The Change Up

Twenty years ago, Tony Boone didn’t see the connection.

He was a sportscaster, not a sportswriter.

The sports director at KHAS Radio in Hastings, Neb., he was doing radio play-by-play for high school and college games when the station lost its news director. The station’s owner wanted him to take over the news department. He explained he didn’t want to be a news guy; he was a sports guy and that was his passion.

Boone walked.

The very next day, he was offered a job on the sports staff at the Hastings Tribune.

“I told him (the sports editor at the Hastings Tribune) I wasn’t trained to write at all and he told me, ‘You know the sports, you know everyone in the area, you’ll get it,” Boone said. “And I literally walked across the alley the next day to start at the newspaper and I’ve done it for 20 straight years since.”

The fact he’s spent the last two decades as a sportswriter, something he never intended to be, isn’t lost on Boone, a 1990 Fremont-Mills High School graduate.

Any dream of getting back into broadcasting passed long ago. He’s never regretted his decision to pivot to print and he’s proud of what he’s done as a writer.

“I guess I felt this was where I belonged all along and didn’t know it,” he said.

After a decade at the Omaha World-Herald, Boone pivoted once again. He took a buyout last summer and parlayed his experienced into a front office job with the Omaha Storm Chasers, AAA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. After five years of covering the team for the hometown newspaper, Boone took over as the club’s media and public relations manager in January.

But Boone’s first season with the Storm Chasers was called before it could even begin.

The COVID-19 outbreak forced the suspension of the season on March 12 during spring training, 28 days before the Storm Chasers’ season opener.

Dozens of employees in the front office like Boone have been furloughed or are working half-time from home with temporary pay cuts.

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether we will end up having baseball or not and if we don’t, then this is probably the beginning of more of what’s to come,” he said. “That part’s unsettling, but for now, everyone is doing what they can. We just have no baseball games to do anything about.”

While NASCAR and the PGA Tour have both announced upcoming dates when they will return to competition under strict social distancing guidelines, there’s no official timeline for the return of baseball.

Boone, who was offered the job last November but didn’t officially get to work until January, admits his introduction to the front office has been a little stranger than he anticipated but he’s still excited about the possibilities.

“So far, it’s been good other than the no baseball part of it,” he said. “I guess I always felt like the things I’d be able to contribute the most would be when the season started. It’s been a little disappointing that hasn’t come yet.”

When the season resumes, Boone will fill the traditional public relations role for the Storm Chasers – writing press releases, developing an online or social media presence and coordinating interviews with team personnel – but he also plans to help the organization create and drive its own content.

shrinking newsrooms and coverage in traditional media, he’s a firm believer any sports organization, professional or college, has to be able to share its own story. He’s looking forward to doing that for the Storm Chasers.

“I think this has the potential to be a good marriage in the sense that I can provide something that maybe hadn’t been there before while I also filling a lot of a role that is an absolute necessity when you have a team like this.”

The team unveiled a podcast during the off-season. New radio play-by-play voice Jake Eisenberg will also work closely with Boone on developing stories and they’ve discussed introducing more multimedia and other in house media to enhance the team’s community presence.

“The future for that is endless,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunities to help the Chasers out because I really do believe we’re going to have to share our own stories. In a sense, we’re going to be replacing the traditional beat writer by telling the story ourselves.”

Being a beat writer is something Boone knows a little something about.
After graduating from Fremont-Mills in 1990, Boone studied broadcast journalism at the University of Nebraska. After graduation, he spent five years doing TV and radio play-by-play first in Omaha and then in Hastings.

He started as a stringer for the Omaha World-Herald in 2004 and joined the paper full time in 2009 as an Iowa Western Community College and western Iowa high school sports reporter. In 2015 he took over the UNO and Storm Chasers beats while also serving as the paper’s primary boxing reporter.

In his time at the World-Herald Boone covered 12 world title fights, the only Major League Baseball game ever played in Nebraska, UNO hockey’s trip to at the Frozen Four, countless NCAA basketball and NCAA volleyball tournament and College World Series games. One of biggest areas of pride was covering sports in his hometown of Tabor and his alma mater’s state football championship season in 2011.

Boone is widely regarded as one of the area’s preeminent boxing writers. He led the newspapers’ award-winning coverage of Omaha welterweight champion Terence Crawford.

He’s not sure if he’s far enough removed from his former career to say if he misses covering the sport he’s loved since childhood but it’s not lost on him many people will forget everything he’s written and he’ll forever be known as the guy who covered Terence Crawford.

“I’m totally fine with that,” he said. “Boxing is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time. I watched fights when I was in Tabor. I’ve always been interested in it. For that to happen while I was at the World-Herald was extremely fortunate for me and boxing coverage in Omaha. It was a perfect marriage.”

There has been one Crawford fight since he left the newspaper and he admitted it was strange to be watching it amongst friends and not ringside with his notebook.

“But its easily been the highlight of my career to date,” he said of covering Crawford. “If anyone would have asked I would have said my Super Bowl was covering a world title fight and I got to do it 12 times.”
Last Summer, as part of downsizing at the World-Herald, Boone cashed in his chips and took a salary buyout. No more covering NCAA championships and title fights. He had the chance to stay on staff but his beat would have changed.

“Knowing that and that the beat that I had were basically going to die, whether I was there or not, I chose to take the buyout as compared to being shipped off to a different role.”

He wasn’t burned out by the job or covering sports or the travel or long hours, even if he was disappointed by the newsroom and coverage thinning at the paper. It just made sense to walk away when he did.

So, he took the time the buyout payment allotted him. He spent time with his wife, did some baseball road trips with his father and his college-age son. He waited until the right opportunity presented itself.

“I didn’t freak out about not having a job waiting the next day,” he said. “I decided to wait and see what worked out, if one of the teams or schools I covered had a spot for me to continue to do what I was doing with those organizations every day.”

The Storm Chasers came calling in November.

Having never worked in a professional sport front office, he had a lot to learn about the business side of baseball. But he thinks the Storm Chasers saw in him a chance to go a different direction with the media relations position.

“I wouldn’t say it was a slam dunk in November, but I felt comfortable then that this could happen and it all worked out,” he said.
Boone’s new job is not unlike his old one – only more singularly focused. He sees his duties as part PR, part beat writer.

“I would say it’s a dual role in the sense I will still be a beat writer/content creator for the team but at the same time I will be sharing stories with the traditional media to make sure the biggest audience gets a chance to hear about what’s happening at Werner Park,” he said. “So, it’s going to be on me to pick and choose those spots. Where does it best lie on a story to story basis?”

The daily deadline grind of being a newspaper sportswriter can be nerve-racking and stressful. Time and mileage are a constant battle. Boone isn’t sure yet if he misses his former life or that sportswriter moniker he begrudgingly took on two decades ago.

“I’ll miss the games themselves, but that’s because they’re not going on,” he said. “I don’t yet miss the writing portion because that’s still going to happen. But part of me would be lying to myself if I didn’t admit I’m going to miss covering some of those big things. I’ve had a good run.”

 

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