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Posts Tagged ‘Continental Basketball Association’

I’d just gotten back to my car after one of my first deliveries of the day when my phone rang. It was the Sports Information Director at The College of St. Rose, a Division II school in Albany. Thankfully, I’d already put on my seat belt because I almost leapt out of my chair. A few days prior, I’d heard that St. Rose’s basketball broadcaster accepted a broadcasting gig elsewhere, so I called the athletic director and left a voicemail. The college basketball season was starting soon, and I figured St. Rose had already pegged someone to do their games. There’s no harm in calling them, I reasoned, because I might get lucky.

And get lucky I did. By the time the SID called, St. Rose’s first game was a week and a half away. It was a beautiful fall Saturday in Binghamton, where I’d wrapped up my first season as the broadcaster for the Binghamton Mets two months prior. Could you overnight your résumé and demo CD to us on Monday? the SID asked. Of course I can! Anything would be better than using copious amounts of Febreze in an attempt to eradicate the sickening stale pizza smell that permeated my car after every one of my delivery shifts. The Binghamton Mets hired me seasonally, so I needed to find a way to make money from Labor Day until April. In mid-September, I took a job delivering pizza, which paid well, but was the definition of tedious.

A couple of days after overnighting my stuff to St. Rose, I made the two-hour drive to Albany for an interview. St. Rose hired me on a Sunday night. Their first game was Tuesday. Like many Division II schools, St. Rose played men’s and women’s basketball doubleheaders, with the women’s game starting at 5 pm – or 1 pm for afternoon contests – followed by the men’s game. I’d also agreed to call 1-2 high school basketball games a week for a small radio station in Sidney, a rural town 45 minutes northeast of Binghamton. That winter, I became intimately familiar with Interstate 88, which runs through Sidney and terminates in Albany. The radio station in Sidney covered five area high schools and they let me make my own schedule, which dovetailed nicely with St. Rose’s; the college games were usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays and the high school games were Tuesdays and Fridays. If St. Rose had road games, I would hop on the team bus once I got to Albany and travel another 2-4 hours with the teams, call two basketball games, get back on the bus for another 2-4 hours and then drive the two hours back to Binghamton in the wee hours of the morning. Upstate New York winters can be pretty harsh but, amazingly, I only had to drive through one snowstorm that season. All for $200 and a chance to call my second-favorite sport, after baseball. It’s a good thing I love hoops, because I ended up calling 75 basketball games that winter. My car died a few months later.

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“What do you do in the off-season?” is one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked in my baseball broadcasting career. The baseball season is a grind; games every day for 5-7 months, depending on whether you’re in the Majors or minors and whether or not you call spring training action. Every baseball broadcaster needs a break after a season but, for many, that break is very short, if there’s a break at all. Seasonal employment, like I had with the Binghamton Mets, was the rule for most of my baseball broadcasting career. As a result, I had to find employment at the conclusion of each baseball season.

My first baseball off-season was in Yakima, Washington after calling games for the Yakima Bears of the short-season Northwest League. I hung around Central Washington to work as an account executive for the Yakima Sun Kings, a minor league basketball team that played in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association. And I was miserable. For one, I’d hoped to land a job calling football and/or basketball, but I wasn’t as aggressive when it came to pursuing those opportunities as I should’ve been. And, I realized quickly I wasn’t cut out to be an account executive. It didn’t help that the degree of difficulty selling the Sun Kings for a novice account executive was high. The Sun Kings, like the rest of the CBA, folded two years prior before being reborn the previous year. Yakima sat out the first season of the new CBA before returning under new ownership when I came aboard. There were many people who lost money with the old Sun Kings and many of those people took out their frustrations on me. Plus, as I mentioned, I wasn’t cut out to be an account executive; cold-calling and going in and out of businesses to persuade people to spend money with the team just wasn’t my thing (It probably doesn’t help that I’m not a big fan of salespeople selling me things unsolicited. I’m the guy who, when he’s in the store or on the showroom floor, politely declines assistance and grimaces at salespeople who come at him with their huge smiles and mindless small talk. If I need you, I’ll find you. Otherwise, leave me alone). Nearly every day I worked for the Sun Kings, I woke up with a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach, dreading spending another day trying to convince people to buy courtside signs and group tickets. I contemplated quitting daily and, on one occasion, cleaned out my desk in anticipation of walking before changing my mind. Stick it out until you get another job, I told myself.

You can imagine my relief when, after five months of misery, I was hired by a radio station group in Kalamazoo, Michigan as the voice of the Kalamazoo Kings of the independent Frontier League. I didn’t have to start my new job for another two months, but I was so eager to rid myself of my account executive existence that I loaded up my car and drove cross-country to New York City, my hometown, as quickly as I could. I was much happier back home, where I spent two months teaching SAT prep courses on Long Island before heading to Michigan. That awful feeling in the pit of my stomach disappeared and hasn’t returned since. After initially being hired in Kalamazoo just for baseball season, I wound up getting a full-time position, ending my need to scramble for off-season employment. Instead, I slid right into radio news reporting and anchoring and broadcasting high school and Division III college football and basketball once the Kings’ season drew to a close.

You would think I would’ve learned from my Yakima experience when I left Kalamazoo after two years for the seasonal position with the Binghamton Mets. However, I waited until August to seek off-season work and found myself scrambling to find something with little time left, which is how I ended up handing people boxes filled with warm pizza for two months. The following off-season, I planned on returning to The College of St. Rose, but I was able to land the women’s basketball play-by-play job at Binghamton University, which was Division I, as opposed to Division II, and a 15-minute drive from my home, as opposed to a two-hour drive. Needless to say, the switch was a no-brainer. That off-season, I also got back into officiating basketball, which I’d done in Yakima, and I started substitute teaching. I wasn’t exactly living like a king, but I did okay for a single guy with few obligations.

After four years in Binghamton, I was hired by the Kansas City Royals’ flagship radio station to be their Royals reporter and pre- and post-game show host, the latter show featuring phone calls from fans. Once again, I was a seasonal employee but I’d learned from my earlier follies. In the middle of the summer, I contacted every school within a three-hour drive of Kansas City that sponsored intercollegiate athletics and let them know I was available to call basketball games if the need arose. The most serious inquiry I received was from the University of Nebraska Omaha, a Division II school three hours away. Nebraska Omaha needed someone to broadcast their men’s and women’s basketball doubleheaders because their previous broadcaster recently accepted a position that made it difficult for him to call all of the games. However, Nebraska Omaha’s SID hedged on completely handing the reins to me, saying he could guarantee me all of the road broadcasts, but nothing else. Since I wisely left the door open with Binghamton University when I departed for Kansas City, I passed on Nebraska Omaha’s offer and returned to Binghamton to call women’s basketball that fall and winter before going back to Kansas City in the spring. The following off-season, Nebraska Omaha offered me their full-time basketball broadcasting position. I gladly accepted, calling their games for three seasons, which included the first two years of their transition to Division I. As a matter of fact, I was finally hired full-time by the Royals’ flagship station my final year calling Nebraska Omaha’s games, but I was able to make the schedules work, just like I did with my St. Rose and high school basketball schedules in Binghamton many years prior.

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The day I agreed to terms with the Houston Astros to be their radio broadcaster, I no longer had to seek employment during the baseball off-season. The Astros compensate me year-round, which means seven months of baseball followed by five months of inactivity, if I so choose. For the first time in my life, I don’t have to call other sports, or deliver pizza, or substitute teach, in the fall and winter. I would like to call basketball and/or football again, but I won’t starve if I don’t. In short, I’m blessed. And, after years of hustling for work once baseball season ended, not a day goes by in the off-season when I don’t think about how fortunate I am.

Years ago, I watched an interview of Bill Gates, one of the founders of Microsoft, where he mentioned that, every few months or so, he takes a “reading vacation”; he’ll hole up in some remote locale for a couple of weeks and read all of the books he hasn’t been able to get to. My off-season these days isn’t exactly a reading vacation, but I have more time for books. I finally read Wherever I Wind Up, the autobiography of Toronto Blue Jays pitcher R.A. Dickey, which was outstanding. I just finished Bleeding Orange, the new autobiography authored by Jim Boeheim, longtime basketball coach at Syracuse University, my alma mater. I recently ordered You Can’t Make This Up, the new autobiography of legendary broadcaster Al Michaels. As you can probably tell, I love non-fiction in general and autobiographies in particular. However, the best book I’ve read this off-season was Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s outstanding novel that’s been turned into a movie. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but there’s no way it can captivate as well as the book, but isn’t that always the case?

When the weather cooperates, I try to bike at least 20 miles a day; I bike during the season, but I can get in more reps when there aren’t any games. I also like going out for lunch; since I spend so much time at home alone during the day, it’s nice to be around other people, even if I’m not communicating with them. I also get to reacquaint myself with my four-year-old daughter, time I really treasure since we don’t get to spend copious amounts of time together during the season. Once November and December arrive, I start prepping for the upcoming baseball season. By beginning my prep early in the off-season, I can work gradually all winter and have a lot of work done before spring training begins, giving me an opportunity to focus on other things and preventing me from being burned out once it’s time to call games.

More than anything, I use the off-season to decompress and to recharge my batteries. By the time I leave for spring training, I’m excited about a new season and ready to get to work. And I’m thankful for all of the work that I’ve done and jobs that I’ve had – in baseball, broadcasting and otherwise – that have helped me get to this point.

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My first job out of college was as a sports reporter for the New York City bureau of the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper based in Tokyo. They hired me a month after I graduated and I started working two months after graduation, making me among the first of my fellow graduates to be gainfully employed. I assisted the bureau’s sportswriter, who was Japanese (each of the bureau’s Japanese journalists had an American assistant), allowing me to cover the World Series, Super Bowl, US Open and several other significant sporting events. They paid me about $40,000 over the 11 months I worked there, which seemed like a bonanza to a 22-year-old who had few expenses and still lived at home.

Perhaps my most memorable day on the job came in mid December, when the bureau’s accountant walked over to my desk and handed me an envelope.

“Robert,” he said in halting English. “Bonus.”

The envelope contained my Christmas bonus check, which was more than $1,200, equivalent to what I made bi-weekly. I vaguely remembered a mention of a “holiday bonus” during my job interview, but I had no idea what that meant. Now, I knew. This working-for-a-living thing is great! I thought to myself. You get a bonus just because it’s the holidays? How neat is that!

The following December, I was in Yakima, Washington, working as an account executive for the Yakima Sun Kings of the minor-league Continental Basketball Association. I was miserable, not because I’d taken a significant pay cut when I chose to leave the Yomiuri Shimbun the previous June, but became I had a job I despised and I’d just found out the Yakima Bears, the minor league baseball team I did radio play-by-play for the previous summer, decided not to bring me back the following season. I’d taken the job with the Sun Kings so I could stay in Yakima and call games for the Bears the following season, a plan that had gone up in smoke. I didn’t get a Christmas bonus from the Sun Kings, but I wasn’t expecting one either. The team was losing a lot of money; it got so bad that one of my Sun Kings paychecks almost bounced, my bank withholding the funds a few extra days to ensure the money was there.

I was in much better spirits the following winter. Now, I was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I did sports play-by-play and news anchoring and reporting for Fairfield Broadcasting, a local company that owned four radio stations in town. We had an event that was billed as a holiday party, but it was more like a holiday luncheon, since it was held during the day in a conference room. Nevertheless, this event was eagerly anticipated, because the festivities included Fairfield’s 63-year-old company president handing out everyone’s Christmas bonus checks – which amounted to $50 for every year one was with the company – along with a large jar of mixed nuts from one of our sponsors (those jars of nuts became fodder for many jokes between me and my Fairfield co-workers the rest of the year). I picked up another Christmas bonus check – and another jar of nuts – from Fairfield the following December.

After getting Christmas bonuses in three of my first four years as a working man, one could understand if I got used to such bonuses and if I started to expect them. But, it’s a good thing I didn’t grow accustomed because I haven’t gotten a Christmas bonus since. Part of the reason for the lack of a bonus has been the career choices I’ve made; since receiving my last Christmas bonus in 2004, I’ve worked several seasonal, freelance and part-time positions, most of them in broadcasting, and those type of positions almost never offer the possibility of a bonus. However, several of my friends with full-time employment have also lamented the elimination or lack of Christmas bonuses. Some employers give their employees gift cards or inexpensive trinkets instead, since those things are cheaper than cash bonuses. Of course, employers rarely give long-time employees gold watches when they retire anymore either, something that was once a common occurrence. It also used to be a common for employees to stay with the same company for decades, clocking in at the same place for most, if not all, of their working lives.

Christmas bonuses were an outgrowth of the attitude many companies once had that their employees needed to be treated like valuable commodities. But now, jobs are easily outsourced to other states or countries. Improvements in technology mean jobs that once required an army of people now require a handful. Labor unions, which many studies show raise the wages and working conditions of non-union and union workers alike, don’t have the numbers or impact they once did. Not to mention, a recession followed by a slow recovery has flooded the job market with an abundance of qualified – and overqualified – job seekers in many lines of work. As a result, employers now see employees as expendable, easily replaced and as a means to an end.

Nowadays, if a company offers a bonus, it’s performance based, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, what better way to show an employee you appreciate his or her efforts than with cash? In this day and age, with a hypercompetitive job market, fewer people are going to get paid simply for sticking around since simply sticking around is no longer enough. People used to judge their jobs and careers by how much their employer showed their appreciation for their efforts; loving what you did for a living and where you worked was secondary. Nowadays, you better love what you do and where you work because employers are much less likely to show you or tell you how much they value your contributions.

My daughter is 18 months old. There’s a very good chance she will never get a Christmas bonus. Years from now, I’ll probably be waxing poetic to her about the three Christmas bonuses I received, just like previous generations have told me about their gold watches, employer-financed homes and generous pensions. I feel it’s our generation’s job to prepare our children for the new realities of a workforce that will be even more streamlined, mobile and technology-dependent by the time they’re adults; if they want more money, they’ll need to earn it with their on-the-job performance. My daughter will know not to expect a Christmas bonus. She may get a jar of nuts, but only if she’s lucky.

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