For Patrick Saunders (History, '81), baseball is a full-time job. As the Colorado Rockies beat reporter for the The Denver Post, Saunders covers more than 100 of the team's 162 games, plus spring training and any playoff games.
It's a good thing he loves both the game and his work.
“I’ve been covering the Rockies since 2005,” Saunders says. “There’s just something about baseball. I really love the sport, and always have.”
Sports journalism requires more than just a love of the game, though. It requires dedication, hard work, and communication skills, traits Saunders brings to his game every day.
“There are a lot of skills that go into it, not just writing,” Saunders explains. “You’ve got to develop a news sense and be able to pivot when things change. You also have to have great people skills. There’s a lot of interviewing people. You have to be fair while still being interesting and provocative.”
Those skills are put to the test when covering baseball, Saunders adds, because of his being a fan of the the sport as well as circumstances that allow him to meet and work with the players he reports on.
“My favorite aspect of covering baseball would have to be getting to know the athletes as people, which gives you access to writing more personal stories about them,” says Saunders. “In baseball, you really get a chance to know the players, and get to know their stories. You’re around them so much of the time, spring training through the month of October, that there’s an intimacy involved that allows you to get a bit of truth and build some relationships with some of the athletes.”
“But,” he adds, ”having said that, there’s a line that you don’t cross. You can befriend players you cover, but while you’re covering them you really don’t become their friend. You are there to report, and there are times where you have to be critical of players, no matter how much you like them.”
As challenging as being a baseball reporter is, though, Saunders laments the fact that people still think his job is just sitting in the stands, eating hot dogs, and watching the game. “Of all the beats, I think most would agree the toughest beat is baseball,” Saunders says. “When I tell people what I do for a living they’re kind of like, 'Oh that’s cool. So you just sit and watch the game and then write about it?' Which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Travel is part of the job -- Saunders splits the Rockies' 82 road games per year with his colleague, Nick Groke. But even when the Rockies are playing in Denver, Saunders gets to Coors Field around 2 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game. He spends several hours down on the field interviewing players and in the clubhouse talking to Rockies manager Walt Weiss, gathering information for that night's game, as well as seeking out any news on player trades or actions. From there he'll write and post a pre-game blog.
Once the first pitch is thrown, though, it's also game-on for Saunders the sportswriter. “Covering the game, I'm usually writing the whole time — doing a notebook for the next day’s paper, tweeting, and interacting with the fans – trying to put some analysis and perspective on it. I also try to write the game story during the game. But then someone hits a home run in the 9th inning, so I have to rip it up. It’s a lot of pressure,” he laughs.
Prior to working for The Denver Post, Saunders earned his master's in journalism at the University of Colorado, then broke into the business as a sports writer and sports editor at the Longmont Daily Times-Call. While there the paper earned recognition from the Associated Press Sports Editors as one of nation’s top-10 sports sections for papers with circulations under 50,000, which led to Saunders' catching the eye of ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who was working for The Denver Post at the time.
“He took notice of my work habits and everything when I was in Longmont,” Saunders says. “He nudged The Post in my direction, and I’ve been there ever since.” Saunders joined The Denver Post in 1998 as a Broncos beat writer, where he got to cover the Broncos through their two consecutive Super Bowl titles.
For Saunders, the newspaper business and Fort Lewis College both came naturally, as a sort of family legacy. Patrick’s father is Dusty Saunders, the legendary Colorado print and broadcast journalist who worked for the (now defunct) Rocky Mountain News for 54 years as a copy boy, police reporter, city hall reporter, editor, and broadcasting-beat writer. Today Dusty is also a sports columnist for The Denver Post, and recently released a memoir, Heeere's Dusty: Life in the TV and Newspaper World.
For the Saunders family, it seems the baseball doesn't fall too far from the bullpen: Patrick and Dusty also both honed their sports and professional skills at Fort Lewis College. “My dad played basketball at Fort Lewis,” says Patrick. ”It was a junior college called Fort Lewis A&M at that time, located in Hesperus, west of Durango.”
“My dad only went there for a year, but he always loved the area, Saunders adds. "So as a kid we would visit Durango on vacation. I just fell in love with the town and when the time came around to go to school, the beauty and smallness of the place just attracted me. Between my dad loving it and my fond memories of Durango, I was drawn to FLC.”
At FLC, Saunders fueled his interest in writing through the Independent campus newspaper, and kept his love of sports alive playing on a variety of intramural teams. He also gained first-hand experience in great storytelling through his History professor, Duane Smith (now Professor Emeritus). “Dr. Smith is a Fort Lewis College legend,” says Saunders. “I remember going to Dr. Smith’s class and for me, it was almost like going to the movies. He was such a good lecturer and was so interesting that it was captivating. It was such an intimate and warm feeling in his classes that I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. It was just phenomenal.”
Today the third-generation Coloradoan resides in Englewood, just outside Denver, with his wife, Nancy and their two golden retrievers, Shelby and Ginger. Still Saunders credits his time at FLC as being integral in his path to his life today.
“I mean this sincerely, I would not trade my years at Fort Lewis for the world,” he says. “Every time I go back to Durango, I still get a little teary-eyed.”