Joe Bates hasn't spent a lot of time on center stage from your view of the Journal Star, but here in the sports department, we see him as the undisputed star of the show.

For 35 years he has made the newspaper -- the product you've read -- better every day.

And now he's leaving. The Eureka native has decided it's time for him to exit and move on to a new stage in his life.

This is hard for us at 1 News Plaza, where it feels like a family member is being ripped away. Many of us came in as part-timers with Joe, kids right out of school, and we aged and worked together for more than three decades.

So this space is for Joe Bates today. Because all of you out there need to know how much he's done for you, and for us, with little recognition all these years.

"Joe Bates has been the heart and soul and conscience of the sports department for a long, long time," former Journal Star executive sports editor Kirk Wessler said. "The number of things he did there -- and people took it for granted -- were countless, from researching and writing Remember When, to WWW bulletin boards, writing short stories and so many other operational things that kept us going daily.

"He just did it. He was the voice most people heard when they called our sports department. He was so reader-oriented in everything he did, he was terrific as a representative for all of us. No matter what, he went above and beyond. His approach was never about him, but always about what was best for the paper. He enjoyed the pace and enjoyed the people.

"Times are changing and it's a tough environment. I don't know how you function without a Joe Bates. He was one-of-a-kind."

Thank you, Joe.

He's been to our weddings, paid respects at funerals, arranged flowers, sympathy cards, run our office sports pools and kept a secret stash of coveted four-color pens for old sports writers pressed into stat-keeping at high school football games.

He's a die hard Cubs fan, devoted Bears fan and the official keeper of the collective epic memories of the Journal Star sports department.

You need to report your golf scores? You talked to Joe Bates. We need to find a coach, or aren't sure what coach might be able to help with a story? Joe Bates knows.

Need to get something fixed online, or research a story in our archives? Call Joe Bates. It's your anniversary and the team you cover has a news story breaking? Joe Bates will take care of it for you.

He was always there. There was no clock, no calendar for Joe Bates. And he was always prepared.

"I took him to a Bears game during the '85 Super Bowl season, it was something like -10 out there," retired Journal Star sports columnist Phil Theobald said. "He showed up looking like his mother had dressed him to go out and play, wearing 15 layers of clothes. I thought, 'It's a red-headed Pillsbury Doughboy.'

"Joe went with me to Harry Caray's services the day Pete Vonachen delivered that epic eulogy. It was historic, and afterward, we all wished we had it to listen to and share. Joe said, 'Well, I recorded it.'

"He recorded the thing, he was always a step ahead of everyone. We can thank him for being able to bring that eulogy to our readers. The kid was one of the pillars of the sports department."

Thank you, Joe.

Watching him work has been a driving force behind my own passion for the job. Veteran Journal Star writers like Nick Vlahos, Dave Reynolds, Dave Eminian, and countless others, we've all earned accolades in this business over the years.

But receiving praise from Joe Bates always felt the best. That's when you knew you nailed it.

"Joe has been the glue that has held together the sports department," Vlahos said. "Every last detail, from the Remember When column to whether a Williamsfield basketball box score appeared in the paper, had Joe's touch all over it. The way he handled everything thrown his way with grace and humor and excellence has been unparalleled from anybody I've seen in my career.

"Not only was he a right-hand man, he was a left-hand man, too. They say nobody is irreplaceable, but nobody ever met Joe."

Thank you, Joe.

"Even though his name may not be well known to the public, Joe Bates has been the glue to the sports department for the 35 years he's been with us," Reynolds said. "His skill at keeping tabs on every area sports event contested or canceled is unmatched. His knowledge of athletes and coaches current or past is encyclopedic, such an important trait when answers or sources are needed on a deadline.

"Joe's fingerprints on every page, if not his name, are evident to all of us in sports. It's why he is the MVP of the Journal Star sports department every year. For all he's done to make the sports section shine for decades, we are forever grateful."

Indeed, watching him conduct himself has been something to which all of us could only aspire.

"Joe is a special person," Journal Star sports editor Wes Huett said. "The rock-solid center of the Journal Star sports department for decades. Never a cross word. Always a kind smile.

"Joe has an unmatched compassion and willingness always to listen to your stories. He shares revelry in your success, yet always helps shoulder your disappointments. He's no fair-weather fan.

"He helped shape me as a journalist and served this newspaper and its readers in way that cannot be measured."

Thank you, Joe.

"Most sports writers like to think they are their section's MVP," said retired longtime Journal Star preps maven Bob Leavitt. "But in the last 30 or so years, everybody but Jobie was wrong."

Today was Joe's final shift. He resigned quietly, gracefully -- two words that truly describe him well.

There are no words, on the other hand, to describe how much we'll miss him.

Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen and Chiefs for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.