Sam Mellinger today is the Kansas City Star’s premier sports columnist. He had to step into some major shoes with the departure of award-winning columnists Joe Posnanski and flame-thrower Jason Whitlock.
It is a credit to his talent and hard work that he has flourished in his key role with the McClatchy-owned newspaper. We tossed some questions at the recently married scribe, and appreciate his candor and interesting answers.
Name: Sam Mellinger
Title: Sports Columnist, Kansas City Star
How long have you been in your current position?
Two years, almost exactly.
How did you get into your chosen field?
Lots of work and lots of luck. Started at the small daily where I grew up (Lawrence) the day after I got my drivers license. Was incredibly lucky to know exactly what I wanted to do when I was really young, and I’ve been working toward it ever since.
Hired out of college as an entry level high schools reporter. Did that for about five years, then covered baseball for about five years, and now the column since 2010.
Has your chosen field changed over the years?
Um, yes. Drastically. There are fewer of us. Or there are many more of us. Depends entirely on your perspective, which is a good indication of how different this is. Deadlines are hazy now. As I type this, I’m off to do a video for our website after working on a blog post this morning and tweeting in between. Tomorrow, I’ll write an actual column.
For the most part, the changes have made my job even better — though in full disclosure, it’s hard to imagine the job any other way. There’s more interaction with readers, more opportunity to have conversations, better access than ever to information. There’s also more stuff out there, which sometimes is a challenge, but if you’re good enough and work hard enough and get lucky enough…you get noticed.
Marital Status (Children?):
Just got married a few weeks ago. She’s still happy. I think.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? Least rewarding?
The best part is just getting it right. Not in terms of spelling names correctly and getting facts right — though that’s obviously critical — but in terms of telling someone’s story the right way, or clearly articulating a point you feel strongly about and knowing that because of this absurd job I have people will see it and react to it. It’s absolutely fantastic. I’ve said this before, but if I called this my dream job, it would be dishonest because that would imply I ever thought I could even dream about it.
The least rewarding part is hearing personal and ignorant attacks from readers. Disagreement is part of the gig, and it’s nearly always interesting and fun. I could just do without the occasional personal threat or attack that comes along with it. Part of the job, though.
Did you ever consider another career?
Not since “astronaut.” I was about 14 when I knew this is what I wanted to do. The second day I had my drivers license (the first day I spent trying to impress my girlfriend…same girl, actually, who I married a few weeks ago) I drove to the daily paper in my hometown and started working. It was a year or so later that they actually started paying me.
Do you have a mentor?
I don’t know about mentor, but I have a million people I look up to and try to learn from for a wide range of reasons. The ones I’ve learned the most from personally, through friendships or conversations, include Joe Posnanski, Jason Whitlock, Jason King, Mike Fannin, Wright Thompson, Jeff Passan, Randy Covitz, Bob Dutton, Blair Kerkhoff, Mike DeArmond, Bill Plaschke, Bernie Miklasz, Vahe Gregorian and John Canzano.
Writers I’ve learned a ton from just reading or watching include Liz Merrill, Gregg Doyel, Bill Plaschke, Dan LeBatard, Dan Wetzel, Adrian Wojnarowski, Michael Rosenberg, Jerry Brewer, Tim Brown, John Lowe, Chris Jones, Charles Pierce, Tom Junod, Bob Ryan, Sally Jenkins, Michael Wilbon, I could really do this all day.
What is the strangest thing you have come across in your job?
I once got an e-mail from a very nice man who sent a picture of his daughter and her phone number, asked that I please call her. About two weeks later, I wrote something he apparently didn’t like, because he e-mailed back and told me to lose the number.
Bachelor’s in journalism from Kansas.
What is your favorite thing to do in Kansas City?
Eat. Aside from Chicago and New York, I think this is the best eating town in the country. I have a lot of friends here, too, and family. This is home.
What do you do in your free time?
Hobbies? Katie, my new wife, is really the center of it. She has been so important to me in so many ways, and for such a long period of time. I’m lucky beyond reason. Try to read for pleasure, try to work out, try to see friends as much as possible, try to walk my dog every day.
“People might be surprised to know that you …”
…get called a hater and homer for all three local colleges, and roughly the same rate. Or that I once won a math contest when I was in fifth grade. Actually, that one shocks me. The stupid kids I was competing against should be ashamed.
What is your favorite TV show?
I don’t watch a ton outside of games, but I’d probably say either 60 Minutes or Parks and Rec.
Who do you follow on Twitter?
Probably the ones you’d expect: a mix of friends, media folk, athletes, and information sources. My favorites might be ones like HumbleBrag and TweetsBeCrazy that make fun of the whole thing.
Twitter is, obviously, an essential part of my job that I fortunately really like.
Who is the most interesting person you have interviewed or met?
Mark Crooks, a four-time cancer survivor (the first was as a child) who wrote a book on near-death experiences he put himself through on purpose. Mark was on the cutting edge of health and exercise before quitting his job as a professor to become a carpenter and handyman because he liked working with his hands and was tired of the politics of an office job.
Mark jumped off the Paseo Bridge, scaled a downtown office building, swam from Kansas City to St Louis, drove a station wagon into a lake, all for research. Just a fascinating guy who did exactly what he wanted in life, did it damn well, and left an impact on a lot of people.
I maybe should’ve mentioned this earlier, but one of the absolute best parts of this job is the remarkable people you’re able to meet.