I’ve never been great at this type of stuff, an awkward scene where people usually stand around and reminisce at fond moments.
But with the risk of sounding too mushy, let’s do just that and take a trip down memory lane.
When I walked through the doors of the Valley Press as a wide-eyed, 21-year-old college graduate, I knew nothing of the Antelope Valley.
It only took about 10 minutes to realize I should always carry an extra jacket around due to the constant wind.
Since then, however, there have been plenty of moments, both good and bad, that I’ll never forget.
I’ll miss spending perfect summer nights at The Hangar covering the JetHawks and some of baseball’s future stars.
As a journalist, you root for people and stories, not teams. But I couldn’t help but feel some sense of pride when they clinched the California League title last month.
And if we’re being honest, Visalia was doomed in Game 5 as soon as Carlos Correa stepped off an early morning flight from Florida and provided an unbelievable emotional lift.
Correa, the Astros’ top prospect, is going to be a bonafide star soon. It was a treat to watch him on a daily basis.
I was fortunate to witness a handful of other championship-clinching games over the years, perhaps none more memorable than the Kings’ win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final in June. (And yes, the Sharks fan in me is still bitter about it.)
It was special to see Desert Christian win a CIF baseball crown in 2012, the first championship in school history. And it was just as heartbreaking to see Paraclete come up short earlier that day.
I’ve been lucky enough to cover the marquee events such as the Rose Bowl and grassroots stories such as a local women’s roller derby team that started from scratch.
Each story leaves a mark on you in one way or another, although some won’t leave my memory bank anytime soon.
The craziest game I’ve seen up here?
That would be AVC baseball’s 20-19 win in 10 innings over Cerro Coso on April 10, 2012. Down by 10 runs in the ninth, the Marauders put together an improbable comeback by scoring nine runs with two outs before grabbing the win in the next frame.
AVC football’s 62-61 loss in double overtime to College of the Canyons in 2012 is also on that list. The Marauders missed a pair of extra points, including one in double overtime, in one of the most crushing losses in program history.
And there were some moments when I felt the JetHawks’ 15-inning loss in Game 5 of the 2013 South Division Finals might never end.
But it wasn’t just the outcome of some games that left me scratching my head.
Never in my life will I ever be able to think of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo or Manti Te’o without recalling that January day I was escorted off Paraclete’s campus trying to track down the bizarre story.
And, while I wasn’t shooed away from Palmdale High School, Josh Shaw’s recent mythical hero saga was particularly peculiar.
There were plenty of fun days around town though, such as the afternoon that I shot a 151 (and broke a driver) at Rancho Vista Golf Club in order to prove a point that golf is indeed the toughest game in the world.
I also embarrassed myself in the now-defunct Aquathon and when I tried out for a minor league soccer team — a disaster that left me with quarter-sized blisters on my feet.
But with every late night and every deadline met, there was always a new story waiting to be told.
And that is what I will miss the most about this Valley: the people.
Of the hundreds of athletes and coaches I interviewed over the years, I can’t recall most of what we chatted about.
But there were plenty of people who made an impact, whether they knew it or not.
I’ll remember the humbleness of Highland cross country coach Johnny Johnston, the intensity of Quartz Hill girls soccer coach Chuck Gordon, the commitment of Antelope Valley College track and cross country coach Mark Covert, the humor of Vasquez girls soccer coach Terry Comstock and the generosity of Boron baseball coach Rob Kostopoulos.
Perhaps no story touched me more than the final days of Cal City track coach Ed Stevens. Engaged in a fierce battle with cancer, the legendary track coach who helped the Ravens to their first-ever league titles gathered his team together one last time to say goodbye.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the gym that afternoon. Stevens passed away less than a week later.
But if we’re being honest, my job was really about the athletes.
I was in high school once. I remember how cool it felt to get your name in the paper, even just once.
I never met Reggie Heard. But I saw firsthand how the death of the former Boron football star in August rattled the tight-knit community.
I hope Annie Radigan knows how much she inspired me during the 2011 cross country season. Despite dealing with what was then thought to be Crohn’s Disease, the former Highland standout shocked us all by winning a Golden League championship.
The same goes for former Littlerock quarterback Brian Luttrull, who was too young to remember his first foster home but beat the odds thanks to his best friend and teammate David Lary.
Former AVC women’s basketball player Yvette Bennett proved that you can be an all-conference honoree while being homeless and sleeping in your car for parts of a season.
And while their time here seemed too brief, I give my gratitude to the international students of Antelope Valley Christian school for allowing me to take a peek into their lives for a few days this past spring.
This is starting to feel like a bit of a ramble so I’ll wrap it up.
My first byline here was a season preview for Rattlers FC, a minor league soccer team that is long gone from this area.
Roughly 1,500 stories later, this is my last.
I will miss it dearly.