Smith: Why am I leaving home in Tampa for a new adventure in Minnesota

Sixteen years ago, I arrived in Tampa Bay not knowing what to expect.

I was in my mid-20s and had just finished my second cross-suburban move in three years. I’ve spent the past two years in Modesto, California, for my first professional job with the Modesto Bee newspaper. I covered rodeo, Major League Baseball, and high school football. I’ve done first-person stories in adventure races, Hold ’em poker tournaments, and even experimented with the Arena Football League. This was the kind of thing you could do in little papers. loved it.

But this was my big break, as I got the chance to work for a major daily: The St Petersburg Times. I was hired to cover high school sports, with a dream of calling the major leagues.

I spent my first night in my apartment on South St. Pete sleeps on a black futon mattress I bought at Target. I sold most of my furniture before moving and booked the apartment online without seeing it (not suggested). I didn’t know anyone 1,500 miles away.

I said to myself, “What the hell was I thinking?”

It turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made, regardless of my wife Caitlin’s suggestion.

Tampa Bay has become our home. In some ways, it always will be. It’s where I first got my dream of covering professional sports, from the World Championships to the Super Bowl to multiple Stanley Cup Finals. It’s where I met Caitlin, where we got married, and where I bought my first home. It’s where we met friends who became family.

This is what makes writing the following sentence so difficult:

They were leaving.

I’m staying with the athlete But she’s heading to Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, for our next big adventure. I’ll be teaming up with one of our company’s best writers, Michael Russo, to cover Minnesota Wild. I will also spend a good part of my time writing stories for us NHL Vertical – The kind of features and pieces of organization you’ve enjoyed bringing to Lightning get over.

Why are you leaving?

First, it’s time for a change. I’ve covered Lightning for parts of the past ten years, including the past eight years as a primary writer. It was a great experience, everyone from the organization to the fans were so generous with their time and support. I have covered most of Stephen Stamkos’ work and Victor HedmanCareers. I’ve had time in the players’ hometown, from Massena, New York, to Ofek, Sweden. I was there from Brayden PointProject his rise to stardom. I’ve written every John Cooper story I can think of. I’ve covered four Stanley Cup Finals and five Eastern Conference Finals.

Now, take a look at a new organization, Minnesota Wild, which has one of the biggest and most enthusiastic fan bases in the league. This is the top NHL market for a reason, and I can’t wait to interact with the readers and subscribers out there.

In addition, I work with Russo, who is a good friend and a standard among hockey writers. We can only learn from each other, and make each other better. We will collaborate on Wild Stories and NHL Stories.

I will continue to challenge and push myself while writing patriotic stories, doing the kind of work that subscribers expect the athlete. And we’d be even closer to family, as Caitlin (Indiana) and I (Michigan) both grew up in the Midwest.

Yes, I realize it’s really cold out there in the winter. But I’ve also heard how great it is to live in the Twin Cities.

I would like to thank Lightning and their fans, for all their time and support over the past decade, and especially the last four since I moved to the athlete. I’ve loved interacting with you on Twitter, in Thunder Alley, at local bars. We’ve had interviews from Tampa to Stockholm to Nashville. Your comments have inspired me and pushed me to keep trying to find new stories.

As soon as I knew I was leaving, I reached out to people struggling with Lightning, from general manager Julian Presboa to owner Jeff Finnick and coach John Cooper, whom I’ve covered since his first day on the job, in the spring of 2013. We’ve shared countless conversations, And a few beers and a lot of barbs over the years.

“I can’t believe I’m going to say this,” Cooper said, “but I’m going to miss you.”

We’ll miss you too, Tampa Bay.

And Minnesota, we can’t wait to get to know you.

(Photo: Jeff Burke/USA Today)