1What was your journey like in landing your role as Assistant Director, Athletic Communications for Women's Volleyball and Baseball at the University of Illinois?
So, when I went to Oklahoma State University, I had every plan to go into broadcasting until I hit my senior year and kind of discovered that this really isn't for me. All of my friends were working in the athletics communications office.
So I thought, let's try that out, it looks fun. I didn't get hired, but Gavin Lang the Associate AD/Communications was very generous and allowed me to work as a volunteer in the office and I absolutely ran with it.
By the spring semester, I was doing work with the women's golf team. Then for the second half of that semester, I was traveling with Patrick Osborne for women's softball. That's when I really started thinking that I could do this.
So, after that year I wasn't sure exactly what to do after graduation to get into the field, so I ended up with a video production job the following summer with the Joliet Slammers of the Frontier League for a season.
It was that winter when I went to the MLB Winter Meetings for the first time and was able to somehow land an internship with the Texas Rangers.
That year was filled with a lot of challenges because I was still fairly raw with my skill and there were times when I just really had no idea what I was doing!
So, after that year, I landed another internship with the Memphis Redbirds and Michael Schroeder, who was the Director of Media and Public Relations at the time, really built my skills up and entrusted me with nearly the entirety of the gameday operation, which helped me grow a lot.
I was supposed to intern for the Iowa Cubs before the pandemic ruined that season, but I was very fortunate enough to land a job as an MLB Gameday stringer the following season just to keep myself working in baseball.
I began that summer plotting how to get back into baseball and essentially cold-called every media relations director in baseball to see if there would be any openings, full-time or another internship for next season, and that's how I secured my spot with the Norfolk Tides this year.
It was a crazy long journey, but I had the best time going through it all.
2You mentioned about the challenges you faced as an intern for the Texas Rangers. How did you get through them and what was your biggest learning experience from your time there?
I just kept working my hardest each day and tried to learn as much as I possibly could.
Making a leap from one year of college athletics to Major League Baseball was pretty intense and the grind of a full baseball season can get tiring the first time going through.
I think the biggest thing I learned was just how the industry works and I spent a lot of time just taking in how everything is done.
3What are three specific skills you learned throughout this journey that will help you as you assume your role at the University of Illinois?
Having a lot of experience in minor league baseball, it's pretty much a given that you will end up taking on many different roles and I made sure to take it upon myself while I was at OSU to be as well-rounded as possible in many different areas so that I could do pretty much anything I needed to. So there have been times when I've needed to do things outside of my normal duties, but I'm able to do so easily because I'm comfortable handling any sort of task.
I always had been used to working 12-14 hour days from when I worked at a local country club, so going into that first internship with the Texas Rangers I had incidentally prepared myself a little bit for that grind, but there really is no way to prep for 7-10 game homestands when it seems like you're only existing at the ballpark. But really embracing that grind and being enthusiastic and passionate about the work you're doing makes those long days a lot easier.
I really honed in at every spot on how I could get my pre-game tasks completed as efficiently as possible just in case something does pop up during the day it doesn't throw off my schedule completely and it also just helps me feel more prepared going into those home games when there's a lot of things that need to be taken care of. Not spending the whole day at my desk also frees up time to go hang out with the players during batting practice and build relationships with them, so they're not just seeing me when they need to be bothered for interview requests.
4What would be your advice to people who are currently in the same boat you were in (i.e. going through several internships, part-time roles) as you worked towards landing this job at University of Illinois?
Embrace the challenge of it all, wherever you end up along the way.
I could have never imagined living in so many different places, but I loved every single place I got to work and I met so many great people at every spot that really shaped who I am today.
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5What personal goals do you have for yourself? What eventually do you hope to become in this industry?
This first semester, I want to be able to catch on fairly quickly how to cover volleyball and all the intricacies that most likely come with.
I'm excited to see what kind of challenges I'll get to face right away working a sport that I only have really basic knowledge of.
Long term, I'll actually have to figure out one.
Just landing this job has been my goal for a while, so I'll need to create some new ones for myself.
Mike's Final Thoughts
Connor Tomko took a long journey before finally landing his role as the Assistant Director of Athletics Communications for Women's Volleyball and Baseball at the University of Illinois. Connor admittedly intended to get into broadcasting before he realized it wasn't for him. This eventually led him to a career in communications, where he held internships with several baseball clubs, including the Texas Rangers of the Major League Baseball. As someone who went through a lot before getting a full-time communications role at an NCAA Division 1 program, he shares valuable advice to aspiring young sports professionals who may be going through the same thing.