Ron Agostini ended up covering four Super Bowls after starting his career in sports journalism as a teen by calling in high school football stories at 20 cents a pop.
The Manteca resident worked as a Modesto Bee sports writer for 40 years. Agostini shared highlights of his career Wednesday with Ripon Rotary Club members during their lunch meeting at the Spring Creek Country Club.
His first job in journalism was as a stringer for the Stockton Record and the Modesto Bee. Agostini called in stories and scores by telephone earning 20 cents per event. The weekly Selma Enterprise was his first full time job in journalism until he was hired by Bee Sports Editor Darrel Phillips who had been the publisher of the Manteca Bulletin.
“I was happy to be at the Bee,” said Agostini who was inducted into the Stanislaus County Hall of Fame in April two weeks before he left the Bee.
“Things changed in my first four years at the Bee where I used a portable typewriter at games and they would take a full page and put it on a roller with it taking six minutes to transcribe to the Bee Sports Desk in Modesto,” he said.
From there he was given tape devices to record and transcribe stories with the devices becoming smaller and smaller. When he left the Bee he was posting stories on the Internet.
He said a highlight of his newspaper career was covering four Super Bowl games. That said, Agostini indicated the most fun was the Augusta National golf tournament. He said that members of the media at Augusta were given a chance to play against the pros the day after the event concluded and his name was drawn.
“It was the thrill of a lifetime,” he said.
Describing his memory of the twelfth par 3 hole he said he was told not to focus on the flag stick because it wouldn’t be fruitful in his game – but he literally hit the stick near the hole and heard cheers in his head as he walked back toward the crowd. He got through the game with an 87.
As for what is going on today in the Modesto Bee’s operation, he said the paper moved this week from its 14th and H Street location to 11th street in downtown Modesto. The Stanislaus County Board of Education is moving into the Bee’s longtime two-story location.
The regional daily once employed some 650 staffers. Today it employs less than 100 employees, he noted. He added that the presses were hauled out of the building as junk metal as they were unable to sell them.
Agostini said one reason for its decline was the growing inability to sell ads with the shift in the economy. He added the Bee is not dead by any means, just changing its procedures and depending more on online stories and ads.
“All the energy is going into digital,” Agostini said. “People over 40 still want to hold a paper in their hands. Those under 40 prefer online digital presentations. Fewer people actually read the print copies today and that is scary,” he said.
The paper uses both Facebook and Twitter to reach their public in Stanislaus County and beyond for digital news.
The biggest change in sports over the years, Agostini recalled, was the Title IX legislation that mandated girls’ sports would become more in line with the boys’ competitions. It was a “marvelous transition”, he said, noting within the last 25 years more girls and women have been earning top awards than ever before.
He singled out Olympic Discus thrower Suzy Powell, saying she was the only athlete he knew who would go out of her way to shake everyone’s hand on the field when she completed her event.
“She is class,” he said.
Asked about his favorite sports star based on interviews, Agostini said it was Jack Nicklaus, he said.
“I admired him more than the others because Nicklaus was always fair to the media,” he said.
It was during the 1982 U.S. Open when Nicklaus was in his early 40s when he was having to learn to better chip the ball, Agostini said. He never had to do it before because he was known for getting his ball on the green – never missing the green, he recalled.
During the interview Nicklaus took Agostini off to the side to explain his chip strategy filling his reporter’s notebook with the geometric angles he was using in his game. It was more than he really needed.
Another golfer that Agostini wrote about and still holds in high esteem is Manteca’s Kevin Wentworth who was an All American from Oklahoma state and went on the Nike Tour for three or four years. Wentworth is an East Union High School graduate.
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