Ode to Hochman

What did we ever do to you, St. Louis?

First Larry Walker. Then Paul Stastny. And now this?

Serves you right that our – err, “your” – owner will soon be relocating the Rams to beautiful, sunny, downtown Los Angeles. A little payback from our Stan the Man, perhaps.

You’re not getting Benjamin Hochman without a fight. But if you do – if he indeed leaves us – know this, St. Louis: You’re getting a good one.

If what I’m reading in the paper is true (and really, what in the paper isn’t?), then this weekend will mark the last time we’ll be reading a column from Hochman in the Denver Post. Hochman is heading home. Ten days from now, he’ll be writing his column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

And while this particular column isn’t about St. Louis (hey, I was just kidding; please, no hard feelings, Rams fans), it is about a columnist and his column, and how we here in Denver will miss both mightily. They just don’t make many like Hochman, whose words are always carefully clever and thought-provoking, sometimes funny, many times courageous, and never cliché – except for once, when he wrote an entire column about Avalanche forward Marc-André Cliche using nothing but clichés. Even then, he gave 110 percent.

I’d heard that Hochman was headed back to his hometown of St. Louis a while back (secrets don’t last long in the tiny Denver sports community), but it really wasn’t until this past Tuesday that it really hit me: Damn! We’re losing Hochman!

As I read his “penultimate” column (as he dubbed it, giving full credit to the thesaurus), I thought to myself, “I’m gonna miss this guy.” The column wasn’t necessarily about sports. Sure, sports were the backdrop, but as many of Hochman’s pieces are, this one was more about people.  Specifically, this one – “Life’s too short to be a jerk to gay people” – encouraged tolerance, a theme that’s been consistent throughout Hochman’s tenure with the Post. I won’t attempt to explain why it was so great – you’ll have to, and most definitely should, read it yourself – but in my humble opinion, it was one of his greatest. A tweet that followed aptly summed it up.

Tweeted @carlinrobin: “@hochman, you win at life.”

And this is so true. Hochman does win at life. He simply gets it on every front.

In this world – the oh-so-important, ever-so-serious, vital-to-our-existence, life-or-freaking-death business of sports reporting – Hochman is the anomaly. He keeps sports in their place – they’re just games, after all – and instead highlights the lessons and experiences gained through them. In the “biz” there are boatloads of ego; Hochman has none. He uses his platform wisely but never, ever, takes himself too seriously. It’s competitive, dare I say “territorial” out there, but Hochman isn’t like that. He’s the first one to share a contact, make an introduction or provide a tidbit of information that might help to make your story better. He doesn’t care if you write for the Post, S.I. or little ol’ Mile High Sports.

I recently asked Will Petersen, an excellent Mile High Sports writer who landed the job largely because Hochman sent him our way, how he’d describe his fellow Missouri alum.

“Here’s the thing about Benjamin,” Petersen opined, “he doesn’t care if you’re an intern on the first day of the job or Peyton Manning – he will treat you with respect. I’ve stood next to him when he’s introduced himself to everyone from potential Hall of Famer Terrell Davis to rookie Shane Ray, ‘Hi, Benjamin Hochman, columnist, Denver Post! How are you?’ he says with unmatched enthusiasm. Benjamin makes everyone feel special, no matter how ‘important’ they might be. St. Louis is so lucky he’s coming home. Hochman is a top prospect; maybe the Rockies can at least get Matt Holliday back in return?”

And everyone likes Hochman back. Look no further than WINS (Wednesday Is the New Saturday), a weekly, well-attended gathering he engineered so that writers and reporters – “sportsfolk” and others – could get together and just hang out. Everyone, from the first-day intern to Grantland/ESPN’s Jonah Keri, was invited. No pressure. No angle. Just come along and grab a drink. Said Hochman of his WINS creation: “It’s probably my greatest contribution to society. A bunch of local writers and lawyers and writers who tell girls they’re actually lawyers meet up, tell stories, and, occasionally, do karaoke.”

As a Nuggets beat writer, a stand-up comic and a columnist, Hochman made friends at every turn.

“The relationship between a beat writer and a PR director is one of the most important parts of the business,” Tim Gelt, the media relations director for the Denver Nuggets, recently told me when the news of Hochman’s departure hit the streets. “To have a relationship, as well as a friendship, with someone like Benjamin was a true gift. There may not be a person on this planet that I have shared more laughs with in my career. He will certainly be missed but we will always have his Twitter account.”

I like Hochman for all those reasons and more. Because he unapologetically embraces soccer (what red-blooded, ‘Merican sports writer does that?), and yet, celebrates baseball like he’s spent a lifetime watching Ruth and Gehrig (note: he’s only 35). Because he covers the preps every bit as seriously as he does the pros. Because he clearly understands right from wrong and has no problem writing it; his pieces on Ray Rice were among his best. Because he wrote an objective series on Valor Christian High School (again, who does that?). Because he’s had the courage to stand up for the rights and feelings of the gay athlete in a world where that’s still really scary to most.

“We’ll look back 50 years from now and be embarrassed how slow society and sports were to accept gays,” he told me in an interview last summer. “Shoot, it’s embarrassing right now.”

Indeed, Hochman will be missed. But as Gelt suggests, we’ll still have Twitter –and @hochman is great on Twitter. And, I suppose, we could always log into StLToday.com, the Post-Dispatch’s site, where columns and stories load almost as slowly as they do on DenverPost.com. In an ever-evolving news world, where anyone’s words can be found anywhere with the touch of a button or the swipe of a smartphone, I suppose we can always check in on Hochman. Whether he’s writing from here or there, we really should.

Hochman, enjoy penning tales of a real baseball team, and please accept my apologies for your soon-to-be-former football franchise. Keep writing and we’ll keep reading.

So long, friend. You will be missed in Denver.

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