OLEAN, N.Y. -- On a golden summer evening at Bradner Stadium, Austin Stephens prepared his notes to call the baseball game that will begin shortly on the field spread out below the press box.
At least a thousand people had come to see the Olean Oilers, a summer wood-bat development team and defending champions of the New York Collegiate Baseball League.
Fans sat in lawn chairs across the top of the concrete bleachers, and the stadium is carved out like a bowl below street level.
Fans entering through a tunnel below East State Street were greeted by Rodney Bundy-Robinson, who was selling tickets, and Dillon Ruediger, who was selling 50/50 tickets that help finance the labor of love that is the Oilers.
Stephens, Bundy-Robinson, who is from Philadelphia, and Ruediger, who is from Roulette, Pa., are three of the five University of Pittsburgh at Bradford (Pa.) students spending a large portion of their summer at the stadium.
Stephens, “The Voice of the Oilers,” is a broadcast communications intern from Olean, while the other two students are interns from the sport and recreation management program at Pitt-Bradford, along with Cassidy Lewis of Bolivar, N.Y., who was on vacation.
A fifth student, Brock Blovsky, a junior business management major from Olean, plays for the team in the outfield.
In the press box, the announcer asked whether Stephens and the others were ready, then announced the team and played the National Anthem.
Stephens began his call over his phone - a method he found out limits background noise after getting feedback from one of his most loyal listeners, his mom. Although it looked like he was simply talking on the phone, it didn't sound like it at all, as he used the time-honored baritone and cadences of baseball announcers.
Here's where the notes came in. There's a lot of down time in a baseball game that a broadcaster doesn't want to result in dead air, but before the game, he meticulously researched a bit of information about each player that he weaves into the call while the player is batting. Listeners learn where the player is from, what his college team is, what his batting average is, etc.
This is his second year doing the call for the Oilers, and he's learned a lot, like the value of that prep work in making for a much better broadcast. “Last year I had a lot of dead air space and talked about the weather,” he said.
The summer internship is giving him much needed hours in the broadcast booth, something that he also does for Panthers basketball and volleyball with fellow broadcast communications major Mark Martinez of Ridgway, Pa.
“The Pitt-Bradford interns we've had this year have been phenomenal,” said Brian O'Connell Jr., who owns the team with his wife, René. O'Connell, a former baseball player and coach himself, loves both the game and the community and so do the volunteers working the games.
Sean O'Connell is the director of operations and oversees the intern program. He explained that interns “work in the tunnel,” selling tickets and greeting guests. Interns also shadow or perform jobs in the press box such as running the music, the scoreboard or the live stats program, which the public can access via the team's smart phone app.
Bundy-Robinson said he chose to stay in Bradford for the summer, live on campus and complete his internship here instead of going back to the Philadelphia area. “I enjoy watching the games and the atmosphere,” he said. Indeed, the atmosphere is all homespun charm with kids waiting at the tunnel for the gates to open an hour before the game (children 17 and under are free) and scores of retirees (2 tickets for $5), many of whom remember watching the Oilers of the Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York league play at Bradner Stadium in the '50s.
Ruedinger enjoys the crowd as well. “We draw so many more people than other teams,” he said. “So many people here are happy to see this. It's nice to be a part of.”
Sean O'Connell said, “The relationship with Pitt-Bradford is awesome. At the end of the season, we'll ask students about how we can make things work better, which we've also been asking all season. These guys have gone above and beyond.”
The team is now in its fifth year in Olean, third year in the refurbished Bradner Stadium and second year with Pitt-Bradford interns. It looks like both the team following and internship involvement are poised to grow.