Students ask me this often; then they ask what it was like to work in baseball, in sports, for a Major League baseball team.
I have often blogged about how working in baseball changed my life in so many ways. I became a serious student when I got my job with the Orioles as a sophomore in college. I learned how to budget my time and work long hours. I loved every minute of it. I even roped my best friend and college roommate into working there during my second year when I supervised a small staff and someone quit before Opening Day. She was supposed to be a fill-in and ended up staying the entire season…and then some. I grew up there and stayed for 13 total seasons. My best friends are from there. I met my husband there. I learned valuable skills that I now teach my students. I learned about the game, its history, and its pomp and circumstance—all of which I treasure.
Then I wrote a fictional novel about working in baseball entitled Baseball Girl, summoning my recollections and stories about working in the game.
On Friday night, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time with my mentor and dear friend, Dr. Charles Steinberg, in Boston. Our students and faculty were in town for a communication convention, and Charles, who now works for the Red Sox and Pawtucket Paw Sox, took us out to dinner. It’s funny how things come around full circle—I learned so much of what I know from Charles and Julie Wagner, and both are still my dear friends and mentors. Both Charles and Julie also wrote a case study for a textbook my colleagues and I wrote about event planning. Sitting at that table with Charles made me realize a couple of things: (1) how thankful I am that I had the job I had for all those years and that it helps me in my current job today, and (2) that strong friendships sustain themselves even when you don’t see each other as often as you would like.
Today is Opening Day, and I will not be there at Camden Yards to celebrate its 25th season at the ballpark. I have to teach my classes.
I was there on Opening Day 1992 when Camden Yards took center stage, and I helped coordinate the opening ceremonies. I value all of my time there—first as assistant director of community relations and then as director of publishing. For fun, and at Charles’s request, I even spent time as the ballpark deejay for a while, spinning tunes and getting the crowd fired up.
So the question remains: “Do you miss working in baseball?”
On days like today, with a fresh season upon us, a new team, and a clean slate with 162 games to go and a chance to win a World Series ring as a member of the front office, the answer is simply…
This week, my colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus, Chip Rouse, and I received page proofs of our textbook entitled “Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice” which is being published by Kendall Hunt. The year plus of work on this book has been interesting for me, to say the least. As someone who was trained in academia later in life, having worked in the field of public relations, community relations, and publications first, writing a textbook required a whole different set of skills than does writing fiction. And yet both endeavors are rewarding.
I wanted to take a moment to thank Leeanne and Chip for working with me on this project. I had not written a textbook before, and so there was definitely a learning curve for me, particularly with regard to research. Nonetheless, I persevered, and I can’t think of a better pair to work with, particularly with regard to event planning.
Those of you who know me (or have ever attended any parties I’ve thrown) probably know this was something that was a no-brainer. How could I pass up the opportunity to write about something I love doing? I’ve been called “The Cruise Director” for years by my good friends who know I am an organizer and social coordinator. During my time at the Orioles, I was blessed to have worked on several event committees that planned events for both Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards. Leeanne brings a tremendous amount of scholarly expertise to the table, as she has already published two textbooks and helped plan the Eastern Communication Association conference in Baltimore in 2010 (and she is about to do it again in 2016); Chip has been the department chair at Stevenson for years and also works a secondary job at a local country club during the summers planning events. The three of us brought different aspects of event planning to the table, and I’m excited about this textbook and what it potentially offers students.
Likewise, I would like to thank personally my dear friends from the community who work for a variety of organizations and handle aspects of event planning. These folks were willing to help out and write case studies for each of the chapters. Stacey Haines, Julie Wagner, Kristen Schultz, Roz Healy, and Charles Steinberg—thank you for allowing us to hear and to learn from your own experiences with event planning. Additionally, a big thank you goes to Kendall Hunt for publishing our book.
And so now we wait for the finished product to emerge. I can’t wait.
Twenty years ago this week Cal Ripken tied and broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games record. Twenty years ago. It seems difficult to fathom, actually.
I was proud to have been a part of such a wonderful front office — people who cared about the game of baseball and wanted it represented well both on and off the field. If I could have picked any time in history to have been with the club — including that 1983 season when the Orioles took home the World Series trophy — I would not change a thing. I started out on the ground floor as public relations assistant (who actually had to go out into the stands and sing “Happy Birthday” to fans), worked side-by-side with my mentor Julie Wagner in community relations, and was promoted to Director of Publishing where I stayed until I ended my career with the ballclub in 1998. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade one moment of my time there, even for a World Series ring (though I won’t lie–that would have been a very nice heirloom).
Readers of my blog know my incredible affinity for the ballclub. Pictured above is Cal, on the night of 2131, with his arm around his mother, Vi, Julie Wagner, the Orioles Community Relations Director, and me there in the front (Cal’s dad can be seen off to the left, barely in the photograph). As members of the event team that planned, organized, and executed 2131, we are standing on the field while the tributes and celebrations were happening, and I’ll never forget how Cal’s parents’ faces beamed. I was fortunate to have been assigned as the escort for Cal’s parents for the evening, and I was responsible for getting them where they needed to be as events began to unfold. Our team photographer, Jerry Wachter, captured this moment, and I’ll be forever grateful. Although Julie is probably mid-sentence saying something to me about what was going to happen next because she was one of the lead planners of the ceremonial events, Jerry caught us at just the right moment, and as the Whitney Houston song “One Moment in Time” was played that night, I believe we all felt suspended, relishing Cal’s amazing accomplishment, and sensing Lou Gehrig winking from the Heavens. If only for a moment.
Incidentally, one of the reasons why I hold on so dearly to memories made either at Memorial Stadium or Camden Yards is because some of my dearest friends were made there, memories that I will keep. Whether they are funny stories that make up my collection of 13 years at the ballclub or friendships that continue to grow and flourish even after we’ve moved on, the spirit that was the Orioles will remain with me forever. Cal’s remarkable evening is just one of hundreds of things I’ll always keep in my lovely, baseball memory bank.
I met all these women through baseball. We celebrated my birthday and 30 years of friendship on August 21.
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Baseball Girl Takes Home An Honorable Mention in the Annual Readers’ Favorite Contest for Sports Fiction
Last night, my second novel, Baseball Girl, received an Honorable Mention Award in the Annual Readers’ Favorite Contest in the category of sports fiction. As the Readers’ Favorite Contest has become more popular over the years (its first contest year was only in 2009), the competition continues to grow. Having Baseball Girl acknowledged in the category of sports fiction is quite an honor (seeing as I haven’t ever written anything fictional that is sports-based, not even a short story). The recognition of this little story—that grew out of my overactive imagination, but is rooted in some of my own experiences working in baseball—means more to me than words can say, but I’ll try. When I set out to tell this story, all I wanted was for people to enjoy reading it. To take pleasure in it. To want to see what happens to the characters. When I receive a short note, text, or email from someone saying he or she enjoyed Baseball Girl, that’s what makes me happy. Additionally, when a little medallion of an award gets to be placed on the cover of the book in recognition for a job well done—though it may not have garnered first, second, or third place—I am so grateful for the positive feedback I have received and continue to receive. Honestly, it makes me want to be a better writer. Thank you, Jack Magnus and Readers’ Favorite for this lovely recognition. I hope your stamp of approval will encourage other folks who are on the fence about reading the book to give it a whirl and see what happens to Francesca, Archie, Joe, Jack and the rest of the crew.
Baseball Girl: A Novel is a contemporary sports fiction novel written by Stephanie L. Verni. Francesca’s young world revolved around her dad and the baseball games they watched together, both in the stadium and at home. They loved the Bay City Blackbirds, and Francesca knew all the stats and even the team’s scoring system. From the time, she was seven until her dad’s illness and death at age 44 from leukemia, the two of them thrilled to the sounds of the bat hitting the ball and the cheers of the fans. When Francesca was a sophomore in college, a year after he died, she found a help wanted ad for a Public Relations Assistant with the Bay City Blackbirds. It seemed the perfect job for a communications major who just happened to live and breathe baseball.
Stephanie L. Verni’s contemporary fiction novel, Baseball Girl, is a marvelous novel that blends the coming of age, romance and sports fiction genres. The author’s long-term association with the Baltimore Orioles makes the novel feel like the real thing. Verni takes the reader into the inner workings of the front office of a baseball team, and it’s a fascinating look at the hard work, dedication, and stamina needed to be part of that world. While Francesca is no longer a young adult, the interwoven tales of her childhood through to her late twenties, combined with the ongoing trauma of her loss which keeps her locked up inside and unwilling to risk emotional attachments, make this story one of the more compelling coming of age tales I’ve read. Baseball Girl has a strong romantic thread, but the lack of any overtly sexual or erotic themes makes this novel eminently suitable for young adult readers as well as the target adult audience. Verni’s strong and competent Francesca is the perfect role model for young women, especially if they just happen to love sports. Baseball Girl is an awesome read, and it’s most highly recommended.
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Upcoming Book Events in the Baltimore | Annapolis Area
On Sunday, September 27, I’ll be in the Author’s Tent at the Baltimore Book Festival. Last year’s festival was held at the Inner Harbor, and this year it will also be held downtown. I’m scheduled to sell and sign books from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., so if you’re planning on attending, I hope you will stop by and say hello.
On Monday, September 28, I’ll be talking about baseball, books, and maybe even a Mimosa Tree at the Broadneck Library in Annapolis at 7 p.m. I’ll be giving away some goodies, and I’ll have lots of bookmarks and copies of my books on hand.
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Severna Park Voice Article
My local, hometown paper ran a piece on local authors and what we’re up to recently. I’ve linked to it here, and was thrilled to see that they very kindly gave my daughter a photo credit. She’s also an aspiring author, and a pretty amazing photographer as well. Thanks for making me look good, Elle.
Moments in Time
Last week we began our fall semester at Stevenson University. I couldn’t be more fortunate to work at a place with the best bunch of faculty, staff, and students. I absolutely love my job, and every day I have the opportunity to be in the classroom is yet another one of my moments in time.
Thanks for popping in today, and I hope to see some of you soon.
P.S. If you want to take a stroll down memory lane and re-live Cal’s shining moment, I’ve provided the telecast below.
Last Friday night, I organized a reunion. It wasn’t a high school or college reunion. It was a reunion of people who worked together in Baltimore for a baseball team called the Orioles. Having spent many seasons as an employee of the club, and having many friends who did the same (some of them still there enjoying last year’s great season as well as this one), we decided it was time for a big get-together.
Many folks may say that it sounds crazy that former colleagues want to get together—but the fact of the matter is—that’s where many of us “grew up” in our 20s and 30s when we were getting know who we were as people. When you work 81 home games, spend countless hours working on projects and events during the off-season and in-season, you get to know people pretty well. Lifelong friendships are formed.
I recall nights working the games when we would stay until the last pitch, and then we would go sing Karaoke at a club or hang out and have a beer on site. The antics that went on during that time of our lives were fantastic. I was reminiscing with Paul, the O’s former groundskeeper, as we recounted times past on Friday night. I reminded him of how he used to make Julie and me take off our shoes for team picture day, and how pitcher Mike Mussina decided to confiscate our shoes and hide them in the clubhouse. We were a pair of shoeless dames for hours after that happened.
In cases where you spend inordinate amounts of time together, bonds of friendship can be quite strong. In fact, my best friends were made there—people who love you for you—unconditionally, and without question. It’s also quite special because I met my husband there. But I wasn’t the only one—many of us married people we worked with as well.
For a moment, I stood on that rooftop bar at Camden Yards on Friday night, and took it all in; it was as if not a day had passed. Everyone looked fantastic. Everyone was smiling, hugging, catching up, and wishing the night didn’t have to end. Even though we don’t see each other as much as we used to or want to and are busy with children, work, and activities, we just pick right up where we left off.
That evening was so special to me—and depicts the true meaning of friendship.
Last night, my family and I went to Camden Yards. Some of you readers know that I worked for the Orioles for many years. The Orioles and Camden Yards are sentimental to me for so many reasons, namely because I met my husband and some of my best friends there, and also because it was just a great place to work. Time spent at the Orioles was a pleasure, and one that I remember fondly.
The pictured Pink Panther is no longer mine. He belongs to my friend Mark Hromalik, the assistant director of sales. Mark and I worked together, and when I left, I bestowed my Pink Panther to Mark, who may possibly love “Pink” more than I did.
When The Pink Panther costumed character visited Camden Yards, I was lucky enough to receive this stuffed version as my own. If you’ve watched Orioles games since the 1990s, you may recall HTS (Home Team Sports) zooming in on him during games. My office was in the warehouse and happened to face ballpark on the second floor just above Boog’s Barbecue, and I had Pink propped up against the window looking out across Eutaw Street to the field. The cameramen had a field day with Pink, and between innings, you’d see him on television staring out the window, quietly cheering the Orioles on to victory.
When I left my position with the ballclub to pursue a new opportunity at The Baltimore Sun, I gave Pink to Mark. He would often come in and remark on how much he loved the Pink Panther. I couldn’t bear the thought of Pink leaving Camden Yards, so I kissed him goodbye and left him in good hands.
I am happy to report that all these years later, he may be faded, but he’s still there, and apparently has been promoted to that of Boss Man.
It was 1995. Cal was set to tie—and then break—Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak record. I worked for the Orioles as the Director of Publishing. It was a great year to be a member of the Orioles front office.
In about seven weeks, we put together Cal’s Commemorative Book, a publication created by our organization that celebrated Cal and his accomplishments that was sold on September 6, 1995. Besides my debut novel that was released in March, it’s the only other print publication I’m immensely proud to have been a part of, and it was an honor to serve as its editor.
On the evening of 2131, with banners on the warehouse and Camden Yards in the spotlight that night, I had the pleasure of escorting Cal’s mom and dad for the evening. I’ll never forget how their faces beamed with pride as I brought them from the suite to the dugout for the ceremonies.
Along the way, I saw Joe DiMaggio. My late grandmother was a tremendous fan of his. She would have been so happy that I caught a glimpse of him up close on the field.
I couldn’t attend Cal’s statue unveiling tonight at Camden Yards, despite the fact that I had seats behind the plate for the game; my kids had commitments and my husband had to attend a dinner for work. I watched the game on television and saw Camden Yards filled with orange shirts. There’s a new spirit to the place, just like there was during the 1996 and 1997 seasons when the Orioles made it to post-season play under the direction of then manager Davey Johnson.
The Orioles of new are an exciting team to watch. Buck Showalter, his coaches, and his energized team have kept us cheering this season. Although I’ve moved on in my career and enjoy every single minute I spend as an educator at a university, I’ll always feel a connection to that place. It is magical, especially to those of us who moved from Memorial Stadium and saw Camden Yards open in 1992 and felt its early glory days.
Sometimes it feels as if not a day has gone by.
I raise my glass to this team—this winning team that’s in the thick of a pennant race—this team that moved into first place yesterday—this team we fans are proud to call our own.
It’s wonderful to revel in this new Orioles magic.
There I sat, Saturday night, in some pretty fantastic seats at Camden Yards, watching the Orioles take on the Nationals at home. It’s a relatively friendly rivalry, but still, I was rooting my Birds on that evening. As the game neared the 8th and 9th innings, I got strange butterflies in my stomach, as I watched our pitcher hurl ball after ball into the catcher’s glove.
I know why I got butterflies.
For years, I’ve always believed that being a Major League Baseball pitcher is not only be the hardest job on the field, but also the loneliest.
I don’t mind working hard, but I don’t like to be lonely.
First, there he is on the mound. He is required to throw strikes—or at least hittable pitches—every time he launches something out of his tired arm. Whether it’s a slider, a curveball, a sinker, a fastball—whatever—his accuracy means something. It is required, unlike the accuracy of weatherpeople with whom we put our trust into daily. So the fact that the pitcher’s got to throw some decent balls into his catcher’s mitt is the first reason why it’s a tough job.
Second, the pitcher’s out there in the middle of the field all alone. There was a sold-out crowd there on Saturday night, something Camden Yards hasn’t been accustomed to since the days when I was there: when it was new and Cal was breaking records or Davey Johnson got us to two consecutive playoff berths in 1996 and 1997. So, there’s a pitcher, on the mound, alone, with people all around him. And yet, even with the distractions of the wave, the Bird dancing on the dugout, people shouting obscenities, and just the general crowd noise, he’s required, again, to throw those strikes across the plate. His team is scattered across the lawn, and there he is, a lone soldier, trying to get men to swing. And miss.
A hockey goalie’s job is tough; I realize that. But his teammates are skating by, acting as blockages for the little puck. A football team has men all around each other, serving as offensive props and defensive shields. Basketball players must work together as a team the whole time…no man stands alone…except during foul shots, but even then, there’s the power of the rebound.
It’s my opinion that it’s the baseball pitcher that has the toughest job. Consistency, accuracy, endurance, and nerves of steel are required to fill the role.
Mother Nature has blessed us with an incredible day. It’s sunny and warm, and now it’s official: I yearn to hear the crack of the baseball bat. I’m ready for Orioles baseball and for Opening Day at Camden Yards in Baltimore. It’s still in my blood.
For thirteen years of my life, I bled black and orange. As a front office employee for the Baltimore Orioles many moons ago, I looked forward to the season starting. It was a sign of spring and rebirth. Baseball is America’s pastime.
Some say baseball is slow moving, that it can be equated with watching the grass grow. As for me, I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hours than breathing in the scents of the ballpark, listening to the roar of the crowd, and taking in the scenery that was my home for many years. There’s nothing more exciting than winning the game in the bottom of the ninth inning or witnessing a come-from-behind game-winning homer.
I’m sentimental about Camden Yards, and I have every right to be. I essentially grew up there. That place launched my career, and I’ll always be thankful for that. My best friends and I met and married people we worked with, and we’re all still a tight-knit group. My dear friend, Julie Wagner, was inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame, the only female from the front office to be so honored for her community outreach. We were all there as she graciously accepted her place in the lineup that included many Hall of Fame players such as Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Cal Ripken. If it weren’t for her, I would never have experienced working for a major league baseball team because she was the one who hired me in the first place.
My passion may run deeper for Orioles baseball than it would for other people. Other folks may just love to go see their favorite team play. As for me, when I sit in the stands now, not as an employee, but as a regular fan, try as I might, I’ll never be just a regular fan. I’ll always be connected to that place. I can’t help but to be reminded of the love that surrounded me during those years, of the experiences I gained, and the people I met along the way. I’m guessing that a fair amount of black and orange is still in my veins.
I love the game of baseball, and I’ll be there on April 6 as I wait patiently to hear that first crack of the bat.
Stephanie Parrillo Verni
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