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Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Heavy Soul Interview: Tom Shatel (Part II)

As promised, today we will be posting the second part of Tom Shatel's interview with Heavy Soul. As we mentioned yesterday, Part II will get into some talk about the 2008 Husker season, and some more personal questions for Tom.

Part I clearly generated a lot of interest--thanks to Matt Perrault on "The Big Show" on Big Sports 590 AM, Huskerpedia, and several message boards for the readership.

Let's start the show...

Heavy Soul: We saw on Joe Posnanski's blog--he's a Heavy Soul favorite--that you left a comment of congratulations for him on the recent news that he's being picked up by SI.com. Is Joe a personal friend or someone you've gotten to know by way of geography and the industry? And would you consider him one of the best baseball writers in the country as we do?

Tom Shatel: I grew up in KC and worked for the Star for 10 years after I got out of Mizzou. The Star is near and dear to my heart. I actually looked into the job when Joe was hired in 1996. They made a very good hire. I didn't know him then. But when he was hired I made it a point to introduce myself, explain my background and offer any help or advice about KC. I did the same with Jason Whitlock when he was hired in 1994. Joe and I hit it off, we see each other at events, occasional Nebraska-MU/KU/KSU game and we keep threatening to get our families together, but it's hard. I admire his blog. That's a pure love for writing, plain and simple, because he's got kids to raise and a wife to see, too. In this day and age of blog hit men, it's nice to see pure writing has a place as well.

HS: It's fairly well-documented that you are a Mizzou alum. That said, do you consider yourself--at this point in your life--a Nebraskan?

I do. Funny, but I lived in KC from 1970 to 1989 and I'm approaching that number of years here (1991-2008). I did not come to Omaha planning to stay. I thought I would hang out a few years, bang out a few columns, make a name for myself and skidaddle. But I fell in love with everything: Omaha and its old-school values, traditions, corner bars, friendliness, etc. Small town Nebraska. I love driving around Nebraska. When I was single, I would look for stories in the small towns during the summer and I loved just stopping to eat or have a drink in a random town. I just love the rustic feel of small town Nebraska. It's absolutely priceless. And don't even get me started on the Sand Hills. The dateline out there should be God's Country, USA. My wife is from Valley, her family from Alliance. One of my favorite things to do is to drive to Alliance, taking the highways through Wahoo and St. Paul and Broken Bow (old hotel diner, I think it's the Arrow, is a classic) and onto rancher country. My wife's uncle and aunt have a farm. We go to the farm, grill a steak, drink at the Legion club. Simply awesome. My favorite story came a couple years ago, when we had finished dinner, another 20-once t-bone with all the trimmings, and for some reason Chimney Rock came up. I said I had no idea what that was. Uncle Larry popped up off the couch and said, "Well, let's go.'' Apparently it was an hour south of there. We got in his car and he started driving down a dirt road, then a gravel road, then he turned left, then right, then left, and kept turning and kicking up gravel and rocks for almost an hour, without one road sign or direction, until finally he said, "There it is,'' And sure enough, there it was, Chimney Rock. That drive was the most amazing thing I've been through in my life. After that drive, yes, I felt like a Nebraskan.

HS: A couple of Omaha-specific questions: What's your favorite restaurant in town? Favorite bar?

I've had two lives here. When I was single, it was M's Pub or Jam's. Now that I'm married, we like Millard Road House. We go there every Sunday after church. We have our own booth. The waitresses play with the kids while we eat. I also like Hector's, a Mexican joint with a baja flavor that takes me back to San Diego, where I grew up as a kid and still retreat to every summer. It doesn't hurt that Hector has pictures of my San Diego Chargers on the wall. Killer margaritas and enchiladas. Hector, who is from San Diego, is usually hanging out at the bar and eager to tell you how bad Norv Turner is.

(Ed. Note: Get the #19 at Hector's with shredded chicken. Trust us.)

My taste in bars has changed, too. When I was single, it was anywhere in the Old Market. I met my wife at Pauli's, the CWS and Cubs bar in midtown. I"ll always have a sentimental place for Pauli's. But it's too far to drive. I had a DWI six years [ago], the night my first daughter was born. I figured it was God's way of saying, slow down, now. You're a dad. Act like one. These days, my bar is my front porch after the kids are in bed. Once in a while, I'll sneak out to Tanner's (my favorite sports neighborhood bar in KC) or Caddy Shack, a couple of great neighborhood joints where everyone knows your name and it's a quick drive home.

HS: Where is your favorite place to travel for work (of the places you go on a semi-regular basis)? What was your favorite travel assignment of your career?

I like all of the old Big Eight towns, because I have so many great memories there. St. Louis for Valley hoops is a new favorite. KC for Big 12 hoops. And my sleeper favorite, maybe all-time favorite, is Oklahoma City for Big Eight/12 baseball. That's a wonderful event that nobody knows about. Lot of great memories in OKC in the spring, none of which I willl share because I'm certain this is a family web site.

HS: Indeed it is. You seem to be the only sports writer left that does not seem entirely jaded by being a sports writer. In fact, you seem like you're still legitmately a fan. Do you write with that intentionally in your head? Or do you still watch and follow sports the same way you did when you first discovered how much you liked them?

It's funny. I never get to sit in the stands and be a fan, wear the colors, tailgate, cheer during a game, etc. But, yes, I consider myself a fan of sports and the games and people. And I would say this: I have changed the way I cover and view the games in recent years. I used to get all caught up in winning, losing, fire the coach, he's a bum, etc. Now, I find myself more into the experience of a college football game and a college football season, savoring the relationships and the people, the players, the stories, the color, etc. Why do we always have to fire the coach? Today's world is so mean and reactionary. I say we miss a lot of stories falling into that trap. Sometime you just have to get to Jack Trice Field or Folsom Field early, climb up to the top row, sit back, put your feet up and look down onto the empty field, hours before a game, and try and imagine all the history, all the times you've been there before, the games you've seen, the people you've met. I do that on every road trip now. It's my way of stopping to smell the roses.

HS: Along those lines, who is your favorite writer--sports or otherwise?

Jim Murray, Dave Kindred, Mark Whicker, Joe Pos, Mark Kiszla, Edwin Pope, Bill Lyon and John Schulian. Murray was my all-time favorite. Out of sports, that's easy. Mike Royko, the greatest columnist ever. These days, I read Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald.

HS: Favorite sportscaster?

Vin Scully with Keith Jackson a very, very close second.

HS: ESPN: Good or evil?

Good. Look behind the hype and gaudiness and they still put out a lot of information and they are one of the few media groups left who do serious investigative work.

HS: Last season was obviously a tumultuous one. However, the story never really changed: the defense was terrible, there was seemingly little-to-no passion with the players, and the coaching staff seemed oblivious to everything. That said, how hard was it for you to do your columns every week? In other words, was it difficult coming up with a different "angle" for columns when in reality it was essentially the same story week to week?

The hardest part was finding something new to say. But, with the Pederson firing happening in October, and a new low on the field every other week, it truthfully wasn't that hard.

As a kind of follow-up to that question, is your job easier or more challenging when the team you are covering is bad? Good? Historically bad? Average?

TS: I used to think it was easier, or more fun, when it was bad. But 10 years of MU, KU and K-State football, in the 80's, changed my mind. So did covering Nebraska in the 90's. It's more fun when your team is on national TV, the national media is always around and you're covering big, meaningful end-of-the-world games.

HS: Moving on to the upcoming Husker season...What are Coach Bo Pelini's practices like? What's the intensity level like?

Don't know. We're not allowed to watch. I hear there's some hitting going on.

HS: Who are your players to watch? Freshmen to watch?

I think any of the running backs will be fun to watch, just to see if any of them emerge as a big-time threat with more emphasis. As for freshmen, I want to watch Will Compton. My feeling is Pelini will play freshmen if they can play, and this is a linebacker with terrific skills and instincts. If he can play his first year, that's a good sign for the future.

Who, besides Ganz, do you think that NU simply cannot afford to lose this season?

TS: Matt Slauson, Phillip Dillard or one of the safeties.

HS: We're pretty sure we know the answer to this from reading your columns, but what letter grade would you give Tom Osborne, the Athletic Director?

TS: I give him a B-plus for handling this thing with class and dignity and bringing back a lot of the old way. The overall grade is still incomplete--it's tied to the performance of his head coach.

HS: Do you see anything happening this season that is really going to surprise Husker fans?

TS: I don't think the defense will be anywhere near what people think. There's no magic wand. And the talent isn't near as good as it was when Pelini was around in 2003. There will be some busts, some bad plays. Pelini won't be perfect this year.

There you have it. Once again, on the behalf of everyone that contributes to Heavy Soul, a HUGE thanks goes out to Tom Shatel. We were thrilled that he even e-mailed us back, let alone took so much time to answer an obnoxious amount of questions.

Hopefully we will have more interviews like this one down the road with other local media personalities.

Untill then...2 days 'till kickoff!

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Nice work Shearemore.
Shearemore! Great job.

Speaking of the OKC, there will be Heavysoul representation in Bricktown the weekend of Halloween, as the next day is NU vs. OU in Norman. Heavysoul participants and readers, you're on notice to join in the fun. We've got reservations at the Courtyard Marriott -- Bricktown...DO IT!!!
OKC is great.
By the way: there seems to be a lot of confusion--not surprisingly, from Creighton fans--that this is a blog written by "a bunch of guys in North Platte, who cares what they think?"

First of all, appreciate the elitism.

Second of all, if you took all of, oh, two minutes, you'd figure out pretty quickly that everyone who contributes to this blog live in Omaha or Chicago.

Thanks for reading.
please don't forget that 2 of the biggest creighton haters (Sambuca and myself) are lincolnites, the 50 mile buffer zone is good for both of our souls.
Sorry, I didn't intentionally leave you guys off. I was pointing out that we have to put up with this shit living in Omaha; I think I put Chicago just because npgage e-mailed me while I was typing that.

Star City, stand up!
It's great to see fresh, creative ideas that have never been done before.
Your articles now are simply great. I've been reading your blog since the beginning and I must say, your posts in terms of quality has really improved significantly.

Essay Writing
Really incredible stuff, thank you for the post.
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