After an hour-long subway ride, 25-minute ferry ride and 20-minute bus ride, I was in a room with about 40 people. We were all around the same age – late teens and early 20s – and we all had the same goal of working for the Staten Island Yankees. I’d been looking for an opportunity to work in baseball, and this seemed as good of a chance as any. The woman I’d spoken with on the phone a few days earlier told me anyone interested in working for the team needed to show up at their offices for an interview. I’d returned to New York City after my sophomore year of college a couple of weeks earlier and was planning on working as a tour guide for school and camp groups at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan for the second straight summer. However, I felt I had to explore any possibility of working in baseball, even if it meant a nearly two-hour commute. The Staten Island Yankees were about to embark on their first season as an affiliate of the New York Yankees in the short-season New York-Penn League, playing from late June through Labor Day, a schedule that dovetailed with my summer break.
It was my turn to go into the office. The gentleman sitting behind the desk noted that I was a college student and also that I lived in the Bronx. He asked me why I’d want to work in Staten Island. I told him I wanted to work in baseball and that the lengthy commute wouldn’t be an issue. They were looking for people to work in foodservice and run the concession stands, he said. That wasn’t what I had in mind, and he knew it.
“We’ve already hired all of our interns for the season,” he said. “If you’re interested in an internship next year, you should start looking in the winter.”
It hadn’t occurred to me to start looking in the winter for work in a sport that played all of its games in the spring and summer. I thanked him for his help and started the long trek home. A few weeks later, the Staten Island Yankees called and asked if I was still interested in working in concessions for them that summer. I told them I wasn’t. My dream of working in baseball would have to wait at least another year.
Growing up in New York City, I knew very little about minor league baseball. My focus was always on the Major Leagues. Every now and then, I’d read or hear something about a prospect who was doing well in Tidewater, or in Binghamton, or in St. Lucie – the top three minor league affiliates of my favorite team, the New York Mets – but I had no idea what that meant. As I started to get a better understanding of what Major League Baseball was all about, that was my focus. After all, who cares about who’s playing well in the minors? I thought. Most of those guys never make it to the big leagues anyway. It probably didn’t help that many of the Mets’ top prospects during my formative years – Bill Pulsipher, Grant Roberts, Butch Huskey and Alex Ochoa, to name a few – didn’t turn into superstars once they got to the Majors.
As I worked my way through high school and college and tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I realized I wanted baseball to be a part of my career in some fashion. I covered sports for my high school newspaper, which eventually led to me majoring in broadcast journalism at Syracuse University. I watched my first minor league baseball game early in my freshman year of college, when I took two buses from campus to see the Syracuse SkyChiefs, the top affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, host the Rochester Red Wings, a Baltimore Orioles farm club, on the final day of the 1997 season. I was fascinated by the entire experience: the smaller ballpark, seats behind home plate for less than $10, the endless promotions and the good, but not quite Major League caliber, play on the field. When the 1998 season began, I cut class to attend the SkyChiefs’ home opener, a tradition I upheld all four years I went to Syracuse, and I followed the SkyChiefs closely.
After the advice I got from that Staten Island Yankees employee, I spent the winter of my junior year keeping a close eye on the New York-Penn League team New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon purchased and planned to move to Brooklyn. A stadium would be built in Coney Island, in the southern part of the borough but, in the meantime, Wilpon’s new team would have to spend at least one year playing at a temporary site. Initially, that site was to be at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, but community opposition led to that idea being tabled. Several other options – including the team playing their games at Shea Stadium when the Mets were on the road – were explored before St. John’s University in Queens agreed to host the team for a season. In return, Wilpon and the Mets essentially paid for a new baseball stadium at St. John’s, redoing the surface, adding lights and installing new bleachers. Wilpon’s team would be known as the Queens Kings.
I finished my junior year of college without a summer job lined up. However, I was convinced I would find work with the Kings. I was home for a week before I located a working phone number for the Kings and, after leaving a message, my call was returned, an interview was scheduled and, before the interview was over, I was hired as an intern.
My summer with the Kings was fun, even though I worked long hours, had a two-hour commute that involved two subways and a bus and our attendance wasn’t great. I told the Kings’ general manager I wanted to work in broadcasting, so I either emceed on-field promotions or served as the public address announcer for every Kings home game. When the Kings weren’t playing, I was doing everything from ticket sales to chasing down starting lineups to pulling the infield tarp to writing articles for the game program. Not only did I learn a lot about the inner workings of a minor league baseball team, but my internship with the Kings confirmed my belief that, not only did I want to work in baseball, but that I could work in baseball. Working in for the Kings also made it easier for me to apply for broadcasting jobs in the minors, because I had a better idea of what teams were looking for and a better idea of what to expect.
People always ask me about the best way to get a job in baseball or broadcasting. There’s no one way to go about it, but you have to do your homework, seize whatever opportunities come your way and seek advice from those in the business. Every experience, even the unsuccessful ones, can help lead you down the right path. The journey to find the career that best suits you is always worth it. Even if that journey involves a ferry ride.Follow @raford3