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MLB Network, Army Reserve team up for soldiers

Sgt. DePrisco, Spc. Tobey are first employees in a one-year apprenticeship program

SECAUCUS, N.J. -- Christopher Tobey was in his second day on the job as a utility hand in the MLB Network studio operations when Bill Ripken gave him a fake gut punch. Tobey knew right then that the former Major Leaguer and Network analyst liked him, sort of a welcome into the club.

Dennis DePrisco already has created two animation packages that are going to air on MLB Network, including one for Subway. He had to fly to the Middle East a few days ago for combat-photographer training, then will be right back to work in the Network's creative services department.

Thomas Carlyle once wrote that "the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real harmony the instant he sets himself to work," and for Tobey and DePrisco, that harmony is within Major League Baseball. They are the first two employees in a one-year paid apprenticeship program initiated by MLB Network and the U.S. Army Reserve Employer Partnership Office (EPO), serving not only their countries, but also serving as examples of how companies can benefit from the unique skill sets of military vets.

Sgt. DePrisco, from Thornton, Colo., now serves in the 207th Public Affairs Detachment. Spc. Tobey, from Tappahannock, Va., serves in the 214th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Last Thursday, both of them were at the Pentagon for a decidedly unique reason. It was a celebration of this military-friendly program, and the attendees also included Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, the chief of the Army Reserve; Erin Thede, director of the U.S. Army Reserve EPO; and CEO Tony Petitti, senior vice president of operations and engineering Susan Stone and creative director Chris Mallory of MLB Network.

"This is the first official apprenticeship program in the sports broadcasting industry that focuses on hiring soldiers that serve in the Army Reserve," Talley said. "Veteran hiring initiatives that allow organizations to share great talent are good for the soldier and good for America."

"Our staff will benefit from the unique perspective these soldiers bring to tasks due to their military training and experience."
-- MLB Network CEO Tony Petitti

"We are proud to join with the U.S. Army Reserve Employer Partnership Office in beginning this apprenticeship program," Petitti said. "While the participating military personnel can learn about the broadcast industry here at MLB Network, our staff will benefit from the unique perspective these soldiers bring to tasks due to their military training and experience."

The program was helped formed by the Sports Video Group's Veterans in Production initiative, which helps veterans of the American military begin a career in sports television. The first three months of the program will focus on training in terminology, technology and equipment used by MLB Network, followed by the opportunity to work in depth on specific disciplines.

Based on the results so far, look for the apprenticeship program to widen in a couple of ways. One is with employment opportunities in all 29 of the Majors' U.S. venues as ballpark camera technicians, who serve the constant needs of MLB Advanced Media and MLB Network in various ways, from facilitating instant-replay requests to moving players to camera spots for live remote interviews to news conferences. Another is through the program's probable spread to all U.S. military branches.

"We're happy to expand," Thede said. "What we like to do in the Department of Defense, in all the services, is what they call a proof of concept, or a pilot program. We want to make sure it's the best thing for the soldier and also for our partners. As we do this and it proves to be an asset to all sides, we'll expand out to other services and other organizations within the government."

The program really began last summer as a practical need, when All-Star Week came to Kansas City. Stone, who is on the Sports Video Group's Veterans in Production advisory board, had met Thede and said she would be interested in qualified reservists who might help as "utilities." These are typically staffers who are first on-site to unload trucks and last to leave after post-event loading, doing whatever other tasks need doing along the way. That worked so well that the Network utilized more USAR utilities at the World Series in San Francisco, will use more in the World Baseball Classic and started the year-long program.

"It's a way to get returning veterans into the broadcast workforce, because a lot of them have good tangential skills that translate well," Stone said. "We're always complaining about how we don't have people who have the right computer skills that transfer to the broadcast world."

In addition to the technical skills that transfer, Mallory said: "The work ethic is first rate. The attitude is extraordinary."

The Army Reserve is 205,000 strong. To avoid redundancies, Thede said the EPO consolidated its database of personnel with the office of the Secretary of Defense's Hero 2 Hired program and transferred over about 43,300 service members.

"They're not all Army Reserves, because we didn't turn anyone away," Thede said.

The 43,300 also includes veterans who were honorably discharged.

DePrisco was thrilled to be pulled from that database. He started Jan. 14 at MLB Network's studio in Secaucus, and said after the Pentagon trip: "It's amazing. It's funny, when I actually look at it, it's like, 'Wow, I'm really doing something no one else has done.'"

He was born and raised on Long Island, and at the age of 8 became a Cubs fan for life when he reached into a box of 1986 baseball cards and pulled out a Ryne Sandberg. Now his Cubs are one of 30 teams he caters to through his work on a 24/7 TV network.

"It's really cool to see the parallels as well as the differences between what we do in the Army versus the civilian counterparts of our jobs."
-- Spc. Christopher Tobey

"Once I see my work on TV for itself, I'll know that's why we're in this," DePrisco said. "It is cool. There's a bit of stepping up out of the box. I come from a print background. Through the military is where I started learning editing, motion graphics. With every project, every day, I have to learn new things. I have grown by leaps and bounds. It's insane how much I have learned so far."

Tobey, a Tigers fan, has worked on a couple of different spots on the studio floor, and more recently in the control room, working with lighting and video personnel. He said his highlight so far is the "open" reception he has received from others.

"What I did in the Army Reserve was similar to a lot of these positions, but definitely not as specialized as all these jobs are," he said. "We were kind of a one-man-band deal in the Army Reserve, wearing a bunch of hats. I do broadcast and print. It's really cool to see the parallels as well as the differences between what we do in the Army versus the civilian counterparts of our jobs.

"It is difficult as a reservist to really find a niche. I know so many reservists who kind of get bit by the combat bug, they try to jump on other deployments and go two or three times in three or four years or so. It's tough to spend that much time doing similar jobs in the civilian sector, tough to find out how to reintegrate yourself into a civilian job market. Programs like this really do help with the transition."

As America's involvement in Afghanistan wanes, the case for employing vets becomes even more important. Thede said it was "amazing" to see Talley's support and interaction in this effort.

"He is an amazing leader and someone who supports this program so much," Thede said. "He told the soldiers we're in this apprentice program with MLB to make sure they keep square in their mind the priorities. The first priority is their family, the second priority is the employer and the third priority is the Army Reserves. Staying employed and taking care of their families is important to their readiness."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.