We've all heard the cliché, "all good things must come to an end" and sadly I have reached that point with Hammer & Rails. Since I am graduating in May from Purdue and I won't be in contact with Purdue athletics as much (though I'll still be in Big Ten Country), I have decided it was best for me to step down and let new writers take charge.
Over the last 2 years, I have been able to interact with T-Mill, SB Nation writers, and the best fans on the planet. Covering an Olympic sport like volleyball is unique. Outside of Black Shoe Diaries, Hammer and Rails, and perhaps UCLA's SBN site, no one else really covers volleyball consistently outside of daily links or tournament time. But luckily, with the blessing of T-Mill, I have had the opportunity to cover one of the best sports on this planet, something that I would have never been able to experience at another school or website.
I first came across Hammer and Rails in September 2010. My friend, Ricky, kept posting the stories and I would read them every now and then, but I didn't think much of the site. Then, after Purdue lost to Toledo in 2010, T-Mill's rant pulled me in and I never left. Soon I would create my profile on SBN just so I could write a quick comment. Why I chose btfu_crespo? I have no damn clue. I wanted to post my comment and that was the first thing that came to my head. If I could have made it just Juan Crespo, like all the writers do now, I would of. But at the time I never saw myself writing for the site.
Then as football collapsed and Robbie Hummel tore another ACL, the volleyball team surged into the Elite 8. T-Mill posted a few things about the volleyball team, but to be honest, he had no idea what he was talking about. As an avid volleyball fan, I would comment on T-Mills post to clarify some things and I would even post a fan shot/post or two during their Elite 8 run.
Now I'm going on a tangent real quick (I've taken so many Calculus classes that tangents are normal for me) and explain a question some of you have: why volleyball? Because the girls are in tights? No. I'm a good Catholic boy and I am loyal to my girlfriend. The real reason was because I fell in love with the game after my first Purdue game in IAF.
Now, this is a bit odd that it took me until college to fall in love with volleyball. For those who don't know, I went to Marian High School in Mishawaka, IN (twin city of South Bend). MHS had a strong volleyball program throughout my high school years and consistently went to state (but never ever won. That's another story). So you would think I would have started liking it then.
Well shockingly, I never went to a single volleyball game in high school. I actually hated high school and never really fit in with anyone. People were either too preppy/popular or too weird for me, so outside of band (which wasn't really a band since there were only ~10 people and as a clarinet, I was the only good player) I never went to my high school sporting events since I just stood awkwardly in the student section with no one to talk to or stand by during a game. Because of this, going to volleyball games never came across my mind until Ricky, the same person who introduced me to Hammer and Rails, invited me to come to the Purdue Volleyball Big Ten opener against Michigan State my freshman year back in 2009.
It was love at first game. I loved being the Block Party, cheering the whole game, and seeing Purdue beat Michigan State 3-1. After that, though I didn't have student tickets, I found any way I could to attend these volleyball games despite their lackluster 2009 season. When my sophomore year began, I made sure to sign up for the Block Party immediately so I could go to all the games. Unfortunately, I had gone home the day Purdue beat #4 Penn State in 5 sets, but that would be the only big win I missed that year. Being able to witness and be a part of the team's run to the Elite 8 was great, until Jaclyn Hart went down against Texas with an injury. Personally, Hart's injury might have been more heart breaking than Hummel's torn ACL because Purdue was on its way to defeating Texas in front of their fans, giving program its first ever trip to the Final 4. All we can do now is pull a Hutch and ask "What if?"
Going into the 2011 season, Purdue, along with a majority of the B1G teams, were ranked in the Top 25. I posted that as a Fan Shot on Hammer and Rails. A few hours later, Travis emailed me asking if I could cover volleyball for H&R. He told me to write them up as Fan Posts and then he would bump them up to the front page. About half way through the season, he promoted me an official writer for H&R, and then last year I was promoted to manager right under Travis (since he is, after all, Dictator for Life).
If you look at my posts when I started, they were ugly. Heck, they still are ugly, I just learned to cover up some of the mess with spell check. But through time, I was able to pull in a larger audience and through H&R, we were able to pull more fans into volleyball as they had an impressive regular season. Once volleyball season finished up, T-Mill had me contribute part time with some football and basketball coverage when I had the time. It was great being able to write for the site. I wrote simply because I loved Purdue. Outside of the random YouTube videos, I did not gain a single penny to write for Hammer and Rails. Along with some of the other writers, we do this simply because we love Purdue and interacting with you, our readers.
Coming into the 2012 season, I was starting my new job as a Resident Assistant at Hilltop. I knew that this would take me away from about 50% of the home volleyball games, so I called upon my friend, James Collins, to be my assistant for volleyball. Having James at my side allowed you, the reader, to get more than one perspective from the game. I tend to be a bit more pessimistic, whereas James can be more realistic/optimistic about the team. James truly saved my butt this year and allowed our volleyball coverage to expand. With my departure, James will be filling in my vacancy next semester as he graduates in December. Whether or not he has an "assistant" is his decision.
Now, I have never claimed to be a journalist. I'm an Atmospheric Science major with a Political Science minor going to graduate school. When I wrote, it was all my opinion, though I tried to sound unbiased in my posts, but I was never perfect. However, it was great to run into readers at games, on campus, and even Breakfast Club during Grand Prix, who all said they appreciated my writing and what I did. There were days where I felt like I was talking to a brick wall with no one listening, but hearing feedback from readers (which sometimes included coaches and players) who said they liked my writing (or even criticized me) always encouraged me to write better posts.
Looking back on my 2 year career on Hammer and Rails, my best moment might have been the day Danny Hope was fired. Travis texted me to stay on top of any developments, and I knew from the start it would be an interesting day. I remembered that it was more important to post the CORRECT information rather than being the first to post it and not check your sources. I didn't want to post something immaturely and end up regretting it (like Paintergate). But once the firing was official, I jumped on the story and let you guys know. After attending the press conference (my first one ever) and posting my recap from it, I was exhausted, and I still had to type up a big lab report that was due the next day. I received a few messages from friends and strangers appreciating my work that day, which made me feel good about my work. I'm sure I took a load off T-Mill that day, and I even gained a few Twitter followers!
Another highlight had to be the interview with Coach Dave Shondell in August 2012. It was great because Shondell had been praising my work and also showed me a different prospective that I couldn't get as a fan in the stand. Though Hope's firing had more hits, the interview with Coach Shondell was my favorite piece to write for Hammer and Rails.
Though being a journalist has never been my calling, and it still isn't, writing for Hammer and Rails was perhaps one of the best decisions I ever made. Scientists are not the best writers, and there are days where I feel like I fall in that category. But writing for Hammer and Rails was more beneficial for me than English 106. After all, for those classes, only one person is critiquing your writing and you get a red mark for any errors you make. Meanwhile, on H&R, hundreds, if not thousands, of people are reading and critiquing your posts, and will call you out on it. There were times that I was afraid to hit that post button until I read through an article at least 10 times to correct any errors. I feel that my writing has certainly improved in some ways over the last 2 years thanks to my fear of posting a grammatical error on the internet.
I can't restate it enough, the last 2 years on Hammer and Rails have been great and I would never trade it for anything else on this world. Though I am taking my talents to Ann Arbor for graduate school next semester at the University of Michigan, know that Purdue and Hammer and Rails will have a special place in my heart than no Wolverine, Leprechaun, Buckeye, Hoosier, Spartan, Badger, Lion, Knight, Turtle, Illini, Wildcat, Gopher, Hawkeye, or Cornhusker can replace.
And so, for one last time, I bid you farewell my fellow Boilermakers. And as I sign off, remember these words that paraphrase the Gospel of Matthew:
For where two or more Boilermakers are gathered together, there the Spirit of Purdue shall be in the midst of them.