ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- Years later, Mike Vaccaro still finds it funny.
One pivotal moment during his childhood geared what has become a lifelong dream fulfilled as the lead sports columnist at The New York Post.
“I had an epiphany at seven years old,” Vaccaro told students about the first time he accompanied his dad to Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets.
“At one point, he pointed up to the back of home plate and he said ‘That’s the press box. That’s where the guys go and write their stories.’ I said, ‘How do you do that?’” he recalled of the experience, laughing.
He realizes he is unique.
“Not everybody gets to do that,” he said of being able to work at his dream job. “I get it. I went to school with guys who were in grad school and didn’t know what they wanted to do. I empathize with that because I’ve always known what I wanted to do.”
Vaccaro, a 1989 St. Bonaventure University graduate, visited campus Tuesday to talk to journalism classes in the Jandoli School of Communication during the university's the biennial Dick Joyce Sports Symposium. He is a member of the alumni planning committee for the event.
A native of West Hempstead, New York, Vaccaro honed his craft at St. Bonaventure.
“I realized there was a lot of things I could do. I worked in the public relations office, I worked in the sports information office, I was editor of the student newspaper, I took an overnight shift at the radio station.”
Vaccaro said taking part in these different on-campus experiences proved pivotal for him figuring out exactly what he wanted to do.
“A lot of it was the process of elimination,” he said. “I realized that I didn’t want to do one thing and not another. That’s what’s the best part of your time here.”
But Vaccaro explained that his path from St. Bonaventure to his dream job was not an easy one.
“It wasn’t an overnight thing for me,” he said. “Ultimately, I went from Bonaventure to New York by way of Montana, but part of the fun of the journey is going to Montana... I didn’t get the job at The Post until I was 32. The track you wind up pursuing is so different than what you would think and still, it can lead you to where you want to be.”
Prior to working his dream beat at The Post, Vaccaro got his first job out of college at the Olean Times Herald, covering Bonaventure men’s basketball.
“They were terrible,” he said of the team at the time. “I also covered a lot of high school sports and a lot of recreation sports. That provided me with an interesting dichotomy because five months of the year I was covering the Bonnies and even though they were terrible, it’s something people read every word of because there was no place to even read about them.”
But it was during the offseason where he realized his true power as a journalist.
“The other seven months of the year sucked,” he added. “It was a terrible mindset to have and my work suffered accordingly... But I realized that while it might not be as glamorous as the St. Bonaventure basketball beat, as long as you spell their names properly, that story is going to hang on these kids’ refrigerator or in a scrapbook for the rest of their lives. That really stuck with me.”
From the Times Herald, Vaccaro moved on to become the sports editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times in 1991 where he faced his greatest challenge.
“June 15, 1993 -- I got my ass fired,” he said of the experience. “I was 25 years old, I thought I had the world by the strings and I didn’t. Part of it, I deserved. I was young and stupid and too opinionated... I didn’t get another job until October of that year and that’s four months of just utter despair. It was a shattering experience, but I value my career more because of it.”
From there, Vaccaro spent four years as a columnist at the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, before a year at The Kansas Star and four more at the Star-Ledger before landing his dream job with The Post.
“You’re going to hear a lot of ‘Nos’ between now and your first job,” he told the students. “All it takes is one ‘Yes.’ That’s a pretty good ratio. You have one ‘Yes’ and all of a sudden it’s on you. For as long as everybody else says ‘No’ to you, it’s on them.”
He admitted that he feels passionate about the concept of one "paying dues."
“Paying dues, though, is not necessarily a sentence,” he said. “When it changed for me is when I realized that. Paying dues is also what it means to be a professional, it’s also what it means to act professionally, write professionally, report professionally in whatever context or job you’re doing.”
And, at the end of the day, the profession he has struggled through is the one he can’t imagine his life without.
“What I love more than anything else is turning my computer on, seeing a blank screen, and knowing that come hell or high water, I’m going to fill that screen. It might not be the most inspired work I’ve ever come up with, but it’s funny how you draw upon things that get you from word one to word 800 when you have no idea how you’re going to get there.”
On writing, he added, “If you believe writing is a muscle, you will always get better at it. It’s like if you want to be a good free-throw shooter, what do you do? You shoot free throws.”
And, as far as those ‘dues?’
"If you approach everything as if it was Game 7 of the World Series, in terms of wanting to do it and give every story you wrote justice, that’s the best way of paying your dues.”
Related Story: McElroy Receives John Domino Award from St. Bonaventure
Sign Up for E-News to get top stories delivered daily to your inbox.