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Times columnist John Romano is returning to his first love: sports

Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano works at his desk in the newsroom in St. Petersburg. (CHRIS URSO   |   Times)
Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano works at his desk in the newsroom in St. Petersburg. (CHRIS URSO | Times)
Published Dec. 18, 2018

John Romano's dreams of being a sports columnist started when he was a student at Blanton Elementary in St. Petersburg.

He remembers entering a school contest in sixth grade with something he wrote about football. A teacher accused him of copying it from a book, which he took as a compliment.

"That meant it was good," he says.

In January, John's dream comes true. Again.

After seven years as the Tampa Bay Times' local news columnist, he'll return to the sports staff as a columnist, a role he held from 2001 to 2011.

Why make the change?

"I mean this very, very sincerely even though it will sound like sucking up," John says. "My bosses gave me that choice. They let me decide what would be best for me or what I wanted to do and that made the decision easier."

How about a sports analogy to break it down more?

John grew up as a Cincinnati Reds fan and remembers when Pete Rose moved from left field to third base in 1975 to help the team. For him, that's what the move from sports to local news columnist was in the first place. Not his first choice, but something he grew to like a lot.

Sports is his natural position, though.

"It just feels more comfortable," he says. "I spent an entire life preparing for that job. I literally did. I grew up in this city, planning on having that job from a very, very young age. And now I get to go back and do it again."

To fill the void, we're asking Tampa columnist Sue Carlton to take a broader view of the bay area and we'll regularly feature business columnist Graham Brink and political editor Adam C. Smith in the local news pages.

John would never say this, but he's an exceptional local news columnist. Three times a week he gets the conversation going with readers on all sorts of topics, from politics to criminal injustice and every tick-tock of the Rays stadium saga.

"I think that's what the job is most about, is to get people to think about issues, not just digest news," he says, "but to take it a step farther and to spend a little more time thinking about what it means to the community, what that particular news means, and on days when I felt like I did that, I loved it."

As a local news columnist, John is, dare I say, tortured. Sometimes he can't settle on an idea for a column that he thinks readers are going to care about. He describes those as his worst days.

"For 48, 72 hours, I'd be just in a severe depression until I could come up with another column that I felt, okay, this one was worthy of someone spending four minutes reading," he says.

He doesn't think that will be an issue in sports. It's so natural to him, he expects to know the right story to seize on every day.

And that will make him happy, he says.

No agonizing.

Amy Hollyfield is the senior deputy editor for news. Contact her at ahollyfield@tampabay.com. Follow @amy_hollyfield.