You can learn a lot about a guy by co-managing your office’s winless slow-pitch softball team with him. The year was 2002, my partner in the dugout was Michael Hall (pictured), and the team was called the Texas Monthly Fire Ants (slogan: “We bite”). I can tell you this: even in a beer league, it hurts to lose every single game, but no one was more supportive or enthusiastic than Mike. At our end-of-season party, he wanted to surprise the players with trophies, and he had the inspired idea to engrave each one with the words “Losing Isn’t Everything.”

Our futility on the field had nothing to do with his contributions to the magazine, however, and Mike has long been one of our most prolific and versatile writers. An executive editor, he had a career year in 2014, publishing features on fiddling, the death of a beloved yet troubled reverend, and an epic, 25,000-word masterpiece called “The Murders at the Lake,” about one of Waco’s most infamous crimes. On June 1, at the City and Regional Magazine Association banquet in Dallas, that body of work helped earn Mike the award for Writer of the Year, beating out a respected field. So it’s not surprising that his byline graces this issue’s cover package, on the untold stories behind 25 of your favorite Texas songs. A talented musician in his own right, Mike was in his element interviewing stars ranging from Barbara Lynn and Britt Daniel to ZZ Top and Lyle Lovett (who borrowed his capo during our photo shoot). And it won’t be long before you see Mike’s name back in the feature well—he is currently researching another major criminal justice story for later this year. 

As for our softball team, the name has been changed from the Fire Ants to the Burkas (in honor of our longtime colleague Paul Burka, who retired earlier this year). Mike and I don’t coach anymore, but he still pitches when he can and is known to come through in the clutch when he’s at the plate. It has been several years since I’ve made it out to the fields, but I still treasure that trophy from more than a decade ago: I proudly display it on a shelf in my office.