Intern in the Big Show - Ian McDonald's Churchill Fellowship Journey
Throughout August and September, Baseball New Zealand Communications Adviser is working as an intern at Major League Baseball in New York City and at the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise in Phoenix.
Weekly Blog #7 – 1 October 2018
Wow What a Ride
I can’t believe 10 weeks is almost up as it just seems like yesterday Michelle and I boarded the plane in Auckland in late July to head to the States. To say it has been a blast is an understatement and the experiences and learnings I’ve accumulated will stand me in good stead to promote and help grow the game of baseball in New Zealand.
Before getting into the baseball side of things, Michelle and I got to experience the craziness that is an NFL game in Phoenix to watch the Cardinals play the Chicago Bears. The noise inside the covered stadium was just amazing, I didn’t know 65,000 people could make that much noise. The football on the field almost seemed secondary to the events going on around the venue…….not really. I would really love to see other sporting codes at home study American sport a lot more to see how not only American Football or baseball franchises operate, but all the sports and pick out the best parts of them and put on a show at Eden Park, or Westpac in Wellington or any other sporting venue in New Zealand.
I was also lucky enough to get a guided tour of the Talking Stick Resort Arena, home to the Phoenix Suns NBA team which holds about 18,000 spectators. The accessibility of the venue is amazing, even given it was built before the ADA (American’s With Disabilities Act) was brought into law. The ADA means all stadia (and buildings of any nature) built after a certain date, must provide seating/spaces at all pricing levels at a venue, just as Chase Field and State Farm Stadium (formerly University of Arizona Stadium) does.
Back to baseball and the last week at the Diamondbacks included the final homestand of the season and a series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a great chance to catch up with NZ Diamondblacks manager Chris Woodward and assistant coach Brant Brown, who both coach with the Dodgers. Early in the week, I was given an insight into how ticket plans are put together and promoted, while also seeing how an organization such as the D’backs markets different packages to different segments and how they target these segments. Selling tickets is an art form and the D’backs have sold over 2.2 million tickets over the 2018 season, the second highest total of tickets sold in the teams 20-year history. Even in the last week when the team was out of the play-off race, good sized crowds still turned out to watch series against the Rockies and Dodgers, a testament to how well the organization targets its customers and provides a great package for fans going to Chase Field.
On the Corporate Communications front, consecutive days saw the D’backs host a children’s entertainer and a Wrestling superstar, some may even say they target the same audience…………just joking. Children’s You Tube entertainer Blippi came to Chase Field to film a day at the ballpark and also threw out the first pitch prior to a game against the Dodgers. Having never heard of Blippi, it was an unbelievable sight later in the evening, seeing the line of children queueing up to to meet him, I kid you not, the line was at least 50 metres long. The following day, WWE wrestling superstar Daniel Bryan was at the park to promote the Royal Rumble which is being held at Chase Field in early 2019 and threw a strike to begin the final home game of the season, which saw the D’backs overwhelm Los Angeles 7-2, a great way to end the final homestand of 2018.
Meeting and getting to know so many people at both MLB and the D’backs has been the biggest takeaway from this experience and the knowledge, processes and learnings will last me a lifetime. Seeing how these two organisations operate has been a real eye opener and you can guarantee there will be plenty of back and forth with all these people over the next few years. From writing fan letters on behalf of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, meeting and talking to Joe Torre, setting up MLB event accreditation and tidying up contact databases at MLB Headquarters to discussing communications at the Chicago Cubs and then learning everything there is to know about communications and PR at a Major League franchise, meeting the likes of Theo Epstein, Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, Torey Lovullo and a host of D’backs players, coaches, clubhouse staff and everyone who I came into contact with in Phoenix, it’s been a heck of a ride. Going to 18 games over the last couple of months has also been fantastic and I’ve seen some great baseball.
To finish, I have a few people to thank, firstly to John Blundell at MLB and Josh Rawitch at the Diamondbacks, I couldn’t have done this without your agreement, guidance and willingness to host me for a lengthy period of time. Thanks also to the folks at MLB, Ginger, Paul, Lydia, Yolayna, Steve, Katie, Chris, Rosa and Mike, you made me feel like part of the team and it was amazing to see how the best sporting organization in the world operates. At the Diamondbacks, thanks also to Derrick, Brooke, Patrick O, Patrick K, Casey, John, Kyle, Josh G, Katie, Rob, Scott, Steve M, Noah B and Noah W, Chuck, Bobby, Jeff, Zach, Leslie, Kenny, Andy, Morgan, Ethan, Debbie, Noel, Joann, Sarah, Judge, Emma, Tony, Jackie, Joe, Jacob, Rachel, Graeme, Lupe and everyone else who took time out of their day to make my stay a month to remember for the rest of my life. Sorry if I’ve left anyone off this list, if I have, thank you.
To Ryan Flynn, Pandy Fruean and Dale Budge, thanks for covering while I've been away, it's been an exciting time with the launch of the Tuatara and other events and I'm looking forward and hoping to play a big part in everything going forward.
Thanks also to the Winston Churchill Fellow Trust for providing me with the grant to turn this experience into a reality.
The final thank you goes to my travelling companion, best friend and wife Michelle, for whom without you being here, this couldn’t have happened, and we’ve been able to share some great adventures over the last couple of months.
Thanks also to everyone who has been following our journey. Even though it’s almost done (just a couple more days in Houston to go), the journey never really ends and who knows where or when it will go.
Keep watching baseball.
Weekly Blog #6 – 21 September 2018
Community plays a Big Part in Diamondbacks Activities
Another whirlwind week for me at the Arizona Diamondbacks and a lot of what I saw this week hammered home the knowledge that the D’backs are passionate about the work they do in the community and a big part of that is their “Give Back” programme.
The Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation was established in 1997 before the D-backs ever played a Major League game. The mission of the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation is to support three main areas of need: homelessness, indigent healthcare and children's programs of all types, including education and youth baseball field development. In addition, the Foundation has created strategic programs that address the needs of the community including veterans, police, teachers, and firefighters - just to name a few (source: https://www.mlb.com/dbacks/community/foundation/).
One of their great initiatives played out at Chase Field on Wednesday when the Valencia Newcomers School paid a visit to the ballpark. The school is home to about 125 refugees from countries all over the world, including a number of African, South and Central American countries, with children coming from war torn nations where they’ve escaped form hardships that are difficult to fathom. The school is close to the heart of the D’backs and a number of staff spent a week tidying up the school when it first opened by building and decorating classrooms and generally making the area a great place for kids to learn. The delight on these school kids faces when arriving at the park and being given a brand new D’backs cap was a just amazing to witness and then to see them learning about health and nutrition basics by getting to run around the outfield and listen to some very inspirational speakers was brilliant and I was very lucky to be able to be involved. The D’backs also run huge numbers of other initiatives throughout the season with their fundraising activities which goes straight back to the community.
Earlier in the week I presented D’backs Manager Torey Lovullo with a brand new Baseball New Zealand cap and it was great to se him wear it with pride at his pre-match press conference prior to game 1 of the series against the Cubs. I was also lucky enough to spend some time with Scott Geyer, who took me through the broadcasting side of the operation, culminating on sitting in the announcer’s booth with the voice of Chase Field Chuck and I also got to sit in the Fox Sports broadcasting booth with game caller Steve Berthiaume and Analyst (former D’backs Manager) Bob Brenly. Even when the game’s not quite going the home teams way, they still keep the broadcast upbeat and interesting to listen to.
On Thursday, I got to sit in on a Strategic Sports Communication class at Arizona State University, which is tutored by D’backs Senior VP of Content and Communications, Josh Rawaitch, my host here in Arizona, who also had D’backs Manager Torey Lovullo along to talk about news conferences and how he handles the media in both good times and also when the questions are flying at him. Later in the day Josh took myself and wife Michelle out to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the D’backs Spring Training Facility. What an unbelievable facility it is, something any professional sports team in the world would love to have. Multiple pristine training and playing fields, clubhouses for both Major and Minor League groups, gyms, recovery rooms, a stadium for Spring Training games and all set in an oasis in the middle of the Arizona desert on the north-east side of Phoenix, just a magnificent facility, which opened in 2011. The last highlight for the week followed our visit to Salt River when Josh and his family took us to a Brazilian restaurant Fogo De Chao to attend a fundraiser being held by D’backs Third Base, Eduardo Escobar, who raises funds to help out his home nation of Venezuela.
My amazing journey is now nearly at an end and I have one more action packed week to go here in Arizona with the Rockies and Dodgers coming to town to end the final homestand of the season, hopefully on a high note.
Until next week, keep watching baseball.
Weekly Blog #5 – 14 September 2018
Workplace Culture Goes a Long Way Towards a Successful Organisation
I’ve now been at the Arizona Diamondbacks for two weeks now and while the team has been away, it’s allowed me the time and opportunity to sit back and observe the organization and how it keeps the wheels turning on the business or off-field activities. A lot of what I’ve seen this week has been the behind-the-scenes activity that helps make the Diamondbacks get fans, stakeholders and other interested in the sport feel part of a Major League set up. From getting the Homestand Magazine and other publications produced, to the Graphic Designers and the video editors, the team in charge of all social media activities and DBTV, the team behind all the video production for the Diamondbacks, from video for social and other media, scoreboard video during games and also video production for the Corporate team selling business packages and running gamedays and other events such as the Schools Field Trip during the week.
The Schools Field Trip saw over 3,000 school children from the local area come to Chase Field over two days and learn the art of baseball through science, using things such as giant protractors to teach the trajectory of the baseball when it’s been hit, how a pitcher like Patrick Corbin can move the baseball in such a fashion without making it bounce and even how important the number nine is to the game; nine players per team, nine innings per game, 90 feet between each base (9+0=9), 360 feet around the bases (3+6+0=9), 162 games per season (1+6+2=9), 81 home games per season (8+1=9), so for all you people who’s favourite or lucky number is Nine, you should be following baseball a lot closer.
The Schools Field Trip was also an indication to me, as to how strongly the Diamondbacks appreciate and feel about their local region and community and how they interact with and support them by hosting events such as this and others held throughout not only the season but also the year. The Diamondbacks value highly the people that support them and work hard to ensure their fan base and population is not taken for granted at any stage.
The same can be said for their staff and this comes right from the top from CEO & President Derrick Hall (who visited NZ in 2013) who hosts a monthly “Team Players Meeting” (Employers are call Team Players, not be confused with the players on the on field team, in my eyes a great way to portray the message that ALL members of the organization are on the same footing and everyone is on a first name basis. The Team Players Meeting is also a great way for Derrick to keep everyone in the organization up to speed with what is happening and today’s meeting was no exception (including Pizza for lunch, mmmmmmmmmmmmm Pizza) and celebrated three “Team Players” with the Presidents Club Awards, a monthly accolade to someone on the staff who has gone over and above their normal job and made a difference.
Last week I shared on my blog a picture of the Diamondbacks Values and Mission and wanted to focus on one particular part of that circle of categories, Culture. (People, Integrity and Innovation). One part of that which has resonated with me is an anagram of FAWTSY, meaning Find a Way to Say Yes. It is easy for especially bigger and more popular organisations to say in response to a question or query, No, it’s not something we do, or No, we don’t have the resources to do that, or No, we just can’t do that. Find A Way to Say Yes, rather than the instant NO. If you really put your mind to it, there really is always a way to say yes. It might not result in exactly what the question or query asks, but it will sure go a long way to resulting in a positive outcome. This organization has really got it right and I know from the experiences I’ve had already before coming to Arizona, the Diamondbacks are held in high regard and seen as an organization leading the way.
Weekly Blog #4 – 7 September 2018
Sure is Hot in Phoenix
So, after a week off in Chicago and travelling to Phoenix, I’ve now begun life with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the next month, and week one has been a blast as well as a huge load of information uptake. Working at a franchise is a whole different beast to working at MLB Headquarters, with the obvious focus being on winning, day in and day out. To use an old Peter Blake saying (“Whatever anyone does, it must make the boat go faster”), so here in Phoenix, whatever anyone does, must help the team win, on and off the field.
Just to go back to Chicago for a quick moment, I met with Cubs Assistant Director, Media Relations, Jason Carr, who took me through his standard gameday and non-gameday routines, who he deals with on a daily basis and how he goes about his business. Jason is responsible for making the sure the media have the appropriate access to players, coaches etc and that they abide by the rules and regulations around what they can and can’t do or film, while in the clubhouse. Jason told me that he was so busy on the day of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, that he missed the final play of the game, when 3rd base Kris Bryant threw to 1st base Anthony Rizzo to get the final out and he wondered why the heck Fox reporter Ken Rosenthal wanted to talk to Bryant. Rosenthal had to tell Jason what the final play was!!! It was also a pleasure to catch up with Matt Thomas from Auckland. Matt is playing ball and learning at North Park University in the city.
Anyway, on to Arizona and did I mention it was hot here, I don’t think the temperature has been below 36 deg Celsius here since we arrived a week ago, but to balance that, there is little humidity which makes it a little more bearable.
The team here at the Diamondbacks are an amazing group of people and thanks to the fantastic communication skills of the team’s Senior Vice President of Communications, Josh Rawitch, everybody in the organization knew all about me before I arrived, and I’ve been made to feel very welcome. My first day was spent with Nanette Odell, who specializes in making not only sports stadiums, but a huge array of public spaces, more accessible to those needing to be able to get around. At the Diamondbacks, thanks to Nanette’s hard work, there are wheelchair spaces available in every pricing section there is at Chase Field and across the street at the home of the Phoenix Suns (NBA) and Mercury (WNBA) Basketball teams, the Talking Stick Arena.
After a very informative session and lunch with Nanette, I met up with Senior Manager of Player and Media Relations, Patrick O’Connell, who talked me through a similar daily routine to what Jason Carr does in Chicago, but as with any organization, a little different to how each franchise does things. Patrick also introduced me to Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo, with whom I had a long chat and of course invited him to come to New Zealand, and he can’t wait to head over sometime. Getting to hang out in the clubhouse was obviously a huge highlight and getting to chat with a few of the players was a bonus. One of those players I did chat with was Paul Goldschmidt, a visitor to New Zealand in 2013 who also said he’d be keen to come back at sometime too.
Watching these guys operate is amazing, everything runs very smoothly (it does from my eyes) and just goes to the point of how a great culture within the organization, makes everyone want to do their best and ensure the team (on and off the field) is successful. The Diamondbacks have a motto of “Try to say Yes to any request”. It has a lot of merit.
What Patrick (and Jason) do is looking after the players and media for anything on-field related, for Katie Krause in Corporate Communications, everything communications related off the field falls into her wheelhouse. This morning she (and intern Noah Weinberg) were at the stadium at 5.00am (I got here at 8), as two of the local TV stations were doing live crosses into their breakfast programming to promote Hispanic Heritage Weekend, and the Diamondbacks are playing a big part in that with a festival outside the stadium on Saturday leading up to the game against the Braves later in the day and celebrating the day with a special Ketel Marte (Luchador) Bobblehead Doll. I also got to taste some of the amazing food that will be on sale over the weekend, getting stuck into a Quesadilla with marinated steak, cheese and peppers and tacos which nearly blew my head off (I’m not really a spicy food type of guy).
Friday finished off with some more media interviews for Paul Goldschmidt and Alex Avila, before a couple of live crosses to the local NBC channel on their afternoon show.
It’s been a huge week in Phoenix and doesn’t end on Friday as I’ll be shadowing the social media guys around the park on Saturday as the Diamondbacks celebrate Hispanic Heritage Week.
Weekly Blog #3 - 24 August 2018
From Joe Torre to Billy Joel
What a week it’s been, from seeing the New York Yankees 1998 team reunion at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, to meeting and sitting down to talk baseball with the legendary Joe Torre and ending the week seeing a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden, along with special guest Bryan Adams, a truly memorable week.
Along with these amazing highlights, I have now finished my stint at Major League Baseball, a truly great organization. Working in the hallowed hallways of one of the biggest sporting organisations in the United States has brought home to me how much work actually goes on behind the scenes to run a sport and has given me a new perspective on how a sport can be run successfully, with strong organizational management, people buying into the bigger picture and continuity in the staff running the operations. As an example, Pat Courtney, Chief Communications Officer began at MLB in 1992, after completing an internship at the New York Yankees and John Blundell, who I was working for, has been at MLB for over 23 years, after also starting out as a Bat Boy and intern at the Yankees. You get the feeling around the office, that people who are passionate about the game, join the organization and just don’t leave. All the staff are well looked after and work in a great environment, everything that comes out of this office is done with great precision and due to the continuity of the people involved, everything works like a well-oiled machine. After my interview with Mr. Torre, I had experienced my “Fan Boy” moment and talked to one of the staff who said, “Yeah, we take it for granted, that he and the Commissioner (Rob Manfred) are just down the hallway.”
New York has been amazing, but as I mentioned last week, it is a really busy city and even walking (or wheeling in my case) back from the concert at around midnight, the streets were still filled with people walking around and traffic tooting their horns at every intersection, just making sure ‘The City that Never Sleeps’ keeps its nickname.
On to Chicago tomorrow and catching up with former Bayside-Westhaven and North Shore City first base Matt Thomas, who is now learning and playing baseball at North Park University in the city. Looking forward to seeing how Matt is going and taking in a Cubs game at the same time.
Weekly Blog #2 – 17 August 2018
This City is Really Busy!!!
Another week down at the centre of the baseball world and everyday learning more about how the greatest game on earth is run……very well may I say. The highlight of the week would have to have been meeting the man I call “Mr Baseball” Joe Torre, the man who led the New York Yankees to four World Championship titles, over a five-year stretch. In fact this weekend is the reunion for the second of those, the 1998 team who finished the regular season with an unbelievable 114 wins in the regular season and fairly easily accounting for all who came before them and sweeping the World Series four nil over a good San Diego Padres team. Mr Torre has done everything in the game, played, managed and now administered the game at the very top level and still has the energy to carry on. Our meeting in the hallway was brief, but I am hoping to sit down with him next week to talk all things baseball, so hopefully I’ll have some snippets for you after talking to him. The office has been busy this week with preparations in full swing for this Sunday’s Little League Classic between the Mets and the Phillies at historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, just up the road from the Howard J. Lamade stadium, home of the Little League World Series (LLWS), which is now underway. The two teams will visit the LLWS on Saturday and Sunday, then all the LL players, parents and fans will watch the MLB game on Sunday evening, being broadcast nationwide on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. There’s also a buzz around the office for next weekend’s (24-26 August) for Player’s Weekend, where the players wear different jerseys, personalized with their own choice of nicknames, or in the case Arizona Diamondbacks closer Brad Boxberger, an emoji(s) of his name, a picture of a box and a burger, very inventive indeed. Getting to the title of this weeks blog, New York has to be the busiest city in the world, doesn’t matter what time of day or night, there is plenty going on and a short walk (or in my case, wheel) to the office takes a lot longer than it should navigating around slow walkers, non straight line walkers and the arch enemy “looking at their cellphone walkers” who come to an immediate stop when they realise there’s a wheelchair hurtling towards them. That’s about it for this week, off to watch the Yankees and the Blue Jays over the next two days and hopefully catch up with former Yankee and Australia pitcher Graeme Lloyd, who’s in town for this weekend’s 1998 reunion.
Weekly Blog #1 – 10 August 2018
New York, New York
After a week or so laying low in Houston and New Orleans, it was time to hit the Big Apple and get to work and after a week at 245 Park Avenue (MLB offices), I can safely say the rest of my time here is going to be very illuminating. Working just a few offices from the Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred puts into perspective exactly where I am, the centre of the baseball universe. Every morning as I get off the elevator on to the 31st floor, I’m reminded of it, with the World Series trophy sitting right behind reception when I am greeted by the wonderful Rosa as I begin the work day. A morning chat with Vice-President, Communications, John Blundell confirms the enormity of what I’m doing when he talks about his days as a bat boy for the New York Yankees over 20 years ago and stories of Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter strutting their stuff in the big show and how he felt dizzy the first day he walked on to Yankee Stadium and having to grab hold of the dugout rail to stop him from falling. As an intern, one of my first jobs was to scan internet pages looking for scores of exhibition games played by MLB teams around the world and then being introduced to the world of fan mail, letters from baseball fans to the Commissioner with all sorts of idea’s on how the game should be run, expansion plans, re-aligning the divisions, to letters in support or against Pete Rose being eligible for the Hall of Fame (not actually the Commissioners call, the Baseball Hall of Fame makes that decision), harsher penalties for PED use, more (or less) safety netting at grounds, adding (or not) the Designated Hitter to the National League, requests for autographs and the list goes on. It’s an education in itself, reading all of these and plenty of them have had a lot of thought put in and some of the realignment letters make for interesting reading. With the Little League World Series about to explode on to Williamsport in Pennsylvania, the team here are busily preparing accreditation for all the media going along to cover it and the Phillies vs Mets game which will be played on Sunday week just a mile from the Little League stadium during “Players Weekend”, when the stars of the game wear special jerseys and caps including nicknames on the back of the jersey, a fun weekend. Well week one is almost at an end and I have to say Thursday night at Yankee Stadium was one of the greatest sporting nights I’ve ever experienced after being invited on to the field for Batting Practice and experiencing myself, John’s dizzy feeling of looking up at the vast grandstands dwarfing me on the ground and of course a 7-3 Yankees win over the Texas Rangers.
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