del Webb (now Thurman) Field for a look at a low-slung speedster who kicked up dust on the basepaths every night. He stretched doubles into triples and singles into outs. Taking your eyes off him was impossible.
40 Years Ron Agostini worked for The Bee
That prospect skewed my judgment for several years. I thought all future big-leaguers were supposed to be as audacious as Rickey Henderson. I eventually found out there was only one.
In those years, my weekend routine was thus: A high school football game on Friday night, followed by a Cal or Stanford game on Saturday afternoon, and maybe a 49er or Raider game on Sunday. It was the closest thing to newspaper heaven. In November of 1982, I was there for The Play, Cal’s wacky romp through the Stanford Band and into immortality. My fingers froze over the keys as I tried to make sense of it.
The play will be remembered, I wrote, as long as the ball remains pointed at both ends. It was the best I could do that night.
Downey was stuck in a major jam a few years later against Oakdale. Backed up to their own goal line with less than a minute left, the Knights ran the “Reggie Special,” a gadget play featuring tailback Reggie Jones that may or may not have been legal. Ninety-eight yards later, “Reggie Special” t-shirts went on sale.
In 2002 at Anaheim, the Giants led 5-0 over the Angels and stood eight outs away from a World Series title. “The Giants’ night of deliverance after 48 years is here,” I tapped. Those words never saw the light of day after a tsunami of Thunder Sticks, the Rally Monkey and, one night later, doom. I always felt the Giants’ success a decade later was born that night.
The coaches, athletes and the characters zoomed by in a virtual blur: Stan Pavko, Chuck Hughes, Jim Hanny, Bill Moorad, Dick Windemuth, Don Lanphear, Denny Aye, Mike Glines, Pete Whisenant, Trent Merzon, Jerry Streeter, Jim Bowen, Dan Gonsalves, Sam Young, Tom Moore and Bob Piccinini. They and others like them shaped the local sports scene.
Easily the biggest change in athletics during my tenure was Title IX, the federal law mandating gender equity. It’s no coincidence that Modesto’s most accomplished athletes over the last three decades are women: Suzy Powell, Tisha Venturini, Erin Cafaro and, from Turlock, Ali Cox. They are children of Title IX.
Regrets? As Sinatra sang, I’ve had a few. The murder of former Bee clerk Chandra Levy haunts me still. The end of the Modesto Relays, the event that sent the city’s dateline worldwide for over 60 years, was a personal disappointment. The earthshaking changes in the media business remain jarring.
But change is a constant. I began with a Royal typewriter and carbon paper. I’ll finish with videos, Twitter and Facebook Live. I can’t wait to see what’s next in our new digital universe.
I was lucky to have been granted such a panoramic view. As I sit on the corner of Melancholy and Wistful, the memories flash by in kaleidoscopic wonder: Tiger Woods’ U.S. Open win by 15 strokes at Pebble in 2000, Stanislaus State’s basketball trip to the NCAA Division III Final Four in 1982, Modesto Junior College’s shutdown defense of 1980 and its dominance of the Valley Conference in 2016, Derek Jeter’s sleight of hand flip in 2001, Modesto Christian’s epic march to the 2001 state final, Columbia College’s improbable state title in ’93, Brandi Chastain’s penalty kick in ’99 and Oakdale’s come-from-behind win over Inderkum for the section title in 2014.
Stars like Ray Lankford, Joey Rassett, Dot Jones, Chuck Hayes, Carrie Neugebauer, Kevin Wentworth, Zack Quaccia, Jeff Burda, the Saavedra boys, the Arnold girls and the Warwick twins made my work easy. Then again, anyone who stepped into the arena was deserving of respect.
How important was The Bee to me, you ask? I met Laura, my wife of nearly 28 years, there. We raised Shelley, a true blue UCLA Bruin. Retirement, in whatever form it takes, will not be boring.
I pass the baton to Joe Cortez and James Burns, two consummate pros. I go out the door with longtime friends Jeff Jardine and Nan Austin, and I’m proud to be in their company. This time, I won’t leave alone.
To everyone I’ve worked alongside over the years and those who allowed me into their lives if only for a few minutes, I won’t forget you. An old house ad once described my role as “tap dancing for you each morning.” Slow feet aside, it was an honor.
Thank you for one sweet ride.