FARGO — Jeff Kolpack has covered just shy of a million sporting events in a sports writing career that goes back to the 1980s. That's not an official number, but it has to be close. From the Jamestown Sun to the Bismarck Tribune to The Forum, he's written about everything from rodeo to boxing to high school hoops to Football Championship Subdivision title games.
He's been the beat writer for North Dakota State athletics for the past couple of decades, having chronicled the Bison football team's unprecedented run since moving up to Division I.
American Legion baseball, too. Lots and lots of Legion baseball game stories carry the Kolpack byline.
That's what makes this week so much different for the longtime Forum sports writer.
He's traded in his press pass for dad credentials.
Kolpack is in Shelby, N.C., with his wife Ruby and the other parents of the Fargo American Legion Post 2 baseball team that's advanced to the World Series championship game. Post 2 leads Idaho Falls 2-1 after one inning in a game that was suspended by rain on Tuesday, Aug. 20. The game will be completed Wednesday and is set to resume at 9 a.m. Central time.
The Kolpacks' son, Brandt, is the starting second baseman for Post 2.
So the guy who has covered and written about everybody else's kids in big events is now the guy in the stands cheering on his own.
"I think I've discovered in the last three, four years that I have nerves. I didn't know I had nerves, but I think I do," Kolpack said.
Kolpack coached this group of ballplayers until they were 15 years old. When they graduated to Legion ball, his coaching days ended. He said coaching was far less nerve-wracking than being a dad/fan because coaches are busy managing the ballgame or working strategy. There's a measure of control over what happens next. That's not the case now.
As for separating Sports Writing Jeff from Dad Jeff, Kolpack said it's not been difficult in North Carolina. He hasn't written any Legion articles since Brandt joined the program several years ago and his time in Shelby is vacation, not work. There's been no mixing of the worlds.
(Listen to a podcast of Mike McFeely's conversation with Jeff Kolpack below.)
"Sports writing is my job. It's a job. We've covered seven of the last eight FCS national title games (with NDSU participating) and I show up at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, with my job face on," Kolpack said. "It's totally different than the face I will have on as I approach Keeter Stadium tonight. It's apples and oranges. It's kind of a different dynamic, if you think about it."
Kolpack comes from the first family of North Dakota sports writing. His father, Ed Kolpack, covered the Bison for decades and was a longtime Forum sports editor. Jeff's brother Dave was a sports reporter and columnist at the Watertown (S.D.) Public Opinion, Bismarck Tribune and The Forum. All three won the North Dakota Sportswriter of the Year award.
Ed was a stoic, by-the-book reporter and writer, a trait he passed to both Jeff and Dave. Jeff said those genes and a lifetime of tapping out sports stories means he's not a loud or obnoxious fan, even if his kid is involved. He said he usually watches a ballgame from somewhere along the right-field line, away from the group of Fargo parents at the games.
"I almost watch a game like I'm in a press box," he said. "I rarely cheer. I don't because that's the way I grew up. When you grow up as a sports writer it almost takes that part of the game out of you. That's why the last couple of weeks have been different. I don't know why I'm feeling so many more nerves than I have before in my life watching a game. It's blown me away."
Well, the reason would seem sort of obvious. It's your kid playing, Jeff, and you love him and want him to succeed. It's a different feeling for a sports writer to feel those emotions, for sure. But in this case, it's OK.
It's going to be a tough task for Post 2. Idaho Falls defeated Fargo 7-3 in the first round of the tournament. The Bandits started pitcher Randon Hostert, a University of Utah signee who the Texas Rangers selected in the 15th round of this summer's MLB Draft. Hostert's fastball has been clocked at 92-94 miles per hour. But Post 2 did get two runs off him in the top of the first inning before the game was suspended.