Eight years ago I was trying to write my book Keeping the Faith and was struggling with…how to write my book Keeping the Faith. Having spent my career in newspapers,expanding a story beyond 25 inches seemed daunting. I had all this great information and all these colorful characters, but how do you take that and create a narrative? Around the time I started with the actual writing, I received a copy of the St. John’s alumni magazine and it included a note about a 1986 graduate named John Rosengren, who was an author in the Twin Cities.
Rosengren…I knew the name. A year earlier I read his book Blades of Glory, about the powerhouse Bloomington Jefferson hockey team. I’m not even a hockey guy but I enjoyed the book and recommended it to the hockey guys I knew. When I read it I didn’t know Rosengren had been a Johnnie. A connection!
I found John’s website and sent off an email, asking for some words of wisdom. I probably threw in a joke about Johnnie bread to let him know it’s okay, I’m a Johnnie too, you can give me advice. We have shared experiences! John wrote back the same day with about 1,000 words, which were both encouraging and helpful. A few months later John was in the city for a conference and we went to a Mets game together, where we spent three hours freezing in the toilet that was Shea Stadium, but I hardly noticed, as the entire time we spoke about books, writing, magazines, classic stories, and dreams. It was much more inspiring than anything happening on the field. We became good friends and make a point of meeting up on John’s annual trips to the city.
John’s back in New York, once again for the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) Conference. There aren’t any baseball games for us to attend this year but we’ll meet up for dinner. But on this trip, John’s a much busier man than normal — this time he’s also the man of the moment at several events, thanks to his big biography on former Detroit Tigers superstar Hank Greenberg.
Tonight I’m headed down to the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, which is in the Cast Iron Building. The clubhouse holds many baseball-related events, including book readings and interviews. Tonight it’s billed as “An evening with John Rosengren and Aviva Kempner. The author and filmmaker will discuss Hank Greenberg and answer audience questions in this event at the famous baseball boutique.” On Friday there’s a lunch at the Yogi Berra Museum in Jersey, again with John and Kempner, and Friday night there’s a dinner with the pair, this time at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.
I’m excited to attend the Bergino event and I’m happy for the exposure John’s getting with his new book. I’m happy as a friend. But it’s also about pride, in someone I admire and try to emulate.
If I can grab an old journalism cliche that usually describes a 10-year veteran wide receiver who’s helping the younger guys learn their routes or a backup shooting guard who comes in and knocks down big 3-pointers in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, all while playing tough defense, John’s a pro’s pro. He’s a Writer — capital W, a wordsmith and great reporter who’s won a dozen awards from various organizations for his magazine stories and books — but also a writer, a fulltime freelancer who has built a career and supported a family on his ability to pitch over and over to magazines big and small while writing a new book every few years. Being a full-time freelancer is a difficult way to make a living, but every time I talk to John I’m impressed by how easy he sometimes makes it look, even though it’s anything but.
It takes an amazing amount of talent to be a full-time freelance writer and you surely have to be organized. But discipline is just as important. Discipline to sit down every day and pitch editors. Discipline to research a 2,000-word magazine story — while researching a 350-page book. Discipline to meet deadlines, every time, because editors aren’t interested in giving second or third chances. Discipline to follow-up on payments.
I always talk with my wife about becoming a full-time freelancer but then I start thinking about the actual details and…soon I’m back in front of my TV, overwhelmed by the details and getting ready for another day in the office of my day job. I’m sure John has those moments too, or had them at the beginning of his three-decade long career. But he’s had the talent, organization and discipline to move forward.
And now he’s in the city discussing his latest, biggest work. Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes came out last month and is the definitive biography on the Hall of Fame baseball player, who, with apologies to Sandy Koufax’s injury-shortened career, is the greatest Jewish athlete in American history. The LA Times just wrote a positive review of the book and the Library Journal wrote, “Greenberg became an icon for American Jews and filled that role with dignity… Rosengren’s well-written book is recommended to all fans.” Here’s a nice interview with John where he talks about the book.
I’m hoping Hero of Heroes introduces John’s work to a larger audience and that they’ll also check out his earlier works, which include Hammerin Hank, George Almighty and the Say Hey Kid, which is about the 1973 baseball season; he co-wrote Esera Tuaolo’s Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Player in the NFL and the aforementioned Blades of Glory. Here’s John’s story for SB Nation about the Warroad-Roseau hockey rivalry.
Each time I meet up with him, whether on his spring trips to the city or for lunch on my trips back to Minnesota, I come away with a dozen ideas and newfound inspiration. I’m certain that will be the case this weekend too. Then John will go back to Minnesota. Regardless of what happens with Hero of Heroes, John will keep chasing down ideas, pitching editors and churning out stories and books. He’s an outstanding writer, but nearly as important, he’s a working writer. I admire him for both reasons.