When I heard Juan was preparing to leave H&R I was really sad. And then I thought of that great scene from The Wedding Singer when Jon Lovitz rival wedding singer sees the protagonist Robby Hart slowly unraveling and realizing it’s good for him. I’m Jon Lovitz in this scenario as I’ll be taking over for Juan with some of the behind the scene stuff as well as the “Keep Travis from doing something stupid role” (we kid because we care Travis, we genuinely do.).
Ultimately, though Juan and I have never met in person I feel like I know him as we’ve been in the same group chat for a number of years. Our shared love of Mean Girls and The Good Place has connected us in ways that I can’t fully explain. Juan truly is a good man and I wish him nothing but the best. To quote the great Michael Realman;
One of the first times I met Juan was the day after my 33rd birthday. Purdue was playing Wisconsin in what would turn out to be the de facto Leaders Division championship game. Had Purdue won, it would have “won” the Leaders Division and gone to the Big Ten championship game that season in the Badgers’ place because of the bands being served by Penn State and Ohio State. Of course, Purdue didn’t win. The Badgers rolled 38-14 in a dismal, dreary rainstorm. Mrs. T-Mill and I left early and Juan, living in Hilltop Apartments at the time, was nice enough to give us a ride back to our car.
Hammer & Rails has been around since 2009 and the predecessor blog I started goes all the way back to 2006.That practically makes me ancient in the blogging world. Over 14 years I have seen this go from a random site on blogger whose audience was built on placing links on GBI’s free message board to a site that can generate 1.4 million page views a month in traffic. It is overwhelming to see how far it has come, and through it all, Juan has been the No.2 guy and my top lieutenant for nine years.
Juan himself has come a long way. I remember him as a young undergrad who posted regularly about volleyball and I asked him if he would be interested in covering it for us. It was really the first time we branched out in coverage beyond football and men’s basketball. Back then we were barely getting 200,000 pageviews a month. Now we regularly get more than five times that, and Juan is a major, major reason for it.
First, he showed me that I don’t have to do everything around here. He opened the floodgates for several of the other writers here. Second, he streamlined a lot of our communication between writers by setting up our group chat, setting up our Facebook page, and mostly managing the Twitter feed (especially when he rightfully took away the keys from me after yet another go-round with Crimson Quarry). He’s been a great person to bounce decisions off of and even though he has not written a ton recently, he has been invaluable in running things behind the scenes. His work on our podcasts has been excellent as well.
He’s a great voice of reason to calm down my worst impulses (yes, that actually happens). He also has been helpful in holding down the Michigan beat for us when he was in grad school (including being at “that game” against Cal State Fullerton) and the west coast beat when football was at Nevada this past year.
More importantly, he has become a very good friend, and someone I am truly honored to know. We’ve met up several times at games when he was still in West Lafayette (and we watched a lot of bad football during the Hazell Error) and we met up at a road game at Northwestern in 2016. He and his fiancé met up with us a few summers ago when we went to a Tigers game in Detroit. Even later this summer (assuming it happens) are planning to meet up in Southern California when my family and I go out to visit Disneyland. My son is excited to see “Mr. Juan” again.
I can honestly say that Hammer & Rails would not be anywhere near as successful as it is today without Juan. His contributions around here have been invaluable, and while I will miss having him helping out, I am grateful that I gained a great friend for life.
We were there together, high above the crowd, nearly in the rafters, half-sitting half-hovering in chairs, leaning over the rails and watching Purdue play Cal St. Fullerton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Detroit. Which means, even from all the way up there, we heard the sickening crunch of Haas’ elbow hit the floor. Its echo followed us from the rafters to the media room where we met the devil. It followed us to dinner. It followed us as I tried to order a fish bowl of liquor and Juan, always dutiful and responsible, shook his head disapprovingly. It followed us back to his apartment where he was putting me up for the weekend.
It swirled around us as we napped, as we speculated, as we grieved, as we realized Haas was done and so was the chance for this season to be really special. It was Juan who got a dm that said, well, just maybe. They were trying everything they could to get Haas back out there. Robotron his arm if they had to.
There was a waiting despondency in my chest. This was supposed to be it, and now some meaningless rebound resulting in a hook and hold to the ground just cost Purdue another chance. If misery loves company, Juan didn’t answer the door. He was crushed, but he never faltered. In all the years of bad moments and tragic losses, it’s been Juan that the rest of us at Hammer and Rails can consistently look, too. He cares, but more importantly, he cares the right amount. He was an adult in a room of - at times - hyperbolic children.
Technically Purdue won two games that weekend. I was headed to Boston the next day to watch Purdue take on Texas Tech.
There’s something about March Madness - not the lights or the spectacle - but the realization that comes as quick as a buzzer, for many of these kids, that’s it. Their time in the spotlight, with their teammates, with the game they’ve loved and lived for all those years, is just over. Of course nothing is ever over.
Juan will no longer be writing articles. He will no longer be as active in our group chats. The site won’t flow through his filtering. It will be the worse for it going forward though we’ll adjust and try to make less mistakes to take out. But this season of hammer and rails is over, the buzzer is going off, and unfortunate for us, it’s just Juan walking out of the building. He is the best of us, and this site has been better every day because of him.
But he’s off to better thing and Spaceforce will be better for it or whatever NASA is doing now. Thanks for everything Juan, sincerely, you’ve been a hell of a friend and the best of Boilermakers.
To be honest, most of my Juan stories would come from our group chat and too many of them are inappropriate and incriminating, although usually for the rest of us more than Juan. Juan is our voice of reason, and the guy who makes a lot of things happen for Hammer and Rails. Don’t get me wrong, he gets his shots in and when he does make a joke it is usually better than any of ours (except the “Juan” puns, those are always bad.).
It is hard for me to point to one specific story about Juan because, to me, he is the guy sitting with us shaking his head and smiling after every stupid thing he sees us do. Without Juan, Hammer and Rails probably would’ve fallen apart five or six times over by now. Good thing, he’s not going away totally, cause we’d really be screwed.
Where do I start? I believe you were the one who read my “please take me in and let me write” message, about 4 years ago. It seems like yesterday that you and T-Mill pulled me off the Deep Dish Sports Streets and took me under your wing.
While I don’t have a ton of stories between you and I, you have always been the one to be able to chill us all out. Whether it was with you straight up common sense, doctor common sense that is. Or if it was sarcasm you proposed during Purdue athletics, which needs some Goddamn comedy built in itself to get us through it all.
You have always mentioned a coup to take over Hammer and Rails from Travis. I will gladly continue the coup on in your name, it may go down as Juan of the greatest coups ever.
Even though you are done writing and managing, we know you will still be around. Not only have you been a good colleague here at Hammer and Rails, I think I speak for all of us when we say you have become a pretty good friend to us.
Thank you for some everlasting memories, memes, puns, gifs and posts.