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Most people have aspirations to reach a certain pinnacle in their lives. These are often referred to as goals, and they provide individuals with a sense of direction and ignite them with an unwavering motivation and work ethic.
Unfortunately, many of these goals take extended periods of time and energy to achieve. For four Springfield College seniors majoring in Sport Management, they have already begun this process by taking small steps to reach their ultimate professional goal: to work in Major League Baseball.
Sammy DiTonno, Ryan Polson, Anthony Rioles, and Eric Shine recently completed a summer internship with the Keene Swamp Bats, a collegiate summer baseball team located in Keene, N.H. that plays in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL).
Consisting of many Division I college baseball players, the NECBL is a platform for players to showcase their skills and break into the majors. It is also an opportunity for students to get hands-on experience with the various administrative facets of running an organized sports team.
“We all have aspirations in baseball for our future career endeavors, and this was a huge resume builder,” Shine said. “We all felt it was important to get it under the belt.”
The four students were approached with the opportunity to complete the internship when the Swamp Bats Operations Manager, Donna Watterson, came to Springfield last spring to recruit potential interns for the summer.
While all Sport Management students are required to complete a 480-hour internship in order to graduate, the four decided to pursue the Swamp Bats internship not for class credit, but for the overall experience and preparation to land the 480-hour internship in the MLB.
“I think we all had aspirations as what we wanted to do for our internship for college credit since we all know it was going to do with baseball,” Rioles said. “As a result, we decided to do something extra in baseball to help prepare for it.”
Dr. Kenneth Wall, a professor of the Sport and Recreation Management Department, visited the four students up in Keene during the summer to check in on how they were doing.
“I think it was a very good decision on the part on each one of these four students to take advantage of this experience,” Wall said. “Each of them [were] able to gain additional experience in a discipline that is related to sport management.”
The students began the internship in late May and finished in mid-August. During this time, they were given a multitude of responsibilities and assignments that their classwork prepared them for. Aside from daily game day operations when the Swamp Bats had home games, each student had specific duties.
DiTonno was in charge of birthday parties and arranging player appearances in the public. Shine ran a “baseball buddies” program where youth sports teams would go onto the field before the game started. Rioles was responsible for a “hire a Swamp Bat” program where players would go out and do odd jobs in the community. And Polson wrote sponsorship letters and solicited local businesses for raffle donations. While these jobs were different, the four interns would always be looking for ways to assist each other.
“We all helped each other out in different aspects,” Shine said.
“It was really a synergistic work group,” added Rioles.
In addition, each student was in charge of maintaining two sponsorships from surrounding businesses. They were able to gain an understanding as to how to establish professional relationships with and the importance of sponsorships in the sports field. More importantly, it was yet another area of sport management that they actively engaged with.
“The most rewarding part of the internship was our ability to touch on every aspect of sport management including marketing, customer service and public relations,” Rioles said. “We got to see every single aspect of the administrative side.”
For Polson, the marketing and event management areas of the internship could even open up other doors for future jobs.
“We could all work or intern with an event management or marketing firm after this internship because we had so much practice with event management,” Polson said.
Aside from the relevant and practical experience in the field, the four students thoroughly enjoyed the culture of both the Swamp Bats and the city of Keene.
“That team is the center of Keene,” Rioles said. “So many people put so much weight into it.”
“It’s like a ghost town when there’s nothing going on other than the Swamp Bats,” DiTonno added.
There were several unique game nights during the summer that brought vibrancy to Keene, including a fireworks show on Independence Eve, a country concert occurring adjacent to the stadium before a game, and a Snapple sponsorship night where new Snapple flavors were being sampled.
Despite the fact that the Swamp Bats draw an average crowd of 1,500 people, the team is a nonprofit organization run solely by volunteers, and only offers interns a small stipend at the end of the season. Yet, DiTonno, Polson, Rioles and Shine understand that the experience they gained was invaluable and will be resourceful in their future endeavors.
“Sometimes when you’re in a slump and in the grit of it, and you’re like ‘what the heck, I’m not even doing this for college credit,’ it can be tiring,” Rioles said. “But it was totally worth it, and I’d do it again.”
“These students dedicated a summer to this experience,” Wall added. “It may have seemed like a sacrifice at the time for them, but now that the experience is in the past, I think that each of them, along with the faculty members of the department, understand that this was an opportunity for them to gain experience and to be able to differentiate themselves in the future from other students from other schools who are not as proactive.”
They also know that they may have to take on similar internships or jobs before they can reach their goal of working in the MLB. Each of them still have to complete their 480-hour internship for college credit, but they understand it may not be with the MLB just yet.
“I’ll take an internship with any baseball team that’s willing to take me,” Polson said. “We all want to be in the majors, but if I have to work with a double-A affiliate for a few years, then I’ll do that.”
Although the baseball industry is a business, the four students considered the entire Swamp Bats organization a second family to them. The Swamp Bats paid for their housing at Keene State College and many of the volunteers, including the president of the organization, would make food for them and invite them over for dinner.
“Towards the end of the summer they really opened up, and they took us into their own houses because we had to live with their families for the last two weeks, since kids were coming back to Keene State College,” Shine said.
Developing these lasting relationships and creating an extensive network, both on a personal and professional level, are crucial when applying to jobs in the sport and recreation field.
“Nothing happens overnight,” Wall said. “I think that the experience will help them in terms of work ethic and networking opportunities.”
While it was a seemingly minuscule internship at first glance, the small steps taken by DiTonno, Polson, Rioles and Shine will ideally guide them to the MLB where they can live out their dreams. The Keene Swamp Bats, however, will always remind them of the hard work it takes to achieve a goal and the importance of long-term relationships.
“I can honestly say they’re another family that I have,” DiTonno said. “I can always go to them for anything.”