It was fall, 2001. I spent nine hours a week in class as a Sport Management graduate student, half an hour a week doing homework (Sport Mgmt doesn't = Rocket Science), and 30 to 40 hours a week working as an Intramural Graduate Assistant for the Campus Rec department at Baylor. My Intramurals experience deserves its own memoirs blog (or two, or thirty) but my Tennessee story starts with the scholastic side of my stay at Baylor University.
Halfway through that Fall 2001 semester the administration in the Sport Management department cancelled a few of the classes slated to be offered Spring 2002. Like the Ethics of Sport class that was my last course requirement, to name but one. And just like that - BAM! - I was told not to worry about taking any classes in the spring and to start looking for an internship, post haste.
Fast forward to December. I'm in Boston for the job fair held in conjunction with the baseball winter meetings. As in Major League Baseball and every level of the minor leagues. After several rounds of interviews with a handful of minor league teams I accepted an offer with the Tennessee Smokies, located just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Fast forward to February, 2002. I'm sharing an apartment with two of the other three interns (Joe and Justin). We lived off of Kingston Pike near West Town Mall on the west side of Knoxville. The commute to work was about 40 minutes on I-40, driving across town and then out to rural Kodak, Tennessee. The stadium sits at the intersection of I-40 and Route 66 (yes, that Route 66). Dollywood was fifteen minutes away in Sevierville. The Lee Greenwood Theater wasn't far away either. Somehow I never went to either.
I digress. We car-pooled most days to save money, not that spending an hour and a half day in a car with each other was always the most pleasant thing, since we already lived and worked together. Plus Justin is easily the worst driver I've ever ridden with, and that's including Driver's Ed. Without exaggerating, I can remember at least three times when he nearly killed us en route to or from work. Joe and I volunteered to drive most days, especially after we found out that Justin had taken to carrying a ten gallon drum of gasoline in the trunk of his car. It was full. This came after he managed to run out of gasoline a couple of times. Seriously, who runs out of gas multiple times in a few months span of time?
Again, I digress. I was 23 year old sports fan working for a minor league baseball team. Most people thought I had a cool job. And in many ways it was. I saw a baseball game every night, in and around working various jobs around said baseball game. One day game in May I was the bat boy after two kids called in. I was older than half the guys in the dug out, but there I was running fresh baseballs out to the umpire every few batters. I designed parts of our official program and season ticket holder guide, supervised the press box, wrote some press releases.....and pulled the tarp every time it rained. To be fair, the entire front office staff from the GM down to the interns was the tarp crew. Rainy nights sucked, because you wouldn't get home until midnight or later. We had Fireworks Fridays, and one night I helped run the show - basically cueing the music to the fireworks so that the explosions were in sync with the songs. Speaking of music, I ran the stadium sound for a few games when the usual guy filled in for the Public Address Announcer. I played the at bat music, the "Let's Go" crowd chants, "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch, and all the usual songs you hear at a sporting event. As you can imagine, I had fun with that job. The quarter of the season I spent in Stadium Operations, notsomuch. Those days I power washed the stadium seats and cleaned popcorn spills and vomit off the concourse.
Graduation Day at Baylor was in late May. I wasn't there to walk the stage and receive my diploma (we had a home game that day). But it was just as well, by then I knew I wouldn't be pursuing professional sports as a career. Internships, by definition, have some degree of "grin and bear it" built into the experience, and it was no different for us. For one thing, the hours sucked. If there was a game that day, you showed up to work at 8:00 AM and left about an hour after the game ended, anywhere between 10:30 and 11:00 pm. If the team was out of town, it was a typical work week with maybe an afernoon off here and there. And we saw what we had to look forward to: Group Ticket Sales. Across the board, that's pretty much the entry level job in professional sports. Spending the day at your cubicle in a headset, alternately cold-calling previous customers and returning voicemails and various sales leads. For me, it wasn't exactly the pot of gold at the end of a rainy day rainbow.
The season wore on and the four of us rotated through our turns in the Media Relations, Tickets, Promotions, and Stadium Ops departments. We've all heard the "do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" line from graduation speeches, etc. Well, that's not always 100% true. So I started asking myself, "What's next? What happens in September when the season and the internship end?" So when the team was out of town (every other week) or when I couldn't stand my roommates another minute (every other day) I would escape to the local Barnes and Noble or Borders and plan my next move: backpacking around Europe.
The Smokies' baseball season ended a few days into September. Thankfully, we missed the playoffs. My Chevy Cavalier was fully packed and I began the long drive back to Texas. A week after that my backpack was fully packed and I made my way through the relatively short line for Customs at Gatwick Airport just outside of London.
But that, my friends, is a blog for another day. Thanks for allowing me this 8 billion word stroll down memory lane.