Derrick Goold, baseball writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, guesses that he writes more than 400 stories a year about the St. Louis Cardinals. Along the way, he’s gotten good. This spring, the Associated Press Sports Editors named Goold the No. 1 beat writer in his circulation category.
But there’s more than one kind of practice. In 2017, in addition to his baseball writing, Goold decided that he was going to write a postcard a day to friends and relatives.
Some of us have set goals like that for ourselves for one reason or another. Most of us have fallen short. But Goold went on, and went deep. He ended the year with 530 cards sent, with postmarks from around the National League. For those of you keeping score at home, there were 365 days in 2017. Which means Goold even bested his own ambitions.
This year, he’s doing it again. There are 366 days this Leap Year, but no worries — he’s already ahead of the calendar. After the coronavirus scuttled the start of the baseball season, Goold found himself with less traveling to do and just one postmark: St. Louis. But he still had lots of postcards collected and lots of stamps. A Facebook post announced that his project was on:
All right, a little social distancing isn’t going to stop my attempt to send at least a postcard a day in 2020. Oh sure, I won’t be in Texas today, Cincy this weekend, and exotic locales like Milwaukee next week – but I stocked up. Even got the stamps.
…since we are all going to be home for a while, time to fatten my address book. I have many addresses of friends, but not all.
Anyone want in? Message me. I’ll do my best to find one in my shoeboxes for you.
I emailed Goold after I read his post, at the end of March. By then, he had already mailed 180 postcards this year.
Adapting the practices of then to now
It’s a curious, almost old-fashioned habit. For Goold, it might have all started with his grandmother, who was a frequent postcard sender.
Of course, the drive was different then. His grandmother, and others like her, would purchase picture postcards from the places they’d visit. In those days, before cell phone cameras that displayed photos instantaneously, there was always a danger that a vacationer could return home only to discover, when the pictures came back from the drugstore, that their photos were blurry or badly lit. The postcards were a fallback — a kind of emergency parachute.
But beyond pictures of Florida alligators and the Grand Canyon, the postcards were also easy and affordable souvenirs. Bruce Springsteen even used a postcard motif for the cover art on his “Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ” album.
Postcards were also, undoubtedly, where the old saw, “Wish you were here,” was born.
Fast forward to the digital era and Goold. His cards are sent to his friends, colleagues and family. Some are people who he hadn’t spoken with in a while and the cards serve as a quick “catch-ups.” Others are more familiar, and highly personalized. His son gets a lot of them.
Ben Hochman, a fellow columnist at the Post-Dispatch, received one from Goold that was a comic rewrite of a song from the Broadway musical, “Hamilton.” The front is a picture of Lafayette, Hochman’s favorite character from the musical. The writing on the back is tiny, to accommodate the length of Goold’s creative brainstorm.
Hochman still has the card: “He puts the time and effort into penning you a sentiment.”
Says Goold, simply: “I had fun writing that one.”
At the beginning of April, I found postcard No. 90 in my mailbox. Ninety signifies the 90th day of the year. The card was marked like a limited-edition print: 90/366.
Thanks for taking an interest in this curious habit. I don’t know if it’s made me a better writer – but it’s helped me be a better friend. And it’s improved my penmanship! Best – Derrick
That prompted me to bounce another idea off him. Maybe the postcards require a different, more personal perspective than his newspaper writing typically did? And maybe that personal perspective can, in turn, inform his journalism?
A couple hours later, he acknowledged as much in an e-mail:
“We both know writers who write a lot about the ‘I’ — and I’ve always been hesitant to think readers care about the writer. Even when I wrote columns, I would go through and scrub the ‘I’s’ out of them. So I kept myself at a safe distance, to my benefit as a beat writer. But sometimes to my detriment as a writer. I have always taken my profession and my writing very personally, but for a long time I kept my ‘personal’ out of my professional writing.”
But the job of being a sportswriter has changed. And the postcards, along with appearances on radio talk shows and the rise of blogs, helped with the change because they demanded a more personal approach. Goold’s personal reveals — like how he grew up a Yankees fan in the Mountain time zone or how much he loved comic books — would never have found their way into his sports journalism. Now they have their place. And that has helped the personal work its way into his professional writing.
“There was a chance to write more conversationally,” he said. “It took me a while to find that footing, to gain the confidence to write to anyone and not believe it was imposing on them, that it was too intimate. The postcards became the vehicle to do that — to reach out personally and become more confident in that writing.”
Writing freed of pressure
Goold, who grew up in just outside Boulder, Colorado, launched his postcard passion after a visit home to see old friends.
“I realized, ‘Why don’t we talk to each other more? We enjoy being around each other, so why don’t we reach out to each other?’ I tried to get in the habit of writing letters but I wimped out, to be candid. I’d write them and throw them away or think people don’t want to get mail anymore. It’s like imposing on them. Do they care? Do they feel guilt that they have to write back?”
Postcards filled the void. “I thought that they were a good way of writing to people, and to break whatever restrictor plate I had. If they don’t like it, they can recycle it, throw it away, whatever. That’s part of the comfort of it. One of the best things about a postcard is that it doesn’t have a return address. It’s just a note.”
Goold sometimes uses his cards to compliment fellow journalists on work he admires. When he reads something that he likes, he’ll drop a card in the mail. After all, it’s just a note. No strings.
“They can use it as a bookmark, they can use it as coaster, they can throw it away,” he says. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
Or maybe it does matter. One last note:
Vahe Gregorian, a columnist with the Kansas City Star, and a friend who has received more than one of Goold’s cards, explained his feelings in an e-mail to me, kind of like a digital postcard:
Howdy Greg, great to hear from you.
Regarding the postcards: I’ve been overjoyed to receive quite a few from Derrick, and they are posted in view from the chair in my home office. I’ve loved the thought he puts into them, whether it’s the personalized choice of cards or the message. And seeing his handwriting and thinking of the effort and the statement of friendship gives them a resonance that goes beyond what generally can be conveyed electronically.
All is well here, just trying to appreciate the little things and stay out of the way! V