Niagara University-run baseball team vying for playoff spot in first season back in NF
By David Yarger
Sports teams in their first year have their struggles at times. Unless you're the Vegas Golden Knights and reach the Stanley Cup Finals in your first season, most teams see varied success. For the Niagara Power of the New York Collegiate Baseball League, it may not be their first year in existence, but it's their inaugural season under the direction of Niagara University.
The team's first season under new direction has had its share of ups and downs, as the Power currently sit at 21-18 and still fighting for a playoff spot. Off the field, though, Niagara University students have taken the helm of the day to day operations, giving them a professional experience of a lifetime.
Dr. Patrick Tutka, a professor at NU and director of the Niagara Power, said the season has flowed pretty well.
"It's been good. A few things have happened but we've all gotten on the same page," Tutka said. "It's all flowed well and we're fortunate to have good players and coaches. The interns get a great experience to actually own a team. We've had success on the field and off the field for the interns and feedback has been very, very good."
For the interns, as Tutka said, they get the chance to do a mixture of skills from public address announcing, radio broadcasts, promotions, ticket sales, concessions, apparel and much more.
"They get to do all this for 21 home games and it's as good as it gets. They've done it all," Tutka said. "It's been majority student driven. It gives them the best experience possible and they've rotated and got experience in every field. It's been a very positive experience."
Several interns had positive takes on the internship, as well.
James Magone, who has worked in the press box for the season, said, "My overall experience has been very positive. I work alongside James Burns, sharing the play by play/color commentary duties. We were basically given free reign by Dr. Tutka to do whatever we wanted with the broadcast, which has made it a lot of fun. We've gotten great experience working with each other, and by having on a variety of guests including players, parents and other journalists.
"From what I've seen the first season has gone very well for the Power. The student interns have been incredibly dedicated and have been able to make the experience for the fans a great one. I'm sure they would love to get even more fans out next season, but the fans this season have been consistently energetic, and I believe will draw in even more fans for years to come."
Magone said he will attend Sacred Heart University in the fall for a one-year grad program, solely based around sports broadcasting. He added working with the Power gave him an opportunity to broadcast a new sport.
Jake Hendry, another Power intern, said, "This season of the Niagara Power went a lot better than expected in my opinion. I expected mistakes and ups and downs, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how smoothly it went. The fans were an amazing part of this season. Each game you would see the same dedicated fans coming out and that was a really cool part of it.
"Being a part of this internship will really help me out in the future, because of how much of a variety of information I got. Being part of a small team has a lot of benefits - going through and doing something different from game to game gives you the experience you need in the sports industry."
Kyle Barker, who took on the role of head student associate, said, "The Power have been amazing. I can't thank Niagara University enough for the experience. The idea is extremely unique and the experience we get running a franchise to me is unparalleled in our field. Every game has been a blast working with all of the other interns.
"Dr. Tutka began this all with an idea and has run with it ever since. The program helps us as students and help recruit prospective students in the future. The entire idea is a win for our university and I hope many other students at Niagara get to follow in our footsteps as we've put down the foundation."
As far as the talent on the field, the team started slow at 1-4, but from June 28, the team won 13 of their last 18 games.
Tutka said, "They've played very well. They've bought in and have been playing hard. Year one, you hope to get the chance to play in the playoffs but you realize it's difficult. We control our own destiny right now."
Tutka is correct, as the Power play their final home game versus the first-place Rochester Ridgemen at 7 p.m. Friday.
Tutka said, to make the playoffs in the team's first year would be quite the feat.
"It would be huge," Tutka said. "When we put together the team, this was our dream. We got talent, we started slow and to see it come together and play it out - it's huge for the players and the students see their hard work pay off and great for NU.
"These players are looking to play in high pressure situations and their isn't a much higher pressure situation than a one game winner-take-all in the NYCBL playoffs."
Tutka encourages everyone in Niagara County to hop on and enjoy the rest of the Power's season.
"We're going to have an appreciation week with giveaways and on field promotions like always. We're run like a minor league team - we're out their every half inning do some type of promotion. It's very fan friendly.
"We want people to know, this isn't just Niagara Falls' team, this is Niagara County's team," Tutka said.
Tutka added that fans have given him great feedback, saying it's very inexpensive to bring the family to the ballpark, there's always something fun going on, and it compares to a minor league baseball game.
The partnership between Niagara University and Niagara Power has had success and Tutka said he believes the relationship will continue for years to come.
"Seeing this grow and develop, I can see this as a multi-year project. It gives the stadium a full-time tenant, it gives Niagara Falls another promotional piece to attract tourists and it give NU a promotional piece to attract more students - regardless of major - to come and get the experience. It's a win-win for everyone," Tutka said.
To stay up to date on everything Niagara Power, visit their website at niagarapowerbaseball.com or baseball.pointstreak.com/team_home.html?teamid=132431&seasonid=31255.