Sports columnist John Feinstein spent some time on the road after Virginia won the Final Four.
The author of 35 books, including the New York Times bestseller “Season on the Brink,” prefers driving to flying. I enjoyed a nearly 30-minute phone call during which he made me laugh often, but I elicited exactly one chuckle from him: when I told him he had given me three columns’ worth of material. I also told Feinstein I am devoted to his wonderful Washington Post work, while still missing him on ESPN’s now defunct “The Sports Reporters.”
“I can honestly say I don’t miss much of television,” he said. “Television, to me, was always more of a headache than it was worth, but I loved doing ‘Sports Reporters.’ It was a lot of fun.”
This is Part 1 of our interview.
Q: Is “Quarterback” your latest nonfiction book?
A: It’s cleverly enough about playing quarterback in the NFL. My most recent book is fiction, “The Prodigy,” which is set at the Masters about a 17-year-old kid.
Q: Your youngest child is an 8-year-old who expects face time with Dad. Between her, your broadcasting schedule and columns, when do you have time to write books?
A: The good part about writing books is that when you finish your research — I just finished researching a college basketball book, for example — you get to be home for a few months, most of the time. When I am at home, I work at home, so I can take her to school. I’m there when she gets home. My wife teaches at the same school so [I] get big stretches of time with her.
But you’re right. Right now she’s quite annoyed with me because I’ve been away so much this past month. [After the Masters] I’m going to meet her and my wife in Orlando and we are going to spend a week there doing Disney, Universal Studios and stuff like that. Hopefully that makes up for some of it.
Q: Do you parent the third one different from the two kids from your first marriage?
A: Yes, because I’m older. Because I’ve experienced being a father now for the third time. Because I appreciate it more. I’m not going to say it came as a surprise because when I remarried you hope that we’d get pregnant. But it was a surprise in that, who knew I’d be a father again? It’s just been tremendous fun. I’m lucky because she’s got an amazing personality and is just a lot of fun.
Q: When kids get to be 13 or 14, you know, they don’t want to be seen in public with the parents.
A: You’re 100% right. I’ve had it happen twice already. The good news is that my son is now 25, has come through that stretch and decided he likes me again. I see my oldest daughter, who is 21, kind of going in that direction. She’s not there yet.
I remember vividly when my son was in high school, I drove him to school one morning. I would drop him off and then go work out. So I was in my sweats and had to go into the school office to sign some paperwork, and we are walking toward the door, and he says to me: “What are you doing?” And I said, “I have to go sign this paperwork.” And he said, “No, no, no. You can’t walk into school with me. If a good-looking girl comes around the corner and sees me with you, I’m dead. You have to wait.”
He was completely serious. You know the Mark Twain line about how much smarter parents become between the ages of 18 and 22? It’s true, and I’m sure it will happen with Jane.
Q: You’re a rich man. Why don’t you have a driver?
A: Well, first of all, my ex-wife is rich, not me. As I said to a cop in Mississippi when he asked why I wasn’t retired yet: “I have a wife, I have an ex-wife and three children. So I’m not retiring anytime soon.”
But the flip side, I prefer to drive myself. I like the solitude. I enjoy it. I listen to Books on Tape all the time; it allows me to keep up with my reading. I do phone calls like this. I do radio shows, things like that. That helps the time pass. I just don’t like to fly unless I absolutely have to, and while this is as long a trip as I’ll make in a day, I don’t really mind it that much. I wish I’d had more than five hours sleep last night.
Q: You’ll pull over if you feel sleepy?
A: Absolutely. My first step if I start to feel tired is that I pull over and get a cup of coffee. If that doesn’t revive me, then I’ll pull over and close my eyes for 10 or 15 minutes. That almost always works.
Q: Do you think your travel schedule had a negative impact on your first marriage?
A: Oh, there’s no question. It’s not a coincidence that a lot of people who are in sports — coaches, athletes, sportswriters — get divorced. It’s hard on marriages, on the spouse. We had two kids who needed a lot of my time and attention, and I did everything that I could to be there, but I know at times it was difficult for my wife.
It’s difficult for my wife now. I think the biggest difference, to be honest, is my first wife, Mary, stopped working when we had children, and I think smart people need something in their lives besides their children, no matter who they are. My current wife, Christine, is a teacher, and I think that keeps her occupied and a lot happier when I’m away. She misses me; I hope she misses me. I know Jane, my daughter, misses me, and I miss them like hell. But, as I have often said, I have not reached the point yet where the athletes will come to my house. So I have to go to them.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.