WAR STORIES: The Failure Files

There’s an old saying that talks about how experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. That’s never what one wants to hear in the heat of the moment, and in fact, there are times where, upon hearing such advice, the recipient of it may wish he or she had H. G. Wells’s time machine on hand to travel back in time and punch out whoever said it first. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Over time, though, I’ve found that that saying rings true time and time again. We’re supposed to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and learn from our failures. I’d like to think I’ve done a reasonable job of that, and, in some situations, enough time has passed to where I can comfortably discuss certain things that have happened. In a few cases, I can even look back and laugh, and that’s the purpose of the latest installment in my series of “War Stories.”

I’m not entirely sure how this will be received. If it helps someone out there get through something, though, whatever that may be, I’ve accomplished my goal. If nothing else, this’ll be pretty entertaining. Let’s get to it!

– – – – –

THE WORST SUMMER I’VE EVER HAD

In the summer of 2009, I thought I was in a pretty cushy spot. I had just received word that I’d landed a prime broadcasting gig at Ithaca College that fall, when I would enter my senior year (more on that in just a bit). That summer, though, I had gone out and earned an internship at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, doing what they deemed as “marketing, promotions, and operations.”

I figured this was a chance for me to branch out and beef up my resume. Even then, I knew that not everyone who goes to college for one thing winds up doing that particular thing as a professional, so I prided myself on being as versatile as possible (a trait I still value today). They threw a lot at me when I walked in the door, and I had my hand in just about every part of the internal operations…and then, things got strange.

Two weeks into what was supposed to be an eight-week internship, I got called into the office of Shane Williams-Ness, who was then the director of marketing and development at SPAC. She somberly explained to me that due to the downturn in the economy (and, by extension, SPAC’s bleaker-than-usual financial forecast), I was being let go. The company was very apologetic about the whole thing, and to their credit, in addition to being paid for the two weeks I worked, I received another check for two additional weeks’ worth of pay, which wasn’t something they had to do.

I now had to figure out something else to do to make money before going back to school. Out of necessity, I applied for a job at the local Target store in Kingston, New York, and wound up working to unload trucks five days a week from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. It was NOT a glamorous job, but I vowed to push through it, get the bonus for working odd hours, and wind up better for it in the long run.

Right off the bat, it was not a good fit. The environment was toxic, with several bosses treating employees like the fate of the world rested upon our abilities to unpack and stack one box per minute while most of the neighborhood was still asleep. Additionally, while I put an honest effort in and worked hard to do the best job I could, manual labor and I have never really gotten along (there’s a reason I’m a writer, folks!), so I was pretty miserable.

Far in advance, they knew when my last day had to be (in order for me to get back to college). Two days before that date, my supervisor calls me into the office. For the second time that summer, I was let go for, in her words, “working hard, but not improving.” That’s a thing? And for unloading and unpacking boxes, of all things?

Ultimately, it only robbed me of two days’ worth of work, so I wasn’t too bummed out. They had said that my last check would be mailed to me. However, it wasn’t, and a week later, I called. As it turned out, it was sitting right there on someone’s desk, which I found fishy because payroll checks have a defined expiration date. I ran in, picked it up, and did not spend a dime at that Target location from that day until I moved to the west coast.

Two funny postscripts: The week after I was let go from SPAC, Coldplay cancelled on them due to a band member being sick. The phones did not stop ringing, and it would have been my job to answer them and calm down angry people who wanted refunds, so I dodged a bullet. Additionally, a few months after my tenure at Target ended, I was at college when my phone rang. I picked it up, and it was a bubbly manager from Target in Kingston, asking me if I could work the next day. I quickly hung up, and to this day, I marvel at the nerve it took to make that call.

– – – – –

BOMBERS FOOTBALL: TWO WEIRD ROAD TRIPS

Remember that prime broadcasting gig I mentioned way back when? Well, in 2009, I was part of a two-man radio booth that handled broadcasting Ithaca College football games on the campus’s award-winning radio station, WICB. The other half of said booth was my friend Josh Getzoff, who has since become one of the top young broadcasters in the National Hockey League while working for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He’s got enough Stanley Cup rings to fill a sock drawer at this point. I’ve got an invisible title belt from being the winningest public handicapper at Saratoga this past summer. Sounds pretty even, right?

Anyway, that year was a blast. Ithaca went 7-3 that season and capped off the season with a win over Cortland State in the annual Cortaca Jug game (the Bombers haven’t won one since; President Collado, if you want to bring me back to the booth for good mojo Saturday, call me!). However, what I remember most about that year were two road trips, ones that did not exactly go as planned.

The first was the longest trip of the year. Being a Division III program, Ithaca didn’t travel out of the northeast much, but they did head down to the Mid-Atlantic area for a showdown with Frostburg State, located in western Maryland. It was my turn to drive, so we threw our radio equipment in my legendary 1994 Chrysler LeBaron (immortalized in a pair of wedding speeches last fall) and made our way south.

Game day rolled around, and we traversed to the press box. The first traumatic realization we made was that there was no free food. One of the lessons I learned very early (from ESPN reporter and early-career mentor Sal Paolantonio, in fact) was this: If it’s not catered, it’s not journalism. As it turned out, Frostburg’s contract with their food vendor prohibited basic functions such as bringing food to a press box for the working press. As such, it was going to be a long day.

The second realization we made, though, was much worse. We attempted to plug our “blue box” (the equipment that transmits audio back to a radio station) into all three phone lines available in the booth…and all three phone lines failed. Frostburg’s poor sports information director apologized left and right as we freaked out, and as we freaked out, WICB sports director Nate March and engineer Nick Karski were freaking out even harder in the control room back in Ithaca.

Eventually, Josh pulled out his cell phone and called the studio. We were patched in through the board, and rather than calling the game on professional headsets, we called it via speakerphone over one of the first “smart phones” ever invented while poor Phil Stafford twiddled his thumbs on the sideline (since we couldn’t throw to him). Josh and I bobbed our heads up and down for three hours, and that we didn’t headbutt one another at all that afternoon was a minor miracle in and of itself. Somehow, we got through the broadcast, and thankfully, that’s an issue Josh shouldn’t have to deal with anymore given his current job!

The second road trip was a few weeks later. Ithaca traveled to Springfield, Massachusetts, for a matchup with Springfield College. It was my turn to do play-by-play, and I was as nervous as I’d ever been before a broadcast. Springfield ran a triple-option offense, one where it was very difficult to see who had the ball at any given time. While I did an acceptable job on play-by-play (during a game that included me snapping at Karski during at least one commercial break), that offense ran roughshod over Ithaca, essentially ending IC’s chances at the Division III playoffs.

As disappointing as the game was, the day would only get worse. Josh Getzoff was off that weekend, and fellow distinguished Ithaca graduate Josh Canu (who now has a darned cool job with NBC Sports) filled in. He picked up the task of driving us to and from Springfield, and his car died on him about 30 miles from Ithaca, in the small, rural town of Whitney Point, pretty late at night. We had to call one of our friends, who dropped everything, drove the 40 minutes to Whitney Point, and picked our sorry selves up from a gas station that may as well have been the set of a third-rate horror movie (thanks, Lauren!).

In some ways, I didn’t have a traditional college experience. I didn’t take a single math or science course at Ithaca, but I gained as much real-world experience in my chosen field as I could, and I was done with my traditional coursework (which included a major and double-minor) in 3 ½ years. That experience, including the sometimes-comedic onslaught of pitfalls that came with my extracurricular activities, prepared me immeasurably more for the real world than any sort of traditional core curriculum ever could.

– – – – –

THE BEST JOB INTERVIEW I’VE EVER HAD

Here’s a fun fact about me. I’ve interviewed well for every job I’ve been fortunate enough to hold, but the best job interview I’ve ever had in my life was for a job I lost out on in pretty gut-wrenching fashion.

Anyone who graduated college in the spring of 2010 can recall how hard it was for new-to-the-workforce twenty-somethings to find a job. The economy was in a horrible place, and lots of good people were struggling. I had sent out my resume and demo reel to hundreds of prospective employers, and while I’d gotten a couple of bites, nothing had quite panned out.

However, in June, I got a call from a group that ran several radio stations in Duluth, Minnesota. They were looking for a sports director and liked what they heard, so we lined up a time to talk. When we did, it was one of the best professional conversations I’ve had with anyone, at all, ever. For 45 minutes, we went back and forth about my experiences and qualifications, as well as what the employer was looking for. It wasn’t a grilling, but an honest conversation, one that I knew I was holding up my end of as it was happening.

The phone call ended, and a few days later, I got another call from the land of 10,000 lakes. I was incredibly excited as I picked up the phone, but that excitement quickly waned. As it turned out, they talked to 15 or 20 people about the job, and had planned to fly a small group of finalists in for in-person interviews. I was informed that I had made that cut, but that the person they originally approached with the job, whose refusal had sparked a nationwide search for a sports director in a decent-sized city…changed his mind. With that about-face, they no longer needed someone.

I was crushed, and in hindsight, it’s easy to see why. When you do all the right things, and you put the best face forward that you possibly can, only for fate to step in like that, it hurts. It would’ve been one thing if I did my best and it wasn’t good enough, but in this case, it absolutely WAS good enough to advance me to the final stage of the hiring process. I say with absolute sincerity that, to this day, I have never had a better conversation with a prospective employer, and that includes talks I’ve had with eventual bosses at Siena College, The Saratogian, HRTV, TVG, and The Daily Racing Form.

Having said that, things work in mysterious ways sometimes. I’ve set forth on a career that I’m proud of, and I have no regrets about the way things have shaken out for me. I’m proud to be one of the top digital media professionals in my field, as well as one of the most respected handicappers around, and who knows? If I’d wound up with that job, I probably don’t wind up where I am now, with a job I absolutely love doing.

One footnote: That call came midday on a weekday. I was home alone at my mom’s house at the time, and while I was still annoyed by the time she got home, I wasn’t necessarily devastated. When she asked how my day was, I explained the situation. Without any emotion, this was her response.

“Oh. That stinks. Nothing you can do about it. I didn’t want you working there anyway.”

THANKS FOR THE SUPPORT, MOM!!!!!

– – – – –

“BUT I GUESS YOU DON’T CARE”

OK, kids, here comes the deep water. In the summer of 2013, I was going through a divorce, and my defense mechanism was to drown myself in work while on-site at Saratoga Race Course. When I say that nobody knew what I was going through, I mean it. I kept my personal situation to myself, and for a few weeks, things were going okay (due in no small part to the overtime checks that started coming from The Saratogian!).

One afternoon’s main event was the honoring of Ramon Dominguez, a future Hall of Fame inductee who was recovering from a major brain injury sustained in a fall earlier that year. This was to be his first public appearance since the accident, and it was a pretty big event.

Ramon had done an interview earlier that summer with then-NYRA broadcaster Richard Migliore (who I’m now incredibly privileged and grateful to call a friend). It was an in-depth back-and-forth, and an incredible look into some of what Ramon was going through at the time. If you have the time to spare, look it up on YouTube. If you want to watch it now, it’s okay. I’ll wait.

OK, good now? Alright. Here’s where the nonsense comes into play. Ramon and his wife issued a statement through the NYRA press office, and in typical Ramon fashion, it was incredibly classy. Long story short, it said that the family was extremely grateful for the well-wishes it had received from the press, but that they would not be answering questions, as they felt anything worth saying was in the interview conducted earlier that summer.

That day, I got to my post in the Saratoga press box and opened up my email. In it was a note from a fellow employee at The Saratogian asking what we were doing for the ceremony. I alerted this person of the note all reporters received, and that there wasn’t much we’d be able to do other than cover the ceremony straight. This…did NOT sit well with the recipient of that email, who then insisted I contact Ramon’s wife. Trying very hard to keep my composure, I responded that the note specified Mrs. Dominguez would not be talking, either.

I don’t remember much of the third email I received from this person (by now, I hope you’ve seen that I’m hiding identities to protect the guilty). What I do remember is a phrase that’s burned in my mind permanently, and one that, to be frank, has probably played a bigger role in motivating me to be the best I can be than almost anything else.

“But I guess you don’t care.”

Let me explain just how ridiculously insulting this was to me. I was going through a divorce nobody knew about at the time, and thus internalizing a lot as I attempted to do the best job I possibly could. I was doing the work of multiple people at the track every day, putting forth efforts that would ultimately earn statewide and nationwide recognition long after I left The Saratogian later that year. Of all the things I could ever be logically accused of, not caring about my job was not on the list.

I did something I had never done before and have only done once since. I hastily wrote an email to the paper’s then-managing editor, with the correspondence attached, and essentially, the gist was something like this: “I work WITH this person, not FOR this person, and I will not tolerate anyone, let alone a co-worker, telling me I do not care about my job. Fix this.”

To the managing editor’s everlasting credit, the problem was fixed. I received an apology from the co-worker in question the next day via email, and for the next two months (until I left for a new job), I barely heard a peep from that person. Moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself at the workplace, and don’t take any undeserved nonsense from someone you don’t report to.

THE DARK DAY FILES: War Stories

The idea for this installment of “The Dark Day Files,” admittedly, came partially from the world of professional wrestling. Often, when a wrestler of considerable renown isn’t contracted to a particular company, he or she will do what’s known as a “shoot interview” and provide some background on his or her experiences, as well as tell stories and shed some light on stuff fans and followers may not be aware of.

It first occurred to me Sunday that I had enough material to start telling stories. I was working from The Daily Racing Form’s newest temporary bureau, a Starbucks in Santa Monica, ahead of an attempt at the Los Angeles trivia championships, where the winning team splits $1,000 (spoiler alert: we didn’t win, but we led at the halfway point and finished a respectable 11th of 32 finalists). In and of itself, this coffee shop just off the beach could provide the setting for the 2017 answer to Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” given the eclectic mix of people coming and going (the great Hunter S. Thompson would have had a field day psychoanalyzing some of these people!).

However, my epiphany came when an older woman asked if she could sit down at my table so as to plug her laptop in to charge. I obliged, and we started talking. She asked what company I worked for, I answered honestly…and it turned out that this woman, who I had never met or heard of before, had freelanced for my current employer many years prior.

I was floored. What are the odds of such a chance encounter happening in a random coffee shop 3,000 miles away from the company’s headquarters? Seriously, if there’s a mathematician out there that has nothing better to do, I’d love for someone to try to calculate it.

Ultimately, I realized that I’ve been lucky enough to do way more cool stuff that can be claimed as “work” than any person should be allowed to experience. Of course, spending multiple summers at Saratoga is near the top of that list, but I was on-site at the 2010 Winter Olympics in what doubled as my first taste of post-college employment. I did a radio broadcast of an NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament game at the Carrier Dome, one of the best venues for the sport anywhere in the world. I shared a press box with fellow Ithaca College alum Karl Ravech during regional play of the 2010 Little League World Series. I’ve gotten to meet world-renowned members of the sports world like Warren Moon and Jim Boeheim, as well as a lot of athletes you’ve never heard of, but would do well to know.

This column tells a few fun stories that I think you’ll like. If the reaction is there, I’d be happy to try to do it again in a few weeks. Got a question? Got something you think I should tackle? Write it in. I see everything that comes in, and if I can make this stuff more enjoyable for you to read, that’s a win for me.

With that said, here we go!

– – – – –

ERROR-GATE

Back in the spring of 2013, a colleague of mine at The Saratogian went to cover a high school baseball game featuring the paper’s hometown team. The Saratoga Springs Blue Streaks’ best player was Alex Chandler, who went on to play for four years at St. Rose, a Division II college, following his graduation. This particular game, though, was not Alex’s finest hour. He committed four errors, and my colleague did his job by writing about it in a truthful, honest fashion. The writer didn’t go out of his way to humiliate the kid, but he did note the facts, since these misplays were pivotal points in the game.

When the athletic department at the school saw the story, certain officials went ballistic. They claimed that the story should have said the team made four errors, not one particular player. Everyone at the paper thought that rationale was ridiculous, as it’s the job of a sportswriter to accurately tell the story of a game’s events. Eventually, all parties involved got over it, or, more accurately, got tired of screaming at one another and agreed to stop. The truce put an end to that matter…or so I thought.

A few months later, I covered a summer league game featuring the Saratoga Stampede, a local American Legion team that featured many of the same kids that were on the Saratoga Springs High School team. Their coach that year was Eric Thompson, an assistant at Skidmore College that I had a great relationship with thanks to many basketball games spent with him working the table and me not being willing or able to shut up (shout out to Skidmore SID Bill Jones, who will gladly verify that fact if asked!).

I got to the field, shook Eric’s hand, and talked with him for several minutes, all the while noticing several teenagers giving me the dreaded stink-eye (important note: Alex Chandler was not in attendance that night). I thought it was curious, but I hadn’t done anything to those kids. After all, I was the lacrosse writer that spring and didn’t cover a single inning of high school baseball. For that reason, I didn’t sweat it as I walked to the visitor’s dugout to get their lineup.

As I walked back the other way to my seat in the bleachers, though, I heard Eric lay into several of his players, and I will never forget what he said or how he said it.

“IF DEREK JETER COMMITTED FOUR ERRORS IN A GAME, DO YOU REALLY THINK THE NEW YORK POST WOULD SAY THE YANKEES COMMITTED FOUR ERRORS?!?!?!”

It was all I could do to not burst out laughing as the kids stood there, positively shell-shocked by what they were hearing. I don’t even know if Eric knew how much delight I took in hearing that, but he certainly knows now. Eric: Find some way to get Skidmore a West Coast swing!

– – – – –

THE BEST HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAME I’VE EVER SEEN, AND THE BEST DEADLINE-DRIVEN WRITING I’VE EVER DONE

Two very small towns between the New York State Northway and the New York-Vermont border each house high school football teams that were competitive at a state-wide level when I wrote for The Saratogian. In 2012, they came together for a night I’ll never forget.

Cambridge was one of the top-ranked Class D football teams in the state. They were experienced, had tons of athleticism for a school that small, and had an aggressive coach that didn’t hesitate to use said athleticism against overmatched foes. Their rival, Greenwich, didn’t necessarily have the speed or quickness to contend with them, but what they did have was running back John Barnes.

You know the old football adage about certain coaches having three plays: Run left, run right, run up the middle? This game was that mantra, come to life. John Barnes carried the football 46 times for 377 yards that night, an average of more than eight yards per carry (as if that wasn’t enough, he also added one catch for 30 yards). However, Cambridge, which played from behind for most of the night, tied the game in the fourth quarter, stuffed Barnes at the goal line on the last play of regulation, and won in overtime on the fourth touchdown run of the contest by that team’s own star running back, Matt Parmenter. Side note: Only later did I find out that Barnes had lost his grandmother shortly before the game, which added to the stream of tears he talked to me through. To his everlasting credit, when an assistant coach saw him crying and tried to end the interview early, Barnes waved him off and finished talking to me.

The game started at 7 p.m., and it was over at around 10. By the time I had gotten my interviews and moved to a place where I could write the recap, it was shortly after 10:30. The Saratogian’s hard deadline was 11, and the closest thing I had to an office was the front seat of my 2007 Chevy Impala.

I wrote like a madman, trying to convey the emotions of what had happened along with the enormity of the performance John Barnes put together in the loss and how this one game sent both programs on opposite paths for the rest of the season. Twenty minutes later (at about 10:53), I wound up with what I still consider to be the best piece of deadline-driven journalism I’ve ever written. If you’re so inclined, you can read it here.

Oh, and if any of you know John Barnes, thank him for me, would you?

– – – – –

BREAKING UP A ROAD TRIP LIKE A DEGENERATE

Back in 2010, I, like every other college student who graduated that year, was beating the pavement looking for work relevant to the field I was in. The economy was a mess, and amidst many stories I could tell about my time looking for a job (there’s no shortage of them, and they’ll pop up whenever I write this stuff), I’ll focus on one a lot of you will get a kick out of.

I had secured an in-person interview for a news reporter position at a radio station in Charleston, West Virginia. This may not be tops on your list of vacation destinations, but for a recently-graduated Television-Radio major at Ithaca College, this was a big deal. According to recent Nielsen data, it’s the 70th-biggest media market in the United States, and it’s not often that a new college graduate breaks in, on the air, in a top-100 market.

I packed a bag, drove my car for the better part of 12 hours (it should’ve only taken 10 from New York’s Hudson Valley, but traffic was heavy through Pennsylvania), and arrived at a Best Western down the road from the station. My interview the next day went well (or so I thought), and after stopping at another motel near the West Virginia-Maryland border, I set about driving the rest of the way home.

You know the feeling you can get when you’ve been in a car for 18 hours over a three-day period? If it could be described in words, it would say, “I don’t care where I stop, BUT I NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS CAR!!!” That’s how I felt going through central Pennsylvania with no company but the car radio, so I started looking for a spot to pull over. All I was looking for was a rest stop with a picnic table and a vending machine, just a place where I could park the car for 20 minutes or so, breathe in some fresh air, stretch my legs, and clear my head.

Imagine my shock when I started seeing signs for Penn National.

I had never been to Penn National, and given that the day I rolled through was a dark day, I would not be seeing any racing there. What I did take in, in vivid detail, were the bright lights, loud sounds, and pretty colors that could only be associated with one thing: A casino.

I strolled in and found a $15 blackjack table, which at the time was the lowest-limit game they spread on the casino floor. To this day, I don’t understand why I sat down and bought $100 in chips. Even now, when I go to Vegas, I usually play $5 blackjack. I will occasionally play $10 blackjack if the structure is agreeable or I find a good “blackjack switch” game (you play two hands and can switch the top cards, and in return, blackjacks pay even-money and all dealer 22’s are pushes; at this point, my father is probably shaking his head just reading my description). That said, even in a comfortable financial state, I don’t touch $15 blackjack.

You probably think this is setting up for me to get killed, but in a plot twist, the gambling gods were kind to me. I played just one shoe, killed the 20 minutes I wanted to kill, and walked away with enough of a profit to fill my gas tank a few hours later in the middle of nowhere. Plenty of eye-rolling ensued when I told my parents about the unplanned pit stop later that night!

And no, I didn’t get the job. They were nice people, and it makes for a heck of a “what-if,” but ultimately, I firmly believe that I got to where I’m supposed to be…which seems like as good a spot as any to end this week’s column.

INTERLUDE: Advice for New College Graduates (From a Degenerate Horseplayer)

Most times, when I post here, it’ll be about analyzing a horse race, or a card of races, or a Pick Four sequence. However, there are times where I feel the need to expound on more important things. Don’t worry; I’m NOT going to talk about politics! Done breathing sighs of relief? Good.

Anyway, an old professor of mine posted to Facebook Monday, saying that graduating seniors at Ithaca College were starting to come up to him and panic about entering the real world. He urged former students to post their career paths, and it turned into a gathering of young professionals giving advice on how to handle what happens when what you wind up doing isn’t what you were intending to do at an earlier point in your life.

Make no mistake, I love the work that I do. I help coordinate the Daily Racing Form’s social media efforts, which is a dream job for a lifelong horse racing fan who also has a passion for the written word and other forms of media production. The path I took to get there, though, more closely resembles a map from “Rocky and Bullwinkle” (where the heroes circled around for a long time before getting to their destination) than anything else.

I’m a little young to do a “letter to my younger self” kind of piece, but I’d like to think I’ve had enough life experience to give soon-to-be graduates (and anyone else in this position) some advice on how to deal with the curveballs they’ll be thrown going forward. My advice isn’t anything revolutionary, but it’s stuff learned from dealing with things that have happened to me, and hopefully, it helps someone out there.

1) Never close any doors.

When I was in college, I did pretty much every sports media-related thing one could do. I PA-announced home sporting events. I participated in the radio and TV stations. I wrote. I tweeted. I networked. I ate lots of free press box food, some MUCH better than others (with some press boxes eschewing feeding the working press altogether; looking at you, Frostburg State!!!).

About the only two things I didn’t do much of were sports information and newspaper writing. The sports information director at Ithaca College and I were not fans of one another, to put things very mildly. In fact, he’s one of two former work associates with a special section of his very own in my memoirs, which will be released in about 30 years when I need money to play Pick Four tickets. Meanwhile, I never did much writing for Ithaca’s award-winning student newspaper simply because I was neck-deep in other stuff (plus studies towards a major and two minors) and didn’t have time for it.

You can probably guess where this is going. My first job out of college was working in the sports information office at Siena College (thankfully for people with infinitely more class than the person I could’ve worked for at Ithaca!). After two years there, I moved on to my second job, which came at, yep, a newspaper. Granted, much of my duties revolved around stuff I’d already done (video production, website work, etc.), but the fact remains that I did things I never thought I was going to do, and I’m proud of what I did while at those stops. In the nascent stages of Twitter, I helped triple the follower count of the main Siena account, and while at The Saratogian, we won three different statewide awards for our digital media coverage of racing at Saratoga Race Course.

Don’t shy away from something different. Use what you know, learn what you don’t, and run with the ball when it’s given to you.

2) Get a work/life balance, and keep it.

Your first job is going to be a head-spinning experience. As the new person, you may get all the work nobody else wants to do, and it may seem daunting at times. Word to the wise: Work to live. Do NOT live to work.

What you’re doing likely isn’t rocket science (unless you’re actually an aspiring rocket scientist, in which case, this paragraph probably isn’t for you). I can count on one hand the number of busy-work assignments I remember from my first job that had to get done, for whatever reason. There were a ton, but I don’t remember them.

I remember things like how I skipped off to an OTB in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to get out of driving my bosses around during the 2011 MAAC basketball tournament (I played races from Delta Downs with six older Korean gentlemen who did not speak English). I remember heading to a casino in West Palm Beach between rounds of a golf tournament Siena “hosted” in Florida. I remember walking around in Inner Harbor on a trip to Maryland, looking at the plates on the ground outside Camden Yards where long home runs returned to the surface.

My point: Don’t forget about the big picture. Work hard, but don’t forget to do stuff that makes you happy. There are times where that’s easier said than done. One year at Siena, I didn’t have a single day off for a six-week stretch from New Year’s Day to Super Bowl Sunday. Don’t let office life beat you down.

3) When things get tough, breathe.

You’re going to mess up at some point. Everyone does; some people just know how to deal with it better. When it happens (not if, but when), don’t take it personally. Roll with the punches, do your job to the best of your ability, and get past it.

My story: In the summer of 2012, we had almost an entirely-new sports staff at The Saratogian. A clerk, who was not a devout racing fan, published a story online that had a headline calling the Haskell at Monmouth Park the Eddie Haskell Invitational. I didn’t author the story, and in fact had nothing to do with it, but as the main on-track reporter for the publication, I was the face of the paper.

Needless to say, our editor (Kevin Moran, who’s one of the best bosses I’ve ever had) reamed us out, as he should have. A complete reassignment of the staff was discussed by senior management (above Kevin’s head), wherein I would be taken off the track so as to proofread everything before it went to press and people who weren’t necessarily racing fans would be on-track, producing racing-related content in one of the country’s few remaining horse racing hotbeds.

It was a disastrous idea, and we all knew it. We went to Kevin and fought for what we believed in, and to his everlasting credit (and probably the horror of upper management), he gave us the go-ahead to continue as we were. The next day at the track, the story was posted in the Saratoga press box, complete with the embarrassing headline. I gave it a day up there so people could get their laughs in, but the following morning, I made a show of tearing it off the wall, crumpling it up, and throwing it into the garbage can. It was a sign that it was time to move on, and move on we did, winning a pair of awards for our on-site coverage of Travers Day.

4) Be prepared for change, and don’t be afraid of it.

Things happen in life that knock the journey you think you’re on off-course. Sometimes, they’re work-related. Other times, these things have to do with personal lives. At any rate, you’ll be tested, and some of these tests won’t be fun ones.

My field (digital media) seems to change every five seconds. If I commandeered a time machine, went back to 2007, and told everyone that a form of online communication where posts are limited to 140 characters or less is one of the most valuable methods of reaching people around the world, I’d be outright laughed at. In 20 years, we’ve gone from VCR’s and tape-traders sending bulky tapes around the world to uploading clips onto YouTube, where a seemingly-infinite library of videos exist on any subject one can think of.

For that reason, the job you think you want now may not exist as-is in five to 10 years, or it may exist in a modified form. Don’t be afraid to learn new things. Be prepared for things to happen that aren’t in your plan, and meet challenges head-on. If you fall, fall forward, get something out of it, and don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who care about you or those you respect.

I was helped by a lot of people to get where I am today, and paying it forward is one of the best things anyone can do. If you’re a soon-to-be graduate, and you think you’re in for a world of hurt in the real world, I can assure you that you’re not. You’re in the same position everyone else has been in at one time or another, and everything is going to be okay.

Need to vent? Need advice? Think I’m a self-important blowhard who shouldn’t be writing stuff like this (NOTE: if so, please reconsider coming to my website)? Click here to reach out directly. I read everything that comes in.

Ending a Chapter and Saying “Thanks”

As many of you already know, May 7th is my last day as an employee of TVG. I’m leaving the network, but I’m NOT leaving the racing business, as I’ve accepted an offer to join the fantastic team at the Daily Racing Form. For many reasons, this is the right move for me, but it’s not easy to close the door on a 3 1/2-year run with TVG and the station formerly known as HRTV.

In addition to my family, my friends, and my girlfriend, there are many people at both stops that did a lot for me. Southern California has a reputation as a place where those who shake your hand are looking to stab you in the back the second you turn around, but I’ve been fortunate enough to deal with a lot of supervisors and co-workers that helped to mold me into the person I am. This column is my way of saying thank you to the following people.

Phil Kubel: We need to start here, because without Phil, there’s no way I’m in California. He met a 24-year-old kid from upstate New York in September of 2013, and despite having no obligation to help, offered me a job in HRTV’s digital media department. I gradually took on more responsibilities, and when TVG acquired HRTV a year and a half after my arrival, I was hired, in large part due to the body of work I put together under Phil’s tutelage. I’m grateful for him allowing me to get my foot in the door when he could have easily slammed it shut.

Jeff Siegel and Aaron Vercruysse: There are three on-air people I’m specifically going to call out. Although I consider many current and former TVG and HRTV hosts and analysts friends (Gino Buccola, Scott Hazelton, Kurt Hoover, Rich Perloff, Nick Hines, Joaquin Jaime, Christina Blacker, Mike Joyce, Simon Bray, Dave Weaver, and Matt Carothers, to name a bunch), Jeff and Aaron were the first two to give me a shot and let me help them on several key projects. I was a producer and fill-in talent for Santa Anita Uncut, which served as the predecessor for both HRTV/TVG Extra and XBTV’s live broadcasts, and being in that kind of an environment was one heck of an education. They didn’t have to bring me into the loop, or let me contribute as much as I did, but they did.

Caton Bredar: It’s story time. HRTV sent me to the 2014 Belmont Stakes to help cover California Chrome’s attempt to capture horse racing’s Triple Crown. While there, I assisted Jeff Siegel on a primitive version of the “Uncut” broadcasts from just outside the Belmont Park paddock. It was a good show (would’ve been better had Commissioner held on in the Belmont at ridiculous odds!!!), but what I remember most came after it was over.

I was in the rickety HRTV trailer close to the Long Island Railroad platform after the races were over when Caton walked in. We’d just met for the first time earlier that week, and we didn’t know each other too well, but she got my attention, looked at me, and asked, “Are you trying to steal everyone’s jobs? You were really good!”

In my brief career to date, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback, both good and not so good, from some pretty powerful and/or well-known people. I can recite many pieces of hate mail from memory, including one from a Kentucky Derby-winning owner and another from upper management at a VERY prominent racetrack! There is no question that what Caton said to me is still the best compliment I’ve ever received from anyone in the horse racing business, and it’s something I won’t soon forget. Caton, if you’re reading: Thanks.

Kip Levin, Phil Dixon, Enrico Rusi, Bhavesh Patel: I needed to lump all four of these current or former TVG executives into one spot. We’ve all had bad experiences with higher-ups at companies at one time or another. However, I need to thank the members of this quartet for being an easy group to work with and/or for.

I’ll keep this short, but I want to point stuff out individually that marks how instrumental each person was in what I was able to do. Kip saw my passion for racing immediately, and he backed a lot of what I wanted to do on social media. Phil was always receptive when I had a line on a horse and never once tried to limit my enthusiasm for what I did despite having an office five steps from my desk. Enrico, the head of the TVG marketing department, was my second-line manager for a while, and the way he dealt with me following a key moment several weeks ago stands as a shining example for how to treat people in an honest, respectful way.

I ended with Bhavesh because there’s another story I need to tell. When I was hired from HRTV, he and Stephen Kennelly (more on him later) took me to lunch. Bhavesh’s management style was to ask challenging questions, and he asked what I felt the most pressing issue in horse racing was. Unbeknownst to him, I’d been asked that question many times before, so I had an honest answer ready about how the breeding industry commands racing’s best horses to leave the track earlier and earlier while also breeding for speed instead of soundness or stamina. As I recall, I did not take a breath for a solid minute when putting forth my answer, which may or may not have sounded like a sticking point in a politician’s stump speech.

My guess is that Bhavesh wasn’t prepared for that kind of reaction. Not only did he not ask me a single question for the rest of lunch, but over the next few months, I became the guy entrusted with growing HRTV/TVG Extra, as well as acquiring eyeballs on TVG’s audio-visual products through YouTube, Twitter, and other forms of social media. I need to thank him for acknowledging that I knew what I was doing, and also for letting me do it. This sounds REALLY simple, but sometimes, it doesn’t take a lot to manage your employees well.

Stephen Kennelly and Rebecca Somerville: If all managers were as talented as these two, all workplaces would be a lot more pleasant. Stephen managed me in marketing, Rebecca (also known as Becky Witzman) managed me in live production, and I’m grateful to both for the work I was allowed to do on their watch.

The reason you saw blog posts, videos, tickets, and Periscope broadcasts from me on TVG’s platforms for so long is because Stephen allowed it and, for the most part, didn’t tell me to stop. Meanwhile, under Rebecca, I’ve coordinated TVG’s Facebook Live streams and continued to grow our social media audience. For better or for worse, I wanted a career in media production because it just seemed more fun than 99% of the alternatives out there. In this case, my first-line managers did what they could to keep my fire lit, which made me more productive and also allowed me to enjoy what I did.

The TVG marketing department: If I seem wordy, or loud, or pompous to you as you consume this (or anything else I’ve written or produced), imagine dealing with me in-person in a bullpen-style setup all day. Not exactly a duty that inspires much enthusiasm, is it? Well, that’s the unfortunate task that was hoisted upon members of the TVG marketing department beginning in 2015, and whether you realize it or not, these people are some of the hardest-working employees in the world of online gambling.

If there’s a promotion happening, it’s their doing, from the planning stages all the way to when gamblers get paid out. Stuff changes all the time with little to no advance notice, and if technological failures arise, they deal with them as much or more than any other part of the company (quick aside: If you’ve tweeted mean things at TVG over the past two years, I was the one who saw them; if you got really mean, I accept apologies in the form of donations to your local no-kill animal shelter and gift certificates to sports bars). This cast of characters that includes Danny Kovoloff, Luciana Bach, Freddy Sundara, Tommy Gaebel, and Pedro “Cache Flush” Friere is among the best in the business at what they do, and these people don’t get anywhere near the props they deserve, either for doing their jobs or for dealing with my motor mouth as well as they have.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. From my standpoint, it certainly took a lot of people to mold me into the person I’ve become. I could go into the reasons why I’m leaving to take on a new challenge, but what’s more important is to recognize all of the people that helped me succeed in the jobs I’ve held for 3 1/2 years. Without the people I’ve mentioned, you’re probably not on this site right now.

To those I mentioned, it’s been a pleasure working with you, and this has been my way of expressing that.

Storytelling, WrestleMania, and Me

Above all other professional endeavors, I’m a storyteller. As a writer and a social media head, my day-to-day life consists of trying to hook an audience from the first word to the last, in an attempt to get said audience to think, act, or feel a certain way.

Some stories are longer than others, but whether it’s a 140-character tweet or a 1,000-word post on this site, that above philosophy is generally the rule. Whether you realize it or not, 90% of the people that work in my field (not just horse racing communications, but communications as a whole) are, at their cores, telling stories designed to inform or inspire an audience.

Recently, the 33rd installment of WrestleMania coming and going made me think. As I drove home from the viewing party I went to, I realized that an alarming number of people I’ve associated myself with over the years are wrestling fans. This wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, but rather, part of something bigger. I hope the people mentioned below don’t mind me expounding on it. If they mind…well, tough, it’s my site.

I went to college with Mick Rouse, and if his job isn’t the coolest one in the world, it’s at least in the discussion. He’s the wrestling writer for GQ, and his assignments have included working out with the Bella Twins (paging John Cena: Mick fended off your girl with a whip and a chair!) and interviewing WrestleMania hosts The New Day. Peter Fornatale, the main tournament writer for the Daily Racing Form, doubles as the co-writer of several autobiographical books penned by wrestler extraordinaire Chris Jericho. Gulfstream Park track announcer Pete Aiello spent part of WrestleMania watching it next to former WWE wrestler Gangrel at a south Florida restaurant. TVG’s Nick Hines routinely cut wrestling promos on his way to the winner’s circle during his training days…and if you didn’t think I was going to present video proof of this, you’re crazy.

I could keep expounding on this list for a long time, but I think I’ve made my point. An alarming number of people who consider themselves storytellers, from professional writers to announcers to hosts, are drawn to stories told in the ring by world-class athletes working off of scripts. I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Wisdom says that as we grow up, we leave certain things in the past. Children of the 1980’s flocked to Hulk Hogan, and those who grew up in the 1990’s idolized “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock. Generally, though, the perceived thought process is that sports entertainment is something you’re supposed to enjoy for a few years, grow out of, and only come back to if you’re lucky enough to have children who discover it the same way you did.

Certainly, this thought process took a hit with the launch of the WWE Network, which is probably the gold standard for over-the-top (non-cable) video presentation. Decades of wrestling from pretty much any promotion you can imagine are available on computers and gaming devices with just a few clicks, making it as easy as ever for someone who grew up idolizing any larger-than-life figure who stepped in the squared circle to relive their childhood (at the low price of $9.99 a month, of course).

That said, that doesn’t quite explain everything. My theory is that, as storytellers, we’re attracted to outlets that do what we do. Whether you see wrestling as phony or not, the ample amount of storylines on a given show generally means that there’s something for everyone. In fact, Mick’s New Day interview I mentioned earlier hit on that very topic. You don’t have to be into EVERYTHING to be drawn in, and even if you’re watching for one character, match, or segment, chances are something else will pop up that piques your interest.

Take, for instance, the WrestleMania card. If you wanted former best friends fighting, you had Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho. If you wanted to see two powerhouses hitting each other hard, there were Goldberg and Brock Lesnar. If you wanted a romantic happy ending, you could see John Cena proposing to Nikki Bella (though whether it was a storyline proposal or a real one remains to be seen).

The most monumental moment of the show, though, came at its conclusion. The Undertaker, owner of one of wrestling’s greatest gimmicks for the better part of three decades, may have wrestled his last match. To expound on the incredible talent, longevity, and star power possessed by this man, The Undertaker has now wrestled at 25 WrestleMania events, easily a record. Heading into Sunday’s show, his record in those matches, as decided by a business relying on the biggest extravaganza of the year to deliver in spades, was 23-1.

His engagement with Roman Reigns Sunday night in Orlando was not pretty, nor was that the intention of the encounter. This was a Kung Fu movie condensed to 20 minutes, with the master having nothing left to give and going out on his back at the hands of a man the company sees as a long-term star. Reigns got the extended fireworks display as he exited victorious, but all eyes were on the fallen legend in the ring, who eventually left his trademark gloves, jacket, and black hat behind while an announced crowd of more than 75,000 fans stood and applauded in appreciation of his extensive body of work.

I can’t speak for my friends and colleagues, but moments like that are why I do not hesitate in supporting something seen by many as a childish diversion. Every time I sit down at a computer to write, whether it’s a social media post or a longer article, I search for a way to hook an audience, to give them something they can digest and enjoy. World Wrestling Entertainment does the same thing at every show. WWE doing so with its employees wrestling upwards of 200 matches per year, plus making charity and media appearances and traveling all around the world, makes this pursuit even more remarkable. By comparison, I consider myself a reasonably competent writer, with a few awards to my credit, and there are days where I can’t put a coherent sentence together to save my life. These men and women tell stories for thousands of paying customers almost every day, and the bumps they take, staged or otherwise, are a HELL of a lot more painful than writer’s block!

I’ve been lucky enough to have several moments where my life and career intersected with my wrestling fandom. As a kid, I met WWE Hall of Famer Sgt. Slaughter at a department store, and the autographed picture he gave me is still hanging up at my dad’s house. A vacation to the Jersey Shore around that time included a stop at a small arena in Wildwood, where I was choked out by the legendary King Kong Bundy before an independent show later that night. As you can see, I sold the choke better than a good 80% of the roster. I’m still waiting on my paycheck.

Bundy

Many years later, while a sportswriter at The Saratogian, I interviewed Ron “R-Truth” Killings by phone from my car following a high school lacrosse game I covered just north of New York City. This was in preparation for a house show (an untelevised event) at the Glens Falls Civic Center a few nights later, which was headlined by the same John Cena who proposed to his girlfriend Sunday night. Many people at my paper rolled their eyes at the reporter covering a pro wrestling event on company time, but none of that mattered. I got to go to a WWE show for free and write about it for an audience.

I got to tell a story. And much like many of the athletes I covered that night, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.