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Mortimer back to covering sports

David Mortimer is 13 months from graduation at BYU, and he knows what he wants to be: a sports journalist.

He hopes to one day be interviewing Major League sluggers and hanging out with Super Bowl quarterbacks. It's a nice gig, far as he can tell: nice hotels, quality restaurants, the chance to see the biggest games and greatest stars.

He would love to be at the World Series tonight, covering the winning locker room.

Just the way he did before.

When he was 9.

Fourteen years later, Sparky Mortimer is getting back in the business.

You might remember David, a.k.a. Sparky. He was the precocious kid on the "The Late Show" with David Letterman in the mid-1990s. Former KUTV anchor Michelle King discovered him at a BYU football game, doing a mock play-by-play from a nearby seat. The next week, she had a camera crew on hand to film the pint-sized announcer.

Soon the Letterman people had invited Mortimer onto their show. Then they started dispatching him to sporting events as a correspondent. It was good television, a prepubescent kid asking questions of star athletes. He was on hand for the 1995 World Series and a few weeks later covered Super Bowl XXX. He was also asked "for some random reason" to represent Letterman at the Grammy's before his career as a sports journalist ended — at least Phase I of his career.

Mortimer seemed destined for reporting of some sort. His grandfather was publisher of the Deseret News for 15 years. When Sparky was an infant, his mother would turn on the TV to keep him entertained. The only things he liked to watch were "Sesame Street" and Chicago Cubs baseball. He grew up imitating announcer Harry Caray.

By the time he was 9, Mortimer had his sportscasting routine down. All he needed was an outlet and an audience.

Several million Letterman viewers were just the trick.

The TV people got him credentials and shepherded him around at the big events. There among the hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of media members, was a 41/2-foot kid with a big microphone.

"It was just weird at first," says Mortimer.

The thing he recalls most was fighting through the crowd to get to Fred McGriff's locker during the 1995 World Series between Cleveland and Atlanta.

"I just stood next to him and held the microphone way up in the air," says Mortimer.

Unlike the incorrigible Albert Belle, who Mortimer later said, "blowed me off," for an interview request, McGriff played along.

"He noticed me, and stopped talking to everyone else and kind of chuckled," recalls Mortimer. "He didn't talk to everyone else for a minute or so, just me."

CBS fed Mortimer questions to ask the players, such as "Do you engage in hijinks?," a question he posed to Jim Thome. Most of them played along.

He remembers Chipper Jones playfully sneaking up and pouring champagne down the back of his parka after the Braves won the Series.

Eddie Murray, another noted grouch, declined to talk with Mortimer. But at least Murray was civil. Belle, on the other hand, reportedly growled, "Get outta my face!"

Yet even as a kid, Mortimer wasn't flustered.

"If someone didn't want to talk, I just shrugged it off," says Mortimer.

At the Super Bowl between Dallas and Pittsburgh, Mortimer appeared at media day with Letterman staffers running interference. He recalls Troy Aikman being classy and accommodating.

After his short-lived time as a correspondent, he did do local TV commercials when he was in junior high, taped voice-overs for Disney and appeared in Feature Films for Families.

Mortimer started at BYU in general studies in 2004, served an LDS mission, then returned and "tried a whole bunch of things, but writing and especially sports writing were always in the back of my mind."

He entered BYU's print journalism program this fall and immediately moved up the ranks. He is currently one of two Daily Universe writers covering Cougar football, the premier beat at the campus newspaper. His stories appear under the byline David Mortimer.

"I thought the first semester I'd be a scrub beat writer and cover something like cross country," he says. But when his newspaper advisor asked him to cover football, he was "blown away."

Mortimer says he is starting to feel comfortable interviewing Cougar players. Just like the big leaguers, some are more anxious to be interviewed than others.

"The first time I walked into BYU's practice, I was a little shell-shocked, being three feet away from Bronco (Mendenhall) with a recorder. But the more I go (for interviews), the more comfortable I feel there, and I think I relate to people pretty well."

There's even an outside chance he could end up covering another championship — this one for the Mountain West Conference football title. Which would be a flashback to the days when he was a famous correspondent.

Except this time, there would be no champagne down the back.