John Carroll University has more than plenty of successful alumni, but perhaps one of the more compelling and notable success stories is that of Erik Boland. Boland, a member of the John Carroll University graduating class of 1996, currently lives in New York City and covers the New York Yankees as their beat writer for Newsday, one of the largest and most popular newspapers in the greater New York City area. After graduating from JCU, Boland went on to work for the Warren Tribune in Warren, Ohio. Afterwards, he attended graduate school at New York University. From there, he began as a part-time employee at Newsday in 2002.
The Carroll News: Let’s rewind to your senior year of college in 1996. Did you ever think that 16 years later, you would be living in New York City as the New York Yankees beat writer for Newsday?
Erik Boland: No, absolutely not. I hoped to maybe make it back to the Cleveland market in some capacity, whether it is radio, etc. I wasn’t even considering doing newspaper when I was a senior in college. I did it because I always enjoyed writing, so I wrote for The Carroll News. My vision was never that I was actually going to write for a newspaper. I never thought of it as a possibility until I began writing more and more for the Warren Tribune.
CN: Your first “big time” gig came when you were named the New York Jets beat reporter for Newsday in 2008. What was that experience like covering the NFL in the biggest media market in America?
EB: You just realize, from a professional standpoint, how much attention is paid to everything you write, but also the competition between the New York Daily News, New York Post, and Newark Ledger-Star, etc. Every day, you want to make sure that they [other beat writers] didn’t have something that you missed. You do compete. Suddenly being in that cauldron [of beat writers] for the Jets certainly was intimidating at first. If you remember 2008, that was the year the Jets got Brett Favre. I remember when that story broke, I was sitting at my parents’ kitchen table at about quarter to midnight and I got a call that Jay Glazer broke that story. I went to bed at about 4 a.m. after that because there were phone calls to confirm it and the Jets held a conference call at 1:30 a.m. It was a crazy adrenaline rush. It was fun, but it was a hectic rush and a crazy night. If you’re in this business long enough, you get a few of those.
CN: As a beat reporter in such a large media outlet like New York City, do you feel pressure?
EB: Yeah, you want to distinguish yourself. I think you should have that desire. Entering year four covering the Yankees, I’m much better at this than I was at year one. I was totally underwater in that first year covering the Yankees. I was overwhelmed, underwater, every negative description you could think of. I feel that entering year four, I’m at least treading water. I’m not as good at it as I want to or need to be, but I’m not drowning anymore. So it’s about small steps. Particularly, baseball in New York is tough. The religion of Cleveland is football and the religion in New York is baseball. So yes, I think there is self-imposed pressure to perform.
CN: How did you feel when you were first hired by Newsday?
EB: I feel extremely fortunate. I love what I do. There’s a lot of stress, a lot of travel, etc. Those are things that maybe cause you to feel burnt out, but I never really feel that way because I like to travel, I like baseball and I like to write. My line has always been the same, and I said this when I was 23 in Warren [Ohio], this beats working for a living. At the end of the day, getting paid to go to sporting events isn’t a bad way to make a living.
CN: Was there ever a point for you when you had an overwhelming self realization of, “Wow, I made it”?
EB: I had a few of those types of moments. The U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 was significant. Any time I’ve been able to cover a game at Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium; it’s the same type of thing. There’s a little bit of a jolt when you walk into [those places]. The one that crystallized it and I looked around and thought, “Boy, this really worked out,” was when I covered Super Bowl XLII. When I took sports writing as an elective [at John Carroll], the adjunct professor was a retired Plain Dealer sports writer named Bill Nichols. I remember his first day of class and he said, “Whether you’re covering a ping-pong match or the Super Bowl, your approach has to be that it’s going to be the biggest story in the next day’s paper.” So when I walked into the stadium to cover the only Super Bowl I’ve done, I had covered the equivalent of many ping-pong matches and walking into that stadium that day, I realized I was now covering the Super Bowl. What I remember from that moment when I walked in was Nichols’ statement. I had done my ping-pong matches and now here I was at the Super Bowl.
CN: When you moved from covering the Jets to the Yankees, you went from covering a team that plays once a week compared to a team that plays 27 times a month. What was that like?
EB: It’s not secret at Newsday, but I didn’t want to take the Yankees beat. I didn’t want to do it because, coming from a football town, I thought the NFL was the peak of the profession and I had just done the Jets for one year, so I wanted to get my feet under me, work at it for a few years and get established […] Four years later, they would have to drag me kicking and screaming off this beat. In my first year [covering the Yankees], I was counting down the day until the end of the season, hoping the sports editor would put me back on the Jets. In my second year, I was a little more comfortable and the same with last year. What I love about baseball, though, is that the news replenishes itself every day because there’s a game every day. There’s always an opportunity to advance a story with access to [the Yankees] every day.
CN: Your first season covering the Yankees was in 2009 and that was the same year they last won the World Series. What was it like covering that particular team?
EB: It was adding to the feeling of being underwater. What was good about it was that it was relatively smooth because there weren’t a lot of controversies [with the team]. It was fun covering a lot of winning streaks, a lot of good baseball. Most of the attention was on the field. Even though I said I felt underwater, the players get more comfortable the more they see you from February in spring training through the season. Despite that overwhelming feeling, it was still fun. You still feel like you’re a part of this traveling show because every town the Yankees are in, it’s a big deal. While you’re not a part of that, per say, from a team standpoint, tangentially, you are connected. You’re connected because you cover that team and you feel the energy in the opposing stadium when you go to Detroit, Boston, Anaheim or wherever.