Sports

James Burns: Taking over for an all-timer

James Burns

Barry Sanders. Jerry Rice. Michael Jordan, the Bull. Michael Jordan, the Wizard.

And sadly, Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco, too.

In my relatively short life, I haven't had to say goodbye to too many of my all-time favorite sports figures.

I guess I've been pretty fortunate in that regard.

On Friday, however, that short list grew by one.

Steve Cameron, who has been the signature voice of the Sun-Star for nearly three years, made the tough but necessary decision to leave the comfort of the Valley and step away from the business he loved.

He will be returning home to the misty shores of Scotland in a few short days -- rejoining his wife, Lyn, her daughters and their grandchildren.

THOUGH it pained him to say it, in his final days here, Steve found himself repeating the very sort of sports cliche he loathes...

It was time, he would tell us.

It was just time.

The pull of family -- and a step-grandson he's seen only in photographs -- was simply too strong, too distracting.

Steve could and would talk into the night and early morning when the conversation turned to Lyn or her daughters.

Man, he loves those girls.

With long, slow puffs of his cigar, Steve would settle into his patio chair -- the one that overlooks the soccer match on the television set -- and begin telling stories.

He wouldn't stop until the paper landed at his doorstep.

There was the time Lyn snapped these fantastic shots of dolphins playing in the bay just outside their original home in Scotland, and how they became the inspiration for a novel.

Or how one of Lyn's daughters was being fast-tracked by McDonalds, and that some day she'd show up on TV commercials.

Watch, he'd say.

I've never seen a man so convinced, so sure he was right.

It really is a testament to his passion for this community -- for writing and reporting -- that he managed to balance the pressures of both family and work for this long.

But that's Steve.

All of it.

After a whirlwind 40-year career, one that saw him track the Kansas City Royals, the University of Illinois and Brett Favre, Cameron is bidding the game a final farewell.

He's leaving, with only a handful of curtain-call columns left this week.

THE NEWS no doubt floored many of you.

No matter where you stood on his opinions, you read his columns faithfully.

Almost every day.

Trust me, the news of Steve's retirement hasn't been much easier on us here at the Sun-Star.

Heck, in some ways it's been even harder.

Steve was an unlimited resource of knowledge and a fountain of experience -- and his enthusiasm for the job, the games and their many personalities belied his age.

From his tales of John Madden and silly locker room pranks, to his endless rants about comma usage and "staying out of the way of the story," the Sun-Star sports team grew up under his watch.

The proof is in the product.

BY NOW, you've grown accustomed to our award-winning magazine-style section.

You expect to see a fine piece of art and some exciting headlines on the cover every morning.

You expect to find a poignant, locally written Front Row column on Page 3, and features and showcases to match it inside.

You expect fresh, exciting news on local schools, Fresno State, the San Jose Sharks and every team in the area.

That was Steve.

All of it.

That said, there won't be any major overhauls to the section once Steve has made the long trip across the pond.

The playbook is in place, and the script is there for us to keep cranking out great papers.

To some degree, the staff will also remain the same -- except, of course, for one tiny, little change at the top.

Starting on the 24th, I will officially become the new sports editor of the Merced Sun-Star.

Shawn Jansen will continue to be our eyes and ears on the prep sidelines, and Sean Lynch will remain our roving college reporter.

Tom Price Jr. has joined forces with Vince Escamilla on the desk, and together the two will package the news in a way that reflects the quality of the copy.

Our challenge is simple.

We must meet the high expectations of our former boss, while working to keep pace with the growing expectations of this new journalism.

That means a greater presence online, which has already begun to take shape with the Sidelines forum and blogs, as well as the Web site redesign scheduled to debut in December.

That means shining a brighter light on our local scene and giving our audience what they want the most -- precise, in-depth recounts of our athletes, teams and trends.

Fear not, loyal readers, the precedent has been set: The Sun-Star sports section won't settle for mediocrity, I can promise you that.

We're not your average community newspaper.

Trust me, those days are long gone.

That's Steve's legacy.

All of it.

James Burns is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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