Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Introducing the DREAM JOB Series!

When I was a senior at Binghamton University, I thought of an idea. After writing for the sports section of the school newspaper, The Pipe Dream, for three years, I was ready for something different. As a sports fan, “different” didn’t mean now contributing to the Op/Ed section or writing food reviews, but finding a creative twist to the sports articles I wanted to write.

So I asked myself what kind of stories would be interesting to students. As someone who was one year away from the workforce and unsure of what direction I was headed in, I thought the only way to know what I wanted to do for a living was to get first-hand experience. And thus, began the idea of Pipe DREAM JOB: a weekly series of interviews from those in the sports field who had the job of their dreams.

This blog features the following interviews:
  • Karl Ravech, ESPN Baseball Tonight Anchor
  • Jon Heyman, CNNSI.com Baseball Columnist
  • Cory Schwartz, MLB.com Radio Host and Director of Statistics
  • Brett Ehrlich, SportsNet NY National Sales Manager of NY Mets
  • Ron Klempner, NBA Players Association Attorney
  • Joe Fitzgerald, MLB Special Events Manager
  • Len Berman, NBC Sports Anchor
  • Gary Cohen, SNY Broadcaster for NY Mets
  • Jay Lovinger, ESPN.com Editor
  • Jay Horwitz, Mets Public Relations Director
  • Jenna Wolfe, Today Show Anchor

And lastly, the culmination of the series in my own, personal story:

  • Thoughts on a "Dream Job"

Enjoy, write comments, and learn something the same way I did!

Your sports fan,


Karl Ravech, ESPN Baseball Tonight Anchor

Imagine what it would be like to be an ESPN sportscaster, or maybe a sports radio host or a baseball scout. Does that peak your interest? How about working in a sports public relations office, being a beat reporter for the Yankees or helping plan an All-Star Game? Here at Pipe DREAM JOB, you can get a taste of it all. Every column will profile a different career in the sports field, giving you Binghamton University students a small Costco-like sample of people in the business that are working at the job of their dreams.

When you think about people working in sports, you often hear stories of childhood sports heroes or a person’s passion for a certain team that has persuaded someone to follow that path. For Karl Ravech, that wasn’t the case.

“I was definitely not one of those kids that pretended that I was doing the play-by-play of an event,” said Ravech, now an ESPN sportscaster and host of “Baseball Tonight.” “I never really watched ESPN growing up.”

Entering what will be his 15th year as an ESPN anchor, the 42-year-old Binghamton alumnus had an interesting career path, and he has his wife to thank. After working in WBNG in Binghamton for three years, Ravech became an anchor in Harrisburg, Pa., and decided to apply for the ESPN job in Bristol, Conn.

“We can’t just stay here doing weekend sports,” Ravech said, who had recently been married.

But while waiting to hear back from ESPN, his wife, who had an interview in the Bristol area for a job of her own, convinced Ravech to tag along on the ride and meet with the ESPN brass.

“My first reaction was, you don’t do that,” he said. “She convinced me I had nothing to lose, and it paid off.”

Ravech was hired and teamed with former “Daily Show” host Craig Kilborn to work the SportsCenter desk in 1993.

Ravech chose to enter the sports field after meeting with a guidance counselor, who suggested he combine his love for writing and playing sports. A communications major at Ithaca College, Ravech decided to take classes at Binghamton University when he was working at WBNG.

Since 1996, Ravech, alongside numerous former Major League Baseball players and columnists, has hosted the popular ESPN show “Baseball Tonight” and has loved the day-to-day job.

“We have a meeting with whoever is on the show, get together with the producers, production assistants, come up with a theme and the races going on,” said Ravech, who starts his workday at 4:30 p.m. to prepare for the 10 p.m. and 12 a.m. shows. “Last night, we proposed to these guys, give us your best clutch hitter and best clutch pitcher.”

But not everything goes according to plan in this line of work.

“When [a recent] Indians and White Sox game was pouring, it led to a discussion when games need to be called [by the umpires],” Ravech said. “There’s a great aspect in this job that you never know what’s going to happen.”

But Ravech embraces the thrill of his daily duties, even if it means getting home at 2 a.m. most days.

“I would think that most people would want to be at an environment where they are challenged,” he said.

Through the years, Ravech has grown to be a fan of all sports, citing Tiger Woods’ win at the 2000 British Open and the Red Sox 2004 World Series Championship as some of the best sports moments he has attended. But it’s not just sports that he has come to love.

“I had a 5-year-old boy on a tour ask me, ‘How much money do you make?’ I said ‘I make enough money.’ His mother said, ‘But ask him if he enjoys what he’s doing.’ That’s the part that’s great — to love what you’re doing.”

Published Sept. 18, 2007 in Binghamton University's "Pipe Dream" Newspaper.

Jon Heyman, CNNSI.com Baseball Columnist

There have been plenty of memorable moments over the past few years that Yankees fans can recollect with pride. The World Series wins and the key home runs are all special, but one of the great moments anyone can recall is waking up one Saturday morning in February and grabbing the Newsday on the front lawn, flipping to the back and reading the headline “Bronx-Bound?” with Texas Ranger Alex Rodriguez pictured. You want to know the guy who was the first to break the news before anyone else? Read below.

There are few trades in baseball that are head turners, but Alex Rodriguez coming to the Big Apple was certainly one of the most shocking and monumental deals in the sport, and it was then-Newsday sports columnist Jon Heyman who had the inside scoop.

“That was such a big story in New York and it was great to get that one first,” said Heyman, who worked at Newsday for 16 years.

But nowadays, breaking a story like the A-Rod trade would be played out differently in a news media outlet.

“That was only three years ago and we still held it for the paper,” said Heyman. “Three years later, you would never take that chance [of another paper breaking the story] and wait.”

With the coming of age of the Internet and the decline of print media, more news and coverage are now available online. Heyman, who spent most of his career writing for newspapers, is now a part of that outlet: the Internet. Heyman works as a national baseball columnist for CNNSI.com and contributes to Sports Illustrated magazine.

Making the transition from Newsday to CNNSI.com expanded Heyman’s audience, and e-mails from baseball enthusiasts all over the world, including Iraq, are not uncommon. But the switch to Sports Illustrated wasn’t something Heyman expected.

“At some point, I thought I’d be [at Newsday] forever,” said Heyman. “But management changed and they became very corporate. The emphasis was how they were going to make money rather than put out a good product.”

Growing up in Lawrence, N.Y., Heyman was very close to coming to Binghamton, but his father agreed to pay the tuition at Northwestern University “because their journalism program was well-known,” he said

After graduating from Northwestern, Heyman, like most journalists, started in a small market. He began his career covering mostly high school sports in Molino, Ill., but the cold weather climate led him to Santa Monica, Calif.

“I covered the Raiders, so at least I had a chance to cover a professional team,” said Heyman, who eventually covered the Anaheim Angels for three years before returning to New York as the Yankees beat writer for Newsday.

“I remember as a beat reporter, a lot of times you have uncomfortable situations where a guy doesn’t even want to talk to you,” Heyman said. “In my position now, when I go to the Mets, for example, I get to talk to the guys I enjoy talking to.”

Handling stories on a national scale, Heyman doesn’t have to worry about game results or team rosters. His columns contain insider knowledge like potential trades, hires, and insider information about management and players.

“I’m a natural gossip,” said Heyman, who competes with only a handful of insiders who try to get to a story before others. “You try to develop sources and contacts in the game and people who have this insider information, earn their trust, and try to get information out of them and be first.”

But now that he strictly focuses on baseball, Heyman sometimes misses the vast array of topics he could cover as a Newsday columnist.

“I would have liked to say something about Bill Belichick and Michael Vick,” said Heyman. “But I have no regrets.”

In addition to his work for Sports Illustrated in print and on the Web, Heyman often appears on radio spots for his good friend, Michael Kay, and on television spots for SportsNet New York’s “Daily News Live,” reaching across the different media outlets.

“The whole media is evolving because of the Internet,” said Heyman. “I knew that’s the wave of now and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Published Sept. 25, 2007 in Binghamton University's "Pipe Dream" Newspaper.

Cory Schwartz, MLB.com Radio Host and Director of Statistics

When I interned at MLB.com, I worked in the marketing department. As a marketing major, I worked with Web analysis programs and tracked the e-mail campaigns that MLB.com sent out. But occasionally during the summer there would be afternoon games. Across the hall sat Director of Statistics Cory Schwartz. I couldn’t help but turn my head occasionally and opted to go for a few more coffee breaks, which, of course, led to a few more bathroom breaks, only to be able to get up and check out the live games. A baseball fan like myself couldn’t help but think how great this guy had it to be on that side of the office.

If you want to check the latest score of a baseball game and aren’t near a TV, there’s a good chance you’ll check out MLB.com, and chances are Cory Schwartz is helping you get what you need.

“Our department literally watches baseball games. That’s what we get paid to do,” Schwartz said. “I would put our data accuracy No. 1.”

But don’t get the wrong idea. Schwartz isn’t sitting in a recliner with pizza and a six-pack. Schwartz needs to be on his toes and track every pitch location or umpire scoring or any other significant, or insignificant, play of a game.

“Watching baseball is the job, but that really is just a small part of the job,” Schwartz said. “We have to capture the information, work with software, the people who do the keystrokes and maintain player information, and the most critical piece is reviewing every pitch and event to make sure we got everything right.”

Schwartz, a sports management major and communications minor at Guilford College in North Carolina, was always a baseball fan.

“I played fantasy leagues all the time in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s,” said Schwartz, who also played as a kid. “We would keep the stats from the USA Today.”

Not only does Schwartz get to watch baseball for a living, but he also gets to talk about it. In 2001 a co-worker, Andy Roth, approached Schwartz about guest appearing on radio shows.

“He thought I was really knowledgeable about baseball, and frankly, he needed to fill time,” said Schwartz, current co-host of “Fantasy 411,” which first started out once a week and now airs daily from noon to 1 p.m. on MLB.com.

While working in this field may sound glamorous, it does have its drawbacks. Every statistic from every game must be inputted into the system, and that includes West coast games that could go past 1 a.m., or any other game at any time.

“I’ve been called at the middle of the night, woken up at 3:30 a.m. to rebuild the database of games,” Schwartz said. “I’ve been interrupted for how many dinners, I couldn’t tell you.”

With the popularity of MLB.com, particularly the MLBTV feature that allows viewing of games online, Schwartz found a prominent career at MLB.com. But before the onset of the Internet, he was very close to calling Mr. George Steinbrenner his boss. After interning in the media relations department for the Yankees, he was one of three eligible candidates for an opening as the PR Director. Schwartz was close to landing the position and was even told by someone at the Yankees that he was the favorite until “The Boss” had a change of heart.

“Steinbrenner decided he wanted to hire someone else for that job,” Schwartz said.

When that position fell through, Schwartz worked at the NBA and was one of three people responsible for “launching this thing called a Web site” for the NBA in 1995. Eventually he moved on to Bigballot.com where he worked on the All-Star Ballots for each league.

“One thing about the sports or entertainment industry is that it’s very heavily networked,” said Schwartz, who credits help along the way.

When MLB.com was growing, Schwartz’s persistence may have helped him land the job in the statistics department.

“I wasn’t going to lose the job by being aggressive and I wanted to convince them they would be crazy if they didn’t hire me,” Schwartz said. “They told me later that I was hired so that I would stop calling them.”

At the end of the day, or in Schwartz’s case, late night to early morning, Schwartz knows he’s got a job that millions of people wish they had.

“I always remind myself that this is pretty cool,” he said.

Published Oct. 2, 2007 in Binghamton University's "Pipe Dream" Newspaper.

Brett Ehrlich, SportsNet NY National Sales Manager

When I used to tell people that I was interning for Major League Baseball, a sports PR company or a sports team, it was often followed by a head jolt and a, “Really?!” I couldn’t tell if they were just shocked that a girl was interested in a job in sports or if it was just simply that interesting to work in sports. But apparently, I’m not alone.

Brett Ehrlich, national sales manager at SportsNet New York and Binghamton University graduate, gets the same reaction.

“It absolutely is the cocktail party job,” Ehrlich said. “When you walk in somewhere you might have an investment banker to the right and a doctor to the left, and everyone wants to talk to the guy who works in sports.”

Ehrlich, BU class of 1995 graduate, worked his way from the Binghamton Mets to a company working for the New York Mets. But Ehrlich, a lifelong Mets fan, wasn’t always destined for a career in sports. If it wasn’t for a change of heart in the final week of his senior year at Binghamton, Ehrlich’s career would have been completely different.

Ehrlich always had a vision of getting involved in sports from the time he sold pretzels and hot dogs at Binghamton Mets games. He knew breaking into the sports industry wasn’t going to be easy, so he had to be creative in getting his foot in the door.

“I knew I had to get something sports-related on my resume,” Ehrlich said of the B-Mets job. That position helped him earn his way into the sports division at Turner Broadcasting after starting out in the advertising department.

Ehrlich, a native of Rockland County, moved over to the NBA in what was supposed to be his “dream job.” But it wasn’t what he anticipated. When a former colleague signed on to work as the vice president of marketing for the new Mets network, Ehrlich received a call to hop on the SNY bandwagon.

“Stay connected to your contacts,” Ehrlich said. “You never know where they’re going to end up and it leads to opportunities down the line.”

Now at SNY, Ehrlich’s day-to-day task is to sell advertisers on his product: the New York Mets and its network.

“We are responsible for all of the advertising and sponsorship on the network,” Ehrlich said. “I manage all of the business that we generate outside the New York market.”

By being on a national and not regional scale, Ehrlich has grown used to the travel involved. Securing advertisers like Aflac, Coors and Nissan requires him to roam the country to convince a company to advertise and sponsor on SNY.

“We’re a regional sports network, so the rest of the country doesn’t know who we are,” said Ehrlich, who must show detailed presentations about the network since companies can’t flip on the channel to see it.

But when the New York Mets is your product, the wins and losses not only play a factor in Ehrlich’s selling point to advertisers, but also the company culture in the office. With the recent demise of the Mets this September, the Mets’ failures directly impact Ehrlich’s job.

“That’s the good and bad of working in sports — you get so tied into the performance on the field,” said Ehrlich, who had an easy time selling the first-place Mets for the majority of the season. “Unfortunately, for the next six months, all anyone will want to discuss is the collapse of the Mets.”

But while Ehrlich’s job would have been a lot easier had the Mets made the playoffs and potentially won the World Series, working so closely to the Mets does have its benefits throughout the year.

“You get to live out the fantasies of working with a sports team,” Ehrlich said. “You’re not on a field, but you’re heavily invested in a team.”

Ehrlich’s career path from the pretzel man at the B-Mets stadium to his modern-looking New York City office in Rockefeller Plaza wasn’t an easy climb. He is always willing to speak to students about his experiences and understands that he was once in a BU student’s shoes.

“I wasn’t smart enough at that time to use my connections and be bold enough to reach out to people who had jobs that I wanted at the time,” he said.

But while Ehrlich is happy to help out students, he wants to remind them that getting a job in sports requires more than just a love of the game.

“If we just wanted the biggest sports fan, we’d go to Shea and grab the guy with the Beltran jersey and put him behind the desk,” he said.

For a Mets fan who worked his way to the top, the soon-to-be married Ehrlich is certainly enjoying waking up in the morning for work.

“I have pictures of being four years old in a Mets T-shirt when everyone around me was a Yankees fan, so I’m living the dream job right now.”

Published Oct. 9, 2007 in Binghamton University's "Pipe Dream" Newspaper

Ron Klempner, NBA Players Association Attorney

I don’t know what job I’ll have in a year or five years, or even 10. But there’s a good chance I’ll be working in sports. And for all I know, there could be a student at BU who will one day be calling me for an interview about my “Dream Job.” That may never happen to me, but it did happen to Ron Klempner.

In 1981, a Pipe Dream column was written about a BU alum who worked his way into a prominent sports journalist career at the Washington Post. The alum was current Monday Night Football broadcaster and TV show host, Tony Kornheiser. The author of the article was Ron Klempner.

Now, 26 years after profiling a figure in the sports field, Klempner is one of them. For the last 14 years, he has served as the Associate General Counsel for the NBA Players Association, which means he represents the labor union for the players and works on the agreements between the union and the National Basketball Association.

“We work with the league on a lot of things, but [Commissioner] David Stern likes to beat up on us a little bit,” Klempner said jokingly.

Klempner, a 1984 BU graduate, always enjoyed writing since his days at Pipe Dream Sports and seriously considered going into a sport journalist field.

“What I realized was that the work was too hard,” said Klempner, who worked for the Press & Sun-Bulletin for a semester. “It was too difficult of a life to write creatively everyday.”

With his love of arguing and taking a stand, a career in law seemed ideal. Klempner, a graduate of Hofstra Law School in 1987, landed at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, one of the top law firms in New York.

“One of the reasons I wanted to work there was because I thought it would be a nice novelty if they could throw me a sports case,” Klempner said.

For any kid who was the last one picked for a kickball game, this next paragraph is for you. When one of the largest NFL cases came through the doors, the law firm needed another mid-level associate to take on the famous Freeman McNeil case that created free agency in the NFL. Klempner was one of two remaining lawyers who weren’t working on the case. He wasn’t chosen, which meant only one thing: he was the lone lawyer to work on a different client, the NBA Players Association.

“I don’t think the decision had anything to do with merit,” said Klempner, who today, is thankful he wasn’t selected. “I’ve always joked around about how you just never know the turns that life takes. Had it gone the other way, my whole life would have changed.”

After working diligently on several cases for the NBPA, including a nasty case in 1991 where there was an accusation that the NBA undervalued their revenue, he impressed the Players Association with his work.

“I developed a relationship with an executive director of the General Counsel,” Klempner said. “When it came time in 1993 to bring someone in house, they knew me and basically gave me the job.”

Now at the NBPA, Klempner has been a part of every major player controversy. Whether it’s been Latrell Sprewell’s choking incident, the Ron Artest brawl in Detroit, the lockout in 1998, or any dress code or player discipline, Klempner is right there in the mix, looking out for the 450 NBA players.

As a member of the NBPA, Klempner often speaks with players, but it usually doesn’t involve any small talk.

“It’s when the players have the problems,” said Klempner, who last year, got a call from Spurs forward, Robert Horry, asking what he should do about the playoff incident with Suns guard, Steve Nash. “I’ve represented dozens of players in individual appeal and grievances, fines, suspensions or contract problems.”

Klempner’s work isn’t all about disciplinary issues, though. Besides running seminars for the rookies educating them on the union, and working closely with agents about salary cap rule information and the collective bargaining agreement, Klempner, like a handful of players, enjoys the benefits that comes out of the Players Association.

Klempner accompanied Kings forward Ron Artest on an African goodwill mission in this year as a way to repair the troubled union member’s image. In 2005, he was also a part of Operation Rebound and Feed the Children Inc. with players like Allan Houston, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and others to help rebuild the southern areas that suffered from Hurricane Katrina.

“This is some of the most satisfying work I’ve done,” Klempner said of the experience.

Klempner takes a lot of pride in representing the union, not just for its charitable causes, but because of the value the union has. Fans may question the amount of money the 12th man makes on a team’s bench, but Klempner argues he deserves every penny.

“They’re the 450 best in the world; they certainly generate the revenue,” said Klempner, who has a say in player contracts. “We’re always looking to balance between the highest paid and lowest paid players when we negotiate the agreement and make sure it’s fair.”

Klempner had no idea what direction his life was heading in when he was at Binghamton, but has been grateful for every opportunity or missed opportunity along the way.

“I had no idea at the time that this is the way that I would end up living my life, nor would I have planned for it,” Klempner said. “I think people put too much pressure on their lives to take a path they think they want to take. It’s worked out for me OK.”

Published Oct. 16, 2007 in Binghamton University's "Pipe Dream" Newspaper.

Joe Fitzgerald, MLB Special Events Manager

Imagine making the Major League Baseball All-Star Game every year. Picture what it would be like to be a part of 50 clinching celebratory moments. Envision hoisting a World Series championship trophy for your team. Now imagine doing it without even putting on a uniform.

For Joe Fitzgerald, it’s what he gets paid to do.

“I have to go to those games, it’s part of my job,” said Fitzgerald, a special events manager at the Major League Baseball Commissioner’s Office.

Working in event planning, Fitzgerald has been a recognizable face for many of the MLB players; they often know that when they see him, it usually means they’re a part of a major league-wide event.

“[They think] ‘we’re glad he’s here because it means they’re on the verge of clinching a division or title,’” said Fitzgerald, who has been a part of plenty of key clinching moments, including that of his beloved Red Sox. He was in charge of holding the 2004 World Series trophy before it was given to Boston on the field in St. Louis.

“Being a Red Sox fan and having that trophy in my hand before they won was pretty nerve-wracking,” said Fitzgerald, who got his first break in 1990 when he interned with the Red Sox in the Public Relations department. “You can’t really show your emotions, you have to do your job.”

That job entails planning All-Star Games, World Series ceremonies and coordinating the General Manager and Winter Meetings during the offseason. But before Fitzgerald found his way to the special events department (nicknamed “SPEV”), he made his impact felt when he worked in the licensing department and had helped establish uniform guidelines

“We were talking to the players before the guidelines were written and established to get their understanding and cooperation,” said Fitzgerald, who was a sport management major at UMass. But not every player was on board with Fitzgerald’s implementations. The first player who was addressed was Ken Griffey Jr.

In 1997, Griffey had a deal with Nike, and Fitzgerald noticed after a SportsCenter highlight that the Nike logo appeared roughly 17 times all over Griffey’s body (including the shoes, wristbands, armbands and turtleneck).

“I said you need to start writing uniform guidelines and you need to speak directly to the players to explain why it’s an issue,” said Fitzgerald.

The issue was that companies like Nike were reaping the benefits of free advertising and the exposure they were getting from athletes like Griffey who were showcasing their products. So Fitzgerald, after notifying Griffey of the potential concern, approached him when the Mariners came into New York. He said that MLB didn’t have a problem with him wearing the product; it was the logo placement.

“I was shocked he remembered my name,” he said of Griffey, who had a friendly discussion about the issue. “I told him to tell Nike to make him a new one without the logo on the neck, and then it’s not a problem.” He explained that it was a special fabric that Nike was designing (now called Nike Drifit) It was a good discussion and exchange of information. It was not a hard line approach with Griffey but a simple discussion on why the logo is a problem and he shared his view on what he was wearing. That discussion led to further talks and what it took in order to earn the respect of an All-Star players like Ken Griffey, Jr.

“When you’re dealing with athletes, treat them like you treat normal people and you don’t have any issues,” said Fitzgerald. They have a job to do and so do I.”

Now working in special events, Fitzgerald takes pride in working on two major MLB events: the All-Star Game and the World Series.

Everything from transportation, hotel accommodations, setting up the field for pre-game ceremonies, coordinating uniforms and hiring outside vendors are things that need planning. Even selecting the musical talent for the National Anthem comes out of the department.

“We get to help shape the [All-Star] event on the field and knowing that 40,000 to 50,000 people in the park and millions worldwide get to see what we do is pretty satisfying at the end,” said Fitzgerald, who works on the actual game, as well as the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, the Futures Game and the Home Run Derby.

“The job is to make sure everything goes smooth for TV, in park entertainment and coordinating flyover with the flag and television to make sure elements happen on time,” he said.

There are plenty of perks to the job besides attending MLB events for a living. When Fitzgerald needed help fixing his golf swing, he received tips from Hall of Famer Wade Boggs.

But working for MLB events requires a lot of travel, and according to Fitzgerald, who has three young children at home, it’s “not as much as it’s cracked up to be.”

Now that the 2008 All-Star Game will be in New York, it means a lot less time spent away from his family. But while the travel is lessened, few people may realize the difficulties of holding the large-scale event in Yankee Stadium.

“[Yankee Stadium] is an older stadium, so you have a lot of unconventional space,” said Fitzgerald, who goes roughly two to three times a month to check out the stadium operations and feasibility of the plans. “You have a new stadium across the street that you might have been able to use for more parking.”

Even during the offseason, Fitzgerald is working diligently on the General Manager Meetings, where GMs decide on potential rule changes and what to work on for the upcoming season, and the Winter Meetings, where trade talk and free agent signings begin.

But for a fan of the game like Fitzgerald, he doesn’t just get the pleasure of watching the sport, but knows that he plays a part in the planning of a MLB event from start to finish.

“It’s satisfying to see the ideas you work on all year come to fruition,” said Fitzgerald.

Imagine that.

Published Oct. 27, 2007 in Binghamton University's "Pipe Dream" Newspaper.