BASSETTI Retired sportswriter looks back with laughs


Fresh from a night’s stay in the hospital with five sticky EKG patches still clinging to my chest hair, two months removed from a DCR (Dacryocystorhinostomy), two years after back-to-back corneal transplants and several years after stent surgery and pacemaker implant, I feel fortunate.

Why?

Because I’m still here, while The Vindicator takes its final breaths after a 150-year existence.

As a former sports department employee, it hurts that the paper will swallow the poison pill, mostly due to a bleak economic picture for newspapers, which have suffered because of the proliferation of media through the internet and related tools.

In recent farewell articles by Vindicator employees, Cindi Rickard’s portrayal of the managers, editors, reporters and copy girls — and a few bums who found their way into the old building’s black-and-white tile newsroom on the second floor — covered all the bases, while relative newcomer Brian Dzenis’ use of the word “awkward” was an excellent choice to describe the ambivalence of his job — specifically the Youngstown State University football beat — since the closing’s announcement in June.

By its very nature, The Vindicator was rich in history, with both the old and new buildings having a unique character.

After the old building was sold to the Youngstown Incubator a few years ago, the public was invited to tour it. I showed my wife where the old sports department was stationed. But, on that night, sadly, where the old General Fireproofing desks and filing cabinets once rested, only fruit punch was being served.

On that same night, the once-off-limits publisher’s office was turned into an arcade-like room with virtual reality equipment — complete with goggles — available for visitors.

In the past, during nighttime work hours, the venerable office’s door was never open, so getting a peek decades later was a treat. Years ago, one co-worker playfully referred to it as a sarcophagus.

Admittedly, I’m not a sports junkie, but I’ve been around sports most of my life, starting when my father dragged me — screaming — to join my school’s sixth-grade football team in calisthenics.

I’ve filed stories from some strange places, including a Dave Blaney story on a computer in the nurses’ station of a hospital.

One night, after leaving a Boardman High boys basketball game, my truck’s transmission died on the side of I-680 during a snowstorm, so I walked to a hotel on U.S. 224, where the night-desk employee was gracious enough to let me use computer in the manager’s office.

I’ve written plenty of silly columns — like this one — about subjects such as my mother, blackberry picking and a family reunion golf outing. In one story, I proposed having YSU’s football team holding a scrimmage — or regular-season game — in the infield of the Canfield Fair’s grandstand area.

Covering YSU football’s first national championship season in 1991 was special, as was coverage of Ray Mancini’s fight against Hector Camacho, Jr. in Reno in March 1989. I remember buying a red, green and white sweatshirt of “The Grudge Match.”

In newspapers, perseverance is a necessary trait because disappointment may result. Since last August, I tried tracking down Michigan State football player L.J. Scott, asking everybody from lawn-cutting crew guys on the streets of Hubbard to the sporting goods store proprietor and other possible contacts. Outdated phone numbers got me nowhere and all other leads failed, so, as a result, no story.

I thought to myself: “It would be easier to have God return my calls.”

Although I’m in a cloud sometimes, I guess me not being technologically connected may have been a reason.

Other instances of disappointment in Hubbard have been my pursuit of the Warren Tribune’s high school football preview issues the last two years.

Last year, I inserted six quarters) into the newspaper box in front of a grocery store, got home, then found no special section.

This year, I forgot about the publication date of Aug. 25 until the middle of the night on the 26th. I got out of bed and called the Hubbard police to tip them off that I’d be out looking in newspaper boxes at 2:30 a.m., so they wouldn’t think I was breaking in the store where the box was situated. This time, of the three-or-so copies left in the box, none had the football preview. Both times, I’ve had to drive to Warren to get them.

Is there a special-section fan/thief in Hubbard at this time of year?

If I didn’t mention them, I feel like I’m letting down now-departed co-workers such as John Kovach, Mark W. Miller and Pete Mollica. Most recently, the paper lost Matt Arnold, a diligent perfectionist who worked as sports editor for a few years. The soft-spoken George Welker, Jr. didn’t work long in sports, but, he, too, passed away and will be remembered.

Still alive and kicking is Ed Puskas, who has all the qualities of an excellent boss — a guy who can be firm, yet resilient and possessor of much patience.

In the past, photographers would sometimes go the extra mile to snap a photo for a personal collection, such as John S. Vujcec snapping Simon & Garfunkel up close on stage at the Akron Rubber Bowl in 1983.

Knowing that past editions of The Vindicator are electronically archived is a relief. My brother, who lives in San Diego, was hounding me to go to the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County to research files from 1962, when he fought in the Golden Gloves tournament at the Struthers Fieldhouse. Before I could do it, he found and e-mailed me a scanned copy of the article from his 118-pound novice bout that January night.

The heading was “Bassetti impressive,” then the paragraphs: “They are singing the praises of a methodical southpaw, Frank Bassetti, of the Home Club, who whipped Gregory Bansberg [Girard Police A.C.].

“Bassetti, as cool as an Arctic breeze, peppered his foe with lefts to the face, then the body, after withstanding Bansberg’s early barrage. A rapier left to the chin and surprise right that rocked Bansberg in the third brought victory.

“Bassetti’s calm maneuvers, unruffled performance brought loud acclaim.”

I don’t think Frank was so lucky when he lost his second fight of the tournament to, I believe, a tough Zack Page.

By the way, I had to go look up the definition of rapier — a light, sharp-pointed sword used only for thrusting. Without seeing the full-story’s byline, my guess is that it was part of a following-day’s article written by either Floyd Passinger or Charlie Landolf, who made a habit of increasing his vocabulary by having — and using — the dictionary on his desk.

Since leaving the paper several years ago, I’ve been employed part-time at Comprehensive Behavioral Health Associates in Austintown. But what about Vindy people?

Although the website will remain, most of the jobs are gone.

However, journalism students, take heart: If there’s a silver lining to journalism — despite the loss of the newsprint form — it’s that humans will still be needed to write stories.

I think.

I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises, but it’s only a fraction of the pain that The Vindicator is suffering on its deathbed.

Despite physical woes, I feel fortunate.

Oh, did I mention falling out of a tree and landing on my shoulder a few months ago?

Ouch!

John Bassetti is a retired Vindicator sportswriter.

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