Every Sunday, I play softball at Camp Taylor Park in Louisville on a team with a group of media folks.
The Need to Know Bases — great name, right? — won its first game of the season Sunday, beating one of the many teams with some sort of sexual innuendo for a nickname.
Per normal, after the game we retired to an awesome dive bar called Marmadukes, which shares a parking lot with Camp Taylor. The table was filled with people from all types of media — newspapers — daily, weekly and alternative — TV and public radio.
Over beers — and popcorn if we can talk the barkeep into throwing some into the microwave — talk invariably turns to our recent week at work. It’s as much fun as the games, honestly, and a chance to talk about triumphs and frustrations with people who get what each other goes through on the job from day to day.
On Sunday, we spoke a lot about the Kentucky Derby — who had covered it, what their angle was and, of course, if they won or lost at the wagering windows conveniently located in the media center at Churchill Downs.
It was my first time going to Derby, and I did it up right. You see, journalism is a profession people get into knowing, with a few exceptions, they are not going to get rich financially. At times, the hours stink and it’s a stressful job.
But journalists do get wealthy in terms of experiences; ones like Derby was for me.
As you saw from the great work the News and Tribune photographers did at Derby, the newspaper had great access.
At Churchill, all the working media are issued press credentials they wear around their necks. On most of those is a type of alphabet soup — with certain letters denoting where that journalist can go at the track, be it the media center, stables or Millionaire’s Row.
The News and Tribune press necklaces simply had a letter “A” on them — which means all access, with the exception of a few off-limits areas. Those we aren’t allowed in are few, however, like the Turf Club.
One of the perks of the job is getting to go where few others can.
The media center — a respite from the crowds and the sun — isn’t really all that exciting, but it is nice. There’s the aforementioned wagering area and a full bar for those who aren’t on deadline or are done working for the day.
There’s also the staple of any sports hospitality area — free food. I attribute this as the reason that any food left sitting around a newsroom will be immediately consumed by the sports staff. It’s one of the certainties of life.
We also had access to the area where TV stations set up temporary sets, which meant we could stand with our arms rested on the rails in turn one as the horses rushed by.
A bit before the main event, a fellow journalist told me and my girlfriend — who is also a journalist — there was a section in the stands reserved for media. Part of section 322 has open seating for credentialed media, and proved to be a great place to watch the 140th running of the Derby.
The excitement of the crowd as the horses neared the post was electric and seeing the reaction of winners and losers as the horses crossed in front of us a second time made for great people-watching.
Even though I grew up just an hour away from Louisville in Southern Indiana and have lived much closer than that the past eight years, I’d never been to the Kentucky Derby. It lived up to the hype, although I’m not sure if I would want to pay big bucks and fight the crowds and without the benefit of a media pass. Call it an experience worth living and a definite perk of the profession.
Oh, and I did manage to leave with $50 more than I bet.
Next up, my first trip to the Indianapolis 500, but not on a media pass. This Hoosier is going to get a long-overdue full fan experience at the world’s largest sporting event.
— Editor Shea Van Hoy can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 812-206-2130. Follow him on twitter at @sheavanhoy