BY QUINTON ZIELKE | Ball State Sports Link
Growing up, I had one idea in mind — someday I would be on camera working for ESPN.
Imagine a pudgy, 9-year-old kid all dressed up for Halloween in his suit and tie ready to collect bags of candy… or simply just a microphone.
As a kid, I walked down the stairs and hear my mom switch from the news to SportsCenter.
Every morning, I’d grab my sugar-filled Pop-Tarts that every kid loves and watch Stuart Scott count down the top ten plays, dreaming one day I’d have an ESPN graphic with my name across it.
Eight years later I found myself at Ball State in the incredibly flat, boring city that is Muncie, Ind. The moment I arrived, I told my mom I was ready to go home. I absolutely hated it here.
Being the 17-year-old I was, my mom forced me to stay, tour and talk with the Telecommunications department. Thanks a lot mom.
Then on the tour, I hear the words …“It’s basically the ESPN of Ball State.” Suddenly, my attention peaked as the tour guide took me into the room that houses Ball State Sports Link.
Less than 24 hours after begging my mom to skip the tour and go home, I found myself telling all my family and friends, “if I get into a program there, I’m going to Ball State.”
A few months later, I found myself playing baseball in Westfield, Ind. about an hour from Ball State. Once again my mom convinced me to reach out to Chris Taylor — the senior director of Sports Link — to ask if we could drive up to Ball State and meet in hopes of building a relationship that could develop into being accepted into the program.
Persistent. Taylor wanted to come watch me play baseball, but unable to make any of the game times I played, so we decided to just meet up.
“You’re in,” Taylor said.
Suddenly my college decision was easier than I had ever expected. And to be fair, CT did later come to see me play baseball during my senior year at Waubonsie during the state playoffs.
I returned to Muncie in August still chasing the dream I had set out for. For a few months, I jumped around from project-to-project, shadowing and observing all I could in Sports Link.
Within a month of college, I was participating in live ESPN3 productions, shooting highlights and helping out the older students shoot their interviews.
February 4, 2017. I received a text from CT. “Let’s find a goal for you and make it happen.”
Not knowing where it would take me as a freshman, I shot back a list of ideas — running social media for March Madness, start shooting my own interviews and shooting more highlights.
On top of all that, I told him “I would love to get some on camera action even though I’m nervous as hell to do that.”
Nine days later the plan was for me to be the analyst for our baseball series vs. Bowling Green in April. A couple months to prepare, it sounded easy. Until April 6 rolled around and I had no idea what I was doing or how I would go about doing it.
Film. I began watching baseball more than ever before just to notice what the announcers said. I could watch and listen to baseball for days straight without losing an ounce of entertainment.
Then on the Thursday before the three broadcasts, Mick Tidrow (my broadcast partner) and I received the open rundown and format from our producer, J.C. Obringer. We went through the production meeting with the rest of Sports Link and finished up our prep.
On Friday morning, I’m scrambling to the library to print out my 54 pages of notes and stats.
I sat on my futon in my full suit and ate a PB & J to hold me over during the game. I looked through my folder one last time and threw away what I thought to be a duplicate of notes and made my way to the stadium.
Mick, an accomplished junior in the Sports Link program, did a stellar job walking me through all parts of the open and practicing it multiple times through my stumbles and mess-ups. I was ready for the big stage, my ESPN3 debut.
The lights came on. Not on the field, in the broadcast booth. And so did my nerves.
Take 1. Take 2. Take 3. Take 4. None I was happy with, but with first pitch in 10 minutes we had to wrap it up.
Five minutes until game time and that duplicate of notes, was all I had on Bowling Green. I panicked. I had no idea what to do, so I just played along and called the game based on what I had listened to on TV and the stats I had in front of me.
I stuttered, repeated words and just felt my feet sinking deeper in the quicksand of embarrassment I was so afraid of.
After the game Friday night, we cleaned up and had a postgame production meeting. I acted cool, acted fine and returned to my dorm room. Unable to sleep in bed, I kept telling myself, “just one more day, one more day until your time on camera will never have to happen again.”
I had never been happier when Sunday’s game was pushed up to a doubleheader Saturday due to rain in the forecast. This meant I’d actually get some sleep Saturday night.
After the Friday’s game when everyone had left, CT shared some quick notes with me on my delivery, including a notecard he handed my way during the second inning.
With a long day ahead I pulled my “duplicate” notes out of the trash and returned to the stadium Saturday for 18 innings of baseball. After our 9 a.m. crew call, I met with Mick and graduate assistant Tyler Bradfield, also an accomplished play-by-play man, who reminded me it’s just a conversation along with sharing much more advice.
Game 1 of the doubleheader, five more takes to film the open and nine more innings of mediocre stats on the game of baseball.
Mick and I headed down in between games just to find out we had three minutes to eat. Oh, and the first pitch was in 15 minutes, so we’re going to have to roll the open live for ESPN3. Panicking, I ran up to the booth and readjusted.
“You’re live,” Obringer said from the production truck.
Mick and I took off bouncing information back-and-forth, talking the viewers through the first two games of the series, waiting for our highlights to come on the screen. They didn’t.
But this time Mick and I continued, the thought of being on ESPN3 suddenly didn’t fear me and I was back to being the 9-year-old kid taking the first step of fulfilling a dream and having the time of my life.
Game 3 of the series brought new energy and a different analyst in myself. Those duplicate pages of stats were in the trash and instead, my baseball knowledge was spoken.
Mick and I spun jokes, baseball terms and sparked a completely new attitude in the broadcast booth.
The dream of being the voice behind an ESPN broadcast had been fulfilled, kicked to the curb and sparked again. Much like my feeling when I first arrived at Ball State.
Ball State Sports Link has made my childhood dreams a reality (and I am not even finished with my freshman year). That little, pudgy, 9-year-old who loved sports, is now just a 19-year-old who loves sports and is creating bigger dreams than before.
Thanks Ball State. Thanks CT. Thanks Sports Link.
But most importantly, thanks a lot mom.