Eye on the ball: DSU baseball alum Divish moves from behind the plate to the press box
In 1991, high school sophomore Ryan Divish read an article by Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated. The story, about a Crow tribe high school basketball team in Montana, engrossed him. Being from Havre, Mont., he recognized some names and places, but...
In 1991, high school sophomore Ryan Divish read an article by Gary Smith in Sports Illustrated. The story, about a Crow tribe high school basketball team in Montana, engrossed him. Being from Havre, Mont., he recognized some names and places, but that wasn't why the story stood out to him.
"I remember I read it again and it was so different than any sports writing I had ever read," Divish said. "I was like, 'I want to do this.'"
Ever since, he wanted to be a journalist. Aside from taking a journalism class in high school, he had no experience or concept of what the career called for. After leaving Havre High, Divish explored attending journalism school at the University of Montana, but was overwhelmed by the size of Missoula. Dickinson State University's small campus and the opportunity to play baseball won him over.
When Divish chose DSU, he chose baseball over journalism. With his current job at The Seattle Times covering the Mariners, he doesn't have to choose one or the other.
"I wouldn't have been ready to go to journalism school without going to Dickinson first," Divish said Thursday from Chicago where he's covering the Mariners against the White Sox in their first series following the All-Star break. "I matured a lot when I got to Dickinson and understood about being on my own. I would have never made it at Montana."
Divish said, as a young adult, he needed Dickinson State. He needed baseball. He needed the sense of belonging. Blue Hawk baseball was such a big part of his college career, he was disheartened to hear the university was cutting the program following the 2017-18 school year.
"I was disappointed because it's an opportunity, especially for kids from Montana - there's not a lot of college baseball - to go to Dickinson and play," Divish said. "So I was disappointed. If I won the lottery tomorrow I'd love to give a bunch of money back to keep the program going, but I understand from a cost standpoint, the difficulties."
Going into college, head coach Hank Biesiot expected Divish to be a second baseman. The freshman gained more than the cliche 15 pounds, though, and became a catcher, a position he said better fit his personality and way of thinking.
The team didn't put a lot of tallies in the win column when Divish played. He said the team's best season was his personal best, his junior year, in which they finished the season around .500. Still, Divish took it seriously.
"I had this weird superstition about the bat that I use," he said. "Before every time I stepped into the batter's box, I swung seven times and licked the sweet spot on the barrel. We were playing Minnesota-Crookston one day. I hit a homer or a couple homers in a doubleheader. The back of The Dickinson Press had a picture of me licking the bat, and I got a whole lot of grief from my teammates the next day. My mom still has it in a scrapbook."
While at DSU, Divish studied education. However, after completing his student teaching in Frenchtown, Mont., he realized educating wasn't for him. Upon graduation, he convinced his parents to let him take a chance on journalism school. He backpedaled and took the path he wasn't ready to take four years earlier.
For five semesters, Divish attended the University of Montana and learned about the field that intrigued him in high school. He even won a Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence in 2000 for an article he wrote while reporter, sports editor and columnist at the student newspaper, The Kaimin.
Divish's first newspaper job was in his hometown as sports editor at The Havre Daily News. He covered college sports at the Idaho State Journal before covering the Mariners for The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. In 2013 he joined The Seattle Times.
Similarly to the Blue Hawks baseball team Divish played on at DSU, the Mariners are not a great team. In his introductory blog post at The Times, Divish wrote, "when you cover a team that has been epically bad for this long, you have to maintain a sense of humor about the situation and yourself."
Four years into his position at the Times, Divish said he is still doing this.
"I always joke and say if you take yourself too seriously, no one will take you seriously," he said. "It's a game. You're still writing about a game. Another thing is, you're not a fan. You have to separate yourself. You have to remove the emotion of it. I'm not a fan of the team. My passion lies in writing a good story, doing my job well and seeing cool things. That's the one good part about baseball and covering sports: you never know what you're going to get."
In Havre, there is no obvious hometown team. The first 15 baseball games Divish attended were at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, so he grew attached to the Twins, specifically Kirby Puckett who was about as tall Divish.
"When you're half Japanese and not very big, you're not looking at basketball or football as your future, though I played them," Divish said. "I was always 'baseball is probably my best sport.' I played it pretty religiously."
Now, as a reporter, he watches it religiously.
He travels with the team across the country, and with the Mariners, that's more travel than with most other Major League Baseball clubs. For the Seattle-based team, the closest opponent is two and a half hours away in Oakland.
"Wherever they go, I go," Divish said. "Basically I have no life from about middle of February to middle of October. I'm gone. This year for spring training I left Seattle on February 10th and didn't get home until April 8th."
Although most players had most of last week off for the All-Star break, Divish was still hard at work.
"It isn't a break for the writers, but it is still fun," Divish said. "You're still going to the All-Star Game. That's still a very surreal experience. I think this is my fourth or fifth one now and while the work is always there and there are long days, it's also random when you share an elevator with (ex-NHL player) Bobby Smith. That's always pretty cool. I'm always very thankful I get to go do that and enjoy all that."
All-Star Games are only the beginning of the highlight reel of Divish's career. In 2015 he covered Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz. He followed Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch around to every practice and press availability. His position allows him to tell stories that extend beyond game days. He connects with players and writes more than what happens on the field. For instance, in July 2015 he wrote about the bond between Mariners third-base coach Rich Donnelly and Tigers' pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who both endured losing a child.
"(Donnelly) was connected to Anibal Sanchez through a friend in the grief of dealing with the loss of a child," Divish said. "I went to talk with both of them the day Anibal pitched against the Mariners. Just seeing them interact, it turned out really well. You got a lot of help from them because they were very honest and open."
While he loves writing longer pieces like the Gary Smith article he read in high school, working at Sports Illustrated is no longer appealing to Divish. When he was younger, he thought the magazine, ESPN or working in large sports markets such as New York or Boston would be the goal, but he said he is more than comfortable living in Tacoma and covering the Mariners.
"I love Seattle," Divish said. "I can get back to Montana if I need to very quickly. I can't really see myself on TV or anything else. I'm just a guy who likes to write about baseball."