Tuesday, March 22, 2016

You've been a host family if...

To be very honest - it's 10:30 at night, I have a 7 am meeting, and we are less than 80 days until Opening Day. Writing a blog post was almost on the list of "next week". Especially since I was struggling to get my other projects done for the day (we did manage to buy a new refrigerator for our home - so I feel good about that).

As I work my way down the list of things to get done for the start of the season, there is one item on my list (besides promotional giveaways) that keeps me up at night - and that is host families. I am not kept up at night because we don't have good ones - in Walla Walla, we have the best of the best. But, I always sweat this time of year as to whether we will have the right ones and enough of them.

I love our host families. I lived out of the country for two years, where I communicated in a different language, with a different culture. We had apartments that were arranged for us (which was nice), but while they were safe (usually) and provided the amenities of home, they weren't home. During the week, we'd have the opportunity to share a meal or visit with families in the area. Home-cooked meals, children happy and laughing, stories and a vibe that only come from a real home - that little slice of heaven kept me energized, happy and focused on the work that I had to do while abroad. That is what I believe our host families provide to our players every season.

Have you ever waited up until 11:30 pm with a prepared meal wrapped in tin foil, after everyone else has gone to bed, to visit with the young man that isn't your son? The young man that may have had the game-winning hit, or maybe the big error that cost the team the game, or possibly the toughest of all - the guy who's name never made it onto the lineup card? The guy who is likely 6-8 hours (at minimum) away from home, missing every creature comfort he has known to pursue a career in a game/profession where only 5% of the draft picks make it? If you have, you are likely a host family.

When a complete stranger leaves a
member of your family, you've been a host family.
Have you ever made a sign for a player so he knows at least (1) person in the crowd that night is cheering for him? Have you driven to the airport to pick up a girlfriend who is seeing wheat fields for the first time? Have you ever waited in an emergency room as a player had an x-ray or MRI...or was seizing? If you have, you are likely a host family.

Have you ever purchased eggs - 4 dozen at a time - knowing you will purchase thee same amount again next week? Did you know that they sell 2-gallon jugs of chocolate milk (1 gallon jugs held together with plastic wrap)? Have you ever wondered how a 170-lb young man can consume 4000 calories in a day? If you have, you are likely a host family.

Did you ever cautiously welcome a complete stranger into your home, only to have him leave as an older son, brother, or grandson to the rest of your family? Do you have picture frames and binders full of players past that are now a collection of life-long friends? Do you now FaceTime with a college sophomore? Have you ever cried a small tear when the young man you welcomed into your home as a freshman shoots you a text that he just graduated from college - the first in his family to do so? Have you ever invested so much into a person who is not related by blood, over a game with gloves and balls, that they become a permanent part of your life's story? If you have, you are likely a host family.

Host families allow our young men to become part of our community - not just part of our team. Walla Walla is an amazing place to live - and our host families provide that little slice of heaven that keeps our players energized, happy and focused all season long.

A bit of a ramble, but I love our host families. I'm excited to welcome them back to the park this summer. - ZF

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Prepping for Broadcast and Game Day Duties (Zach Bigley: Broadcaster)

If you ask any broadcaster what the most important part of a broadcaster’s job is, they most likely say research. That is the most important thing for me before a game and it takes most of my prep time. 

              Many broadcasters do it differently, but I learned from Ryan Rouillard (former broadcaster for the Victoria HarborCats and Yakima Valley Pippins, now Ranger’s Double-A Broadcaster) that the best way to do it is by chart. I go through each and every player on a team’s roster and look up information for them. This can be simple, such as stats from the previous season as well as where they are from and stuff like that, to the in-depth stories that everyone loves. These can be obtained through thorough research and/or by interviewing them or someone close to them. For every team that the Sweets play, I spend anywhere from 5-8 hours researching the team’s players and then an extra hour or so researching coaches, team history and home-town fun facts/stories. This makes the broadcast a lot more interesting for the listeners and for me as well!

              As for game-day prep, it is a little more manageable in terms of time. At home, it all begins with a trip to the Sweets Shoppe in downtown Walla Walla at 9:00am, where I work in the back office to put out the Borleske Bulletin, our game program for fans at the games. That does not take long, but it must be emailed to our print shop by 11:00. With a little extra time, I will hang out at the office and finalize some things on my chart, but mostly just relax. From there, I pick up the copies of the Bulletin by 1:00 and make my way over to the stadium. 

              I am a little different than some broadcaster in the fact that I like to be at the ballpark SUPER early. For a 7:00pm game, I will usually get there anywhere from 2-3:00pm. That way, I can fill out my scorebook, chat with players and coaches and take in the sounds and feels of the park without having to rush. I love being around the game and being emerged in the atmosphere that a ballpark provides. After I do my pre-game video interview, I upload it to youtube and begin game prep. This is the most fun part for me. I can take my time to fill certain stats in and fun facts into my score book for certain players and circumstances. From there, I am usually ready to broadcast about 10 minutes before I go on the air. With a five-minute pre-game show, it doesn’t leave me much time to talk about the Sweets and what they need to do, so I fit as much in as I can. Then, my favorite part of the day: first pitch.

              After the game is over, I interview a player or coach and pack up my broadcast equipment. The long night ahead then ensues. It is about 10:30pm by the time I get home and I won’t eat until after I have finished all my post-game duties. These include a recap on the website and sent to the press, the post-game interview uploaded, my “highlight of the night” that I post to soundcloud, updating any game notes for the next day and continuing prep for the upcoming series. It is usually anywhere from 12:00am-2:00am until I get any food in my stomach and then I finally get to catch up on the MLB plays and scores from the day. I try to find time to keep up on my Mariners. 

              Not much sleep, a lot of work, but I could not be happier. There is no better feeling than feeling prepared to do a broadcast and putting out my best effort every night for the listeners. Everything I do is for my listeners and to make their experience the best one possible. If a hectic day all culminates to that, then I have done my job.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Game Day in a Nutshell

The season is always a blur for me. For the last 6 years I have looked at the calendar in early June excited for Opening Day, I've blinked and magically arrived in August with the season winding down. I always feel a bit like Dorthy in the land of Oz when the season winds down, and I'm guessing it's because game days are stuffed full of work, planning, and finally baseball. When I sat down to write this post I realized just how chaotic and unorganized most of my days usually are. Below is my attempt at generalizing what I do on a daily basis.

During the season, game day usually starts off for me with a 6:30 AM wake up (I certainly hope Ariana doesn't wake me any earlier this year), a trip to Starbucks, and then off to the office no later than 8 for the day to begin. The day always starts by wrapping up everything from the night before including logging employee hours and double checking all of our spreadsheets for accounting. After that I touch base with our broadcaster to make sure that everything we need for that night's promotion is ready to go and we're fully prepared for radio, social media, etc. Depending on when the next road series is scheduled the next item on my agenda is preparing travel documents, finalizing meal money, and touching base with the road hotel.

After a quick break for lunch (usually eaten at my desk) it's time to prepare the game script for the night. That involves making sure we have the right promotions set, have all of our PA announcements correct, and know which staff members will be executing certain tasks. Anyone on the staff can tell you I usually miss at least one correction which is all part of the fun each night. Once the game script is printed and ready for the night, I move on to any miscellaneous tasks that have accumulated over the last few days. Usually that entails touching base with staff on upcoming promotions, sending out an e-newsletter, emailing with corporate partners and season ticket holders, etc.

After afternoon tasks are completed I usually take a quick hour break to run home, hydrate, and eat a healthy snack before heading to the ballpark. Since I double as the stadium operations manager on game nights, I am one of the first to arrive at the stadium to get the box office open, get the BP music going, and make sure that our food and beverage manager has everything they need. Once 5:30 rolls around most things are ready to go for the night and everyone is busy making last minute preparations for gates open. Once we welcome fans through the gate the real fun can begin. Game nights are truly my favorite part of the job. I mostly just have to troubleshoot any issues - ticket printers, merchandise POS systems cause the most headache. Hopefully though I get to sit back and enjoy some home town baseball with family and friends with everyone else in the ballpark.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The past few weeks are among my favorite times over the course of the year. While the rest of the baseball is excited for pitchers and catchers reporting, I'm excited because games that mean something are now underway. College baseball has hurled it's first pitch. We can start to see if the fruits of our labors from the past 6+ months of recruiting will likely bear fruit.

The recruiting mix at this level is interesting. You see, each player is a free agent, so you can literally offer a contract to any collegiate baseball player in the country, without restriction. Some players from great programs just fail to pan out. Some players from schools you've never heard of will become great players at our league level. How do whittle down to find the right players?

First - you get on a plane. Or in the case of this past summer, in a car. From Walla Walla, WA to Riverside, CA, with 15 stops in between, and a return trip through Fresno and Stockton, CA. All in all, we met with over 20 NCAA D1 programs, two JUCO showcases and the best BBQ we've ever had in "Hills have Eyes" country in Northern California. In order to build (or develop) relationships

with key programs, we drove nearly 5,000 miles in 8 days. The route is in the pic here. Now imagine another 12 hours drive from Stockton, CA to Walla Walla, WA on the back end of the trip. And I don't let anyone else drive.

This is really the route that we took this fall recruiting.

After the many, many visits (and the great hospitality from some of the best coaches in NCAA history), we create our wish list of 75-100 players. We rate the players according to where they fall in our wish list, and then we start to work with the head coaches of the programs. In some cases, like UCLA or Cal Poly, we get their best, or at least who everyone thinks will be their best. That comes from years of long-term relationship development. In other instances, we are signing players from programs for the first time, based on either a recommendation from a relationship in the game (scout, coach that has followed the player, one of our partners who saw a particular player) or on specific numbers. When it comes to pitchers, the magic ratio is 4:1. When it comes to hitters, we are looking at a number in the range of 2:1, but can take closer to 1:1 (problem areas occur when those numbers are flipped - like 1:2-3). Sometimes we really pick well - like our 2013 class, that included (6) players selected in the 2015 MLB draft. Other times, we just miss. But I can assure you the effort is consistent.

As we are deciding which players to offer, I work most closely with our GM and our manager. Working the phones, developing relationships, communicating regularly, updating the white board in my office - for all the stuff about the WCL that drives me insane, this is the part of the business that I love.