During my four years at Western Carolina University, I was presented with multiple opportunities to add to my experience working in sports. In my Freshman year, I worked with the Western Football team as a videographer, where I filmed practices for the coaches and players to later look at and created highlight reels for the team. In my sophomore year, I was given the opportunity to work with the Western Athletic Department's film crew, and I spent several evenings filming volleyball and basketball games that were aired on ESPN+. In my Junior year, I went back to the football team in the fall semester doing the same thing I did my freshman year, but this time I was filming games and practices and getting clips for the athletes to add to their highlight reels and promo videos. When Senior year hit, COVID was at its peak, and my sports career was at a standstill until I started Ok Listen Here in the spring semester.
In the summers between school, I worked as a crew chief for a land surveying company back home in Charlotte except for the Summer between my Freshman and Sophomore years. However, before my Freshman year ended, I had contacted the Kannapolis Intimidators (Now Cannon Ballers), and they offered me a job for the Summer.
Initially, they hired me as the Food and Beverage Assistant in the ballpark. That's one interview I'll never forget. The individual that interviewed me showed up in sweatpants and thong flip-flops. It took me by surprise because I was dressed in my best khaki pants, a button-down shirt, shoes and had a haircut the day before. That look could've gotten me hired just about anywhere. After running through the gauntlet of interview questions, the job was mine that day.
Getting settled in with the front office staff was not difficult. In the Summer of 2018, the Kannapolis Intimidators Front Office staff was filled with some of the best people I have ever met, including Andrew, the operations manager and eventual host of The Heatin' Up Podcast. There was the group sales team, Jenna and Spencer. The Director of Social Media and Promotions, Blair. Trevor, the radio broadcaster. The ticket office manager, Mike Wolf (what a last name). Lastly, there was the GM, Brian.
Andrew and Mike shared office space in the front ticket office, and that place always had something going on. Whether it was FIFA Brackets, discussing unique Minor League Baseball team names and logos, or babysitting the front office staff's dogs. It was like working with two Jim Halpert's. Funny, witty, and always up to no good.
Speaking of dogs, Jenna takes the cake for the cutest dog award. I'm not sure what kind of dog she was. I want to say she was an Akita, but that could be wrong. Regardless, Cali was the definition of a big ole floof. She'd run around the ballpark chasing balls and squirrels and sneak up on me to get her daily pets in, which was obviously never an issue.
Spencer was the one front office staff with whom I didn't get much time with but, like Mike and Andrew, often participated in the daily shenanigans. Though I didn't get to know him too well, he would often task me with the responsibility of entertaining and catering to the groups he brought in.
Blair, still to this day, is the most bubbly individual I have ever met. She is still working with the team, and you can find her between innings interacting with fans and, most importantly, the next generation of Minor League Baseball Fans. She was born to do the job she does, and if you go to a Cannon Ballers game, you will see that firsthand.
Trevor was the voice of the Intimidators, and he is damn good at it. I say he IS damn good at it and not WAS damn good at it because he is still with the team broadcasting each home game. When food and beverage weren't busy, I'd often go into his studio while he was airing and would challenge him to incorporate oddly specific words to work into the broadcast. Notably, I tasked him with using the word cheeseburger, which he used so flawlessly. It was so easy for him as the Summer went on. I had to come up with bizarre words for him to use. Still, to this day, I do not know how he was able to use Lord Farquad in his broadcast. So, if you get the chance to listen to a Cannon Ballers broadcast, I'd advise you to tune in.
Brain is, without a doubt, the best boss I have ever had. He ensured that my time there was not wasted and that I took something away to carry me into the rest of my career. He understood that as a 19-year-old, there would be challenges that I would not be able to overcome easily. Throughout the entire Summer, he never did my job for me. But instead, he would challenge me to try things, experiment, and figure out what did and did not work. He allowed me to work independently and learn from my experiences. My biggest takeaway from working under Brian is that it is okay to make mistakes. It's a part of life, and we all make them. Whether you decide to learn from it or let it bury you is entirely up to you.
Lastly, I cannot go through the list of people I worked with without mentioning my fellow interns, Emily, who worked under Mike, and Kate, who worked under Blair. It did not take long for the three of us to click. Not long after we met, we would often find ourselves hanging out after games until midnight or later discussing future ambitions, trash-talking each other's colleges, or going on Cook Out runs. Emily turned 21 that Summer, and she invited Kate and me to her birthday outing with her family. Unfortunately, she took what I assume was her first shot of tequila because the poor girl did not handle that shot too well. There are countless stories I could get into about them, but to say I was blessed to work with them is an understatement.
Ironically, I do not remember the name of the Food and Beverage Manager because he quit two weeks after I started working with the team. When he left, I wasn't sure what that meant for me as the Food and Beverage Assistant. The GM, Brian, had pulled me into his office after the F&B Manager's departure and asked me, "Do you think you're ready to run an entire department by yourself?" As a 19-year-old, this took me by surprise because it was a big responsibility as food and beverage were one of the team's biggest revenue generators. But, as ambitious as I was, I took on the challenge.
As I mentioned, I was 19 and inexperienced in managing an entire department. Brian knew this and told me that if I had any issues, questions, or concerns, to bring them to Andrew. That being said, more responsibilities were given to me, particularly on game day, but Andrew conducted most of the scheduling of game day employees and made sure the ballpark was stocked for game day. My responsibilities had become positioning the game-day employees, making sure they did their job, ensuring facilities were clean, and each point of sale was ready for the game.
Somehow, I managed to take on the nickname Blake. I'm pretty sure it was Andrew that first adopted calling me Blake because when the original F&B Manager was still working there, he never took the time to introduce me to everyone. For whatever reason, Andrew thought my name was Blake and decided never to call me by my actual name. So for the entirety of that Summer, my name was either Blake, Blake Shelton, or Buh-Lock-Aye (From the Key and Peele Skit). As I'm writing this four years later, I'm almost certain a few of them have no idea who Dawson Haywood is. They think they just worked with some guy ironically named Blake Shelton.
The staff that worked on game days were filled with a bunch of characters. Cindy, I'm pretty sure was her name, ran the show in the concession stand. Ironically, she was also my lunch lady in High School. She ended up being my enforcer, which was a side of her I would not have expected from my lunch lady. Since I was just 19, what I said wasn't ever taken too seriously. But if it came from Cindy or one of the more seasoned ladies in the concession stand, they knew it had to be done. Cindy made some of the best cookies you ever did taste. I'd help myself to every bit a dozen or more each time she brought a batch in. This was the start of Chungy Dawson.
The kitchen staff was comprised of three high-schoolers from South Rowan High School. I can only remember one's name, Gage. The other two were his best friend and his girlfriend. The trio was constantly doing something entertaining, and I could have probably made a reality show starring the three. For example, one day, I came into the kitchen, and they had taken a styrofoam cooler and turned it into some kind of armor and would run around like Dwight Schrute, terrorizing everyone in the name of Recyclopse. Every week, Gage and his best friend would come up with "Gage's Creation of the Week," which was often just a burger with french fries, chili, nacho cheese, or whatever we had in the concession stand to throw on a patty. Before my last home game, Gage and his girlfriend came into the ballpark early and set up a slip and slide, but instead of using water to slip down the slide, they used about twenty gallons of barbecue sauce. There are several stories about Gage and the Kitchen Crew I could get into, but this article would take ten years to read.
There are countless stories that I could go on about my time with the Intimidators, but like Gage and his Kitchen Crew, this article would take years to read, so I'll finish with this. That Summer was the Summer the Town of Kannapolis decided to build the team a new stadium, and with that, ownership wanted to move on from the Intimidators name. Probably to cut ties with the Wicked Witch of the South, Teresa Earnhardt, who owned the rights to the Intimidator name. I was in the meeting when Brian announced all this to the staff. Unfortunately, I had to go back to school before any real action took place, but seeing it all unfold through news sources was cool. Ironically, the Summer after, I found myself surveying the new stadium.
That Summer was all too short. Nevertheless, I made connections I will carry with me through life. At one point, I debated going back to school because that was a place I could have worked until I retired. That old janky ballpark holds a special place in my memory. Since it is being replaced by one of the thousand apartment complexes coming into the community, this is one perspective I want to give with hopes that the Intimidators Stadium's legacy will live on.
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