Column: Famous and celebrated? He’s just John to us

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO | Acclaimed author John Feinstein celebrates with his putting trophy amid a crowd of 8- to ten-year-old Island winners. He lobbied for 30 years to get his treasured hardware.

This is a crazy time of the year living on Shelter Island and thinking about the world of sports. It is too cold for baseball and golf, the football season is over and the kids just played their final basketball game this week.

So my mind roamed to people who grew up on Shelter Island, still live here and have somehow made it in the sports world. With that thought in mind, the most successful sports person I know that fits that description is considered among today’s best sports writers.

That of course would be 57-year-old John Feinstein. Feinstein is an award-winning columnist and one of the nation’s most successful and prolific authors. Feinstein spent 11 years as a sports and political reporter for the Washington Post and has contributed to Sports Illustrated, National Sports Daily, ESPN, CBS Sports and Golf Digest. Along with appearing regularly on the Golf Channel, he recently finished a sports show for Sirius XM Radio. Feinstein also has “The John Feinstein Show” from 9 am to 12 noon every weekday on CBS Sports Radio.

He’s written two of the best selling sports books of all time. Feinstein’s first book, “A Season on the Brink,” was a runaway best seller and later adapted as a HBO TV movie of the same name. Another huge best seller was “A Good Walk Spoiled.” As of this writing, Feinstein has written 30 sports books covering such topics as basketball, baseball, tennis, golf, football, boxing and the Olympics.

With that basic resume, I guess that qualifies John as a sports expert and worthy of a few words from the people on the piece of real estate that he loves the most.

John first came to Shelter Island as a two-year old and for the last 55 years has not missed a season. We islanders, of course, knew him before all his fame and celebrity status and continue to spend time with him trying to figure out why people pay him $30,000.00 to talk when we hear the same stories for free.

Things didn’t change much for John. As a boy he always had a mind of his own and was never afraid to give his opinion on anything. He was always highly competitive in any sport and fought hard to win. He held a somewhat quiet grudge against me for over 30 years because of a putting trophy that he should have won. That’s right; John Caccese got the trophy and technically was supposed to be in a different age division. I just let it ride since the awards were presented and I figured it was over. Thirty years later I heard enough and I had to present John with a putting trophy. Yes, he posed for the newspaper picture with the current 8- to 12-year-olds with his trophy proudly in front of him.

Although John was a good golfer and could shoot in the 70s, at times he considered himself a hacker. I am his primary target for his poor golf. Although not true, he still blames me for letting him play golf right-handed when he was a natural lefty. He alleges he could have been a contender and competing at least on the senior tour today instead of just writing about it. Finally, Feinstein did reach national prominence as a swimmer by virtue of winning three national championships as a Masters swimmer — a special class of competitive swimming for swimmers 25 years or older — along with being a part of two relays that broke world records.
It is difficult to be in his company without being reminded of these records.

My message in this column is to let you know that you don’t have to remake yourself to become successful. John took what he had and kept improving it. He’s still the same guy I knew as a teenager and has never tried to be anything else and that is one of the reasons I enjoy his company. When he walks into the clubhouse at the club, he knows every employee by first name. That is important to him, a rare quality that few people possess but one of the best lessons we can take away from this column.

Great news just came through as I’m finishing this column. Last Friday it was announced that John Feinstein was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Congratulations John!