On the wall next to her kitchen phone in Wilmington, Del., Jean Smith has a scribble board listing the names and telephone numbers of her nine children. About halfway down, between Sue's and Scott's, a puzzling entry appears. It reads: Gary ???-???-???? (tollfree). The question marks are an indication of the nomadic life led by our newest special contributor, Gary Smith, whose story on Twins owner Calvin Griffith begins on page 104 of this issue.
Since last September, Smith has been crisscrossing the country virtually nonstop, researching a number of stories, including the piece on former Philadelphia Eagles Coach Dick Vermeil that appeared in SI last week. "I figure I've packed my bags and changed locales nearly 100 times in the last 180 days," says Smith. "People know me by the slope of my shoulder from having a duffel bag slung over it."
That slope got steeper in February when Smith, working on a story for Rolling Stone, visited 14 cities and towns in four days with presidential hopeful Walter Mondale. Much as Smith loves traveling—on his own time he has camped across America, gotten about Europe by train and explored Sri Lanka and this summer plans to begin five months of doing Europe by bicycle—the Mondale swing tested even his limits. "I really don't know how they do that kind of campaigning for two years," he says.
Smith graduated from Philadelphia's La Salle College in 1975 with a degree in English and has spent 12 of his 29 years watching and writing about sports events and personalities for various publications, including the Philadelphia Daily News, the short-lived Tonight edition of New York's Daily News and the defunct Inside Sports. He has always been especially concerned with the personal and psychological aspects of his subject. Says Smith, "I worry when sports become all-consuming, when we begin to depend on them for our sense of community, when we use them as a substitute for real communication. I think sport should be an escape. For the participant, it's a physical canvas upon which one creates, but for the spectator it should be an escape."
Both of the stories Smith has done for us have dealt with this misplaced emphasis. According to Smith, "Vermeil is obviously a guy who became consumed. He allowed his own dependence on sports to warp his values. Griffith is a man relying on sports to fill personal needs that should be fulfilled elsewhere: Sports replace family."
The many trips Smith makes to fulfill his professional needs are well publicized in the biweekly family newsletter his sister Sue puts out from her home in Montgomery, Pa. "I'm the only professional writer in the family, but because I'm always traveling, I never contribute," Smith explains. "The last letter said if I don't start writing, my subscription will be canceled.
"All I can do is point to the old suitcase and plead nolo contendere."
Actually, Gary, you could send Mom a phone number.
SMITH: HE'LL GO A LONG WAY FOR A STORY