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Thursday's Frosty Mug Tribute

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Friends, you're going to have to excuse me for a day. It's an exciting day for the Brewers, as they launch into the second half of the season with a pennant race in play. But I don't feel much like talking about it today. I lost a friend last night. Actually, I lost more than a friend. I lost a mentor and an idol.

There's likely not many folks here familiar with Iowa and its journalists, but those that are familiar will certainly know Jay P. Wagner. Over a 25+ year career in Iowa, Jay wrote for the Des Moines Register, Cityview, the Des Moines Business Record and countless other publications. He's almost certainly the best reporter I've ever known. He was brilliant, charismatic and witty. He could write about anything and make it interesting. At one point or another, he did write about anything and make it interesting. He won every single award given out by the Iowa Newspaper Association.

Jay and I met in 2006, when I was working on a campaign for governor and he was writing about it. At the time, I had no idea who I was talking to: I didn't know enough about Iowa to recognize him. Over time, through shared ideals and common goals, we developed a friendship that carried long past the end of my time in politics.

Jay loved Iowa more than anyone I've ever known. Maybe more than anyone would believe possible. At one point or another, Jay had visited every crack and crevasse in the state, and could tell you a story about any of them. When I lived on the east end of the state, over 200 miles from him, he made sure I knew exactly the best place to get a burger. He and I made plans to go to Burlington and try the famous "chicken lips," even though Burlington was hundreds of miles from home, off in the corner of the state. That's how Jay was: if there was anything going on anywhere in Iowa, Jay had to experience it.

Even more than Iowa, Jay loved his wonderful family. Jay has a loving wife and two incredible young children. I've particularly enjoyed the opportunities I've had to get to know his son. I'm still unsure if I want to have kids someday, but if I knew I could have a son like his, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

Through it all, he loved the Minnesota Twins. For one week a year we were rivals, but most of the time Jay and I commiserated about the pain of being a small market fan in a world where national media hardly recognizes our existence. Last fall, when the Twins were in a one game playoff with the White Sox, Jay was in the hospital, undergoing tests. He couldn't drive anymore at this point, so I was waiting outside to give him a ride home, desperately trying to follow the game on crackly radio signals, so I could give him a score update when he came out. When he called me to let me know it was time to pick him up, the first thing he asked for was the score. The whole way home, we never talked about cancer, just baseball.

This spring, Jay was at home but unable to get out of bed or be left alone, so each Friday I spent the day with him, talking about baseball, life and food. Even as his health continued to deteriorate, and as our weekly sessions moved from the couch in his living room to a makeshift hospital bed in what used to be his office, Jay was fun, bright and entertaining. It got harder to leave each week, because I knew these days weren't going to last forever. I saw Jay for the last time on May 29, the day before I left for my wedding/honeymoon/move to Wisconsin. In the whirlwind of activity that those three weeks were, I briefly lost track of him and was unable to go see him when I was back in Iowa for the last time three weeks ago. In hindsight, I'm kicking myself for not trying harder to make one last visit. Each of the last few Fridays, I've sent an email to his wife so she could read it to him. He was no longer able to read or talk on the phone.

Unfortunately, like so many great people before him, cancer was too great of an obstacle for Jay to take on. It had taken root in his brain. He held on through multiple surgeries, several runs of radiation and other treatments, but finally gave up the fight at 6:50 last night. 

So, you'll have to forgive me, but I don't feel much like talking about the Brewers today. The Frosty Mug will return tomorrow, and there will still be a game thread (and perhaps other content, if anyone has something to contribute later today), but for this morning at least, I'd like to request a moment of silence in honor of Jay Wagner, a true friend taken from the world far too soon.