FROM THE VAULT: Behind the Bylines: An Oral History of Center Field

Over the next few days, Center Field will be running one story from each year of our existence to commemorate our five-year anniversary.

“Behind the Bylines” features quotes from founding members of the site as they discuss how Center Field came to be and its progress as it celebrated its first birthday.

By Center Field Editorial Team • February 12, 2019

Most of the students who walk by Lowell Thomas, Room 141 feel one of two emotions:

  • Jealousy. ESPN is always on, coffee is always being consumed, and laughter is always being shared.
  • Curiosity. Why is it that the same group of students is always there, laptops opened, conversation flowing? This is NOT the typical college academic experience.

Either of these emotions is justified, and the sentiment of confusion is warranted. No, this is not the typical college experience, but that’s because what occurs behind those three glass windows we call “The Center” is anything but. It’s our home without a bed, our family without a present dog, and our life. It’s Center Field.

Today, we celebrate with those same cups of coffee (but not you, Meaghan) we tend to spend far too much Thrifty Cash on, clinking them together to say, “happy birthday to us.” It was on this day one year ago that two students and their interim director birthed an idea that had somehow never existed: a website covering Marist Athletics, run by students and for students. In the ensuing oral history, you’ll hear from the site’s founders and original team. While their interviews have been edited and condensed due to Marco’s rambling tendencies and my own over-explaining, the passion that we have for this project still shines. Here’s to many more meetings, laughs, stories, and years. – Will Bjarnar

I – The Start

“When I started here in the 2017-18 school year, I realized that this was a Division I college with a sports com. concentration and nobody seemed to be covering the Marist sports team. Which felt like such a missed opportunity because as a sports writer [or] as a sports broadcaster, that is traditionally how you get your start: by covering your own college. So I had this idea to start a sports outlet because somebody needed to take the opportunity to cover Marist sports.” Leander Schaerlaeckens

“I was going to do this at some point down the line, but then I casually mentioned it to Marco Schaden and Matt Rzodkiewicz. They both got really excited and said ‘no, no, we have to do this now.’ They were both not far from graduating, and they were like, ‘we want to be part of this, we need to do this sooner.’ So that is what kind of got the ball rolling.” Leander

“Around October of 2017, me, Marco, Kristin, and some other kids that were previously involved with Strudler [met and] kind of discussed how things were going to go over from here. We talked about what Leander’s role would be and we talked about what we wanted to continue and what we didn’t want to continue between Strudler and Leander. We talked about how we wanted to get more student involvement and less faculty.” Matt Rzodkiewicz

“I wrote and worked for blogs beforehand, but I hadn’t really had any consistent reporting experience because blogging is all about writing your opinion and writing some game recaps, but there’s very little reporting that goes into that and I hadn’t really had any reporting experience yet. And even less in an administrative role, whether that be in supervising writers, staff. So I guess my personal goal was to gain some experience managing a team and going out and doing some reporting. And I wanted to learn more web design and I wanted to teach myself more things.” Matt

“I was approached by Marco Schaden. He said, ‘Hey, I want to start this up in the sports com. program and get it involved with Leander (Schaerlaeckens),’ [to] have something where we could cover Marist sports from a student perspective. From my background in video, that’s kind of the path that I took.” Nick Rudzewick (Rudz)

“We might have had 75 or 85 people show up to the very first meeting. It was packed and I remember I had to go up there and talk, and I was petrified. We didn’t have a website up; we didn’t have anything concrete. Nothing was set in place when we had that first meeting, so trying to explain what Center Field was going to be was kind of difficult.” Marco Schaden

“My beginning with Center Field goes like this: I walked into the Center, wondering where Leander was because I had a question about becoming an intern for the sports communication faculty. There was one person sitting there and it was Matt. He looked at me and said, ‘Hey! You are the Social Media Director of Center Field,’ and I said, ‘No I’m not,’ and he said, ‘Yes, you are.’ I said, ‘okay.’ That was that.” Will Bjarnar

“Leander was like, ‘We have this new project coming up called Center Field… I’ll give you an editor position so this way, you can do enough hours to get you two internship credits.’ That was the first time I had heard of Center Field, and I think it was a week before we came back for the spring semester. I literally came into it blind. It just kind of fell into my lap thanks to Leander trying to help me out with a couple credits.” Kristin Dolan

“I was the Director of Multimedia. Recruiting was really important for us because if you’re going to start a website, you’re going to need not only writers but also photographers. Matt and I recruited some other people to take pictures at as many games as we could so our articles could have original pictures.” Rudz

“I ran into Leander and he asked, ‘Did they ever reach out to you about that?’ I said no and he said he would tell Marco to email me. I showed up to a meeting later that day, and I walked out as the Executive Editor when I didn’t really know anyone walking into it. They kind of threw that responsibility at me which I was surprisingly happy about.” Meaghan Roche

“We wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before at this school and create individual content by students on their terms. We don’t often give our pieces to Leander to look over unless they are really big things, so it’s a student who might be a 21-year-old editing someone who might be 18 and they are having a conversation like students have. I think that’s a beautiful thing.” Will

“I was going to do this at some point down the line, but then I casually mentioned it to Marco Schaden and Matt Rzodkiewicz. They both got really excited and said ‘no, no, we have to do this now.’” – Leander Schaerlaeckens

II – The Challenges

“Matt was in charge of basically starting up the website which was huge, and Matt did a great job with that. I gave a layout of what I wanted, but at the end of the day we knew we were going to have to compromise on some of the things and ideas we wanted if we wanted to start right away because we were not going to be able to start from scratch.” Marco

“Compromising was key, whether that meant bringing Leander in or asking advice from [others involved]. I think both Marco and I, whether we like to say it or not, admitted when we were wrong. I think that was probably the biggest hurdle, the conflicting opinions between us… Marco and I definitely butted heads a few times. As frustrating as that was, I think that’s a healthy thing when you have two people at the top of your staff disagreeing.” Matt

“The next thing was, we have these writers — how are we going to create a structure with the editorial team to edit stories and to come up with story ideas? I think the way that the editing structure was created worked well and that was huge. If it didn’t work, we would be right back at square one.” Marco

“I was skeptical, only because half the publications [on campus], whether online or in print, just didn’t do well. I feel like knowing that and knowing a lot of the kids we’d be recruiting as writers and people who worked on video projects and reporters, I just didn’t see them wanting to commit right off the bat. Then we started having staff and writer’s meetings and like 20 people were there, consistently there every week. At that point, I was like, ‘This is actually gonna work.’” Kristin

“Being Managing Editor last semester kind of helped me to figure out what big problems are. I think the beginning of any company or outlet they find difficulties in getting your footing. We kept having the rug ripped out from under our feet. And it was frustrating, but I think that by getting past that, we have been on a steadier path now.” Will

“We had two big stories coming out of [Mike Maker’s firing]: one saying Maker was going to stay, and one saying that Murray had flip-flopped and that Maker was going to be fired. I think that really started what Center Field was trying to do. It was trying to cover Marist Athletics and we weren’t going to give them a pass.” Marco

“We aren’t going away. We were born a year ago. Publications don’t just go a year and then say, ‘Okay I think we’re good,’ so I think that they finally realized that we are here to stay and say, ‘you know what? let’s make this a relationship that’s going to move forward cohesively and in harmony.’” Will

“People are going to realize, ‘Okay, they are doing a lot of great work, let’s pay attention to this.’ But our audiences, to be blunt, are Marist affiliates or athletes, or athletes’ parents and coaches and social media accounts for those teams. I think we all understand, but it’s frustrating because we’d like to have 500 to 1,000 views per article and we don’t get that [right now]. It’s going to take a long time, but I think that’s something that we can keep chipping away at.” Will

“I started out as a skeptic, but once I saw that people were committed and saw the stuff we were putting out, I knew that it was going to be good. And [the current students] have continued the work even though some of the original people have graduated.” Kristin

III – The Highlights

“If you have the ambition to start an online platform and you can show within the first month that you’ve garnered this many views, then it just shows your work ethic. It shows what you’re willing to put in.” Kristin

“I think Marco set us out on a really good note in a way. I think he was aggressive enough to set a precedent — to the Athletic Department, not just the staff — that this is going to be serious. I don’t know if I would have been as aggressive.” Matt

“The fact that we got this together so quickly and we’ve had a pretty good number of legitimately good journalistic pieces is awesome. And the variety that we’ve covered — not just gamers but the interesting features about different Marist Athletics related stories. All the multimedia that we have brought in over the last year, and even though it’s small, but the following that we have grown so far. Mainly, I just feel proud of everyone’s work.” Meaghan

“There were six people on the editorial staff. That was another big plus for the first semester. Marco and I thought we could run it ourselves, and that just turned out to be completely untrue with the number of people we had coming to us and writing for us. We needed Meaghan and Will and Kristin and Rudz.” Matt

“Leander wanted to get younger people involved. So, Will was awesome to be on board as Social Media Director. I think he definitely brought some different ideas to it and he’s not afraid to be creative or different, which is huge when you’re starting something new.” Marco

“Kristin really excelled as Managing Editor. I don’t know if we would have gotten a lot of interview access without her. Kristin was dogged in hounding the Athletic Department for interviews and would follow up almost every day. She wasn’t even in the initial planning, so to have her was just really a plus.” Matt

“I think the addition of consistent video content last semester was really important. I think the metrics on the website didn’t support it as well as written content, but I think it’s important to have a variety.” Matt

Rudz’s hockey video stands out, the football story was also big. I think for me, I’m very proud of my Jon Kanda piece… I worked really hard on it and talked to as many people as I could to get information for that story.” Will

“You’ll do a profile of somebody everyone knows on campus, but I feel like if you saw Kanda walking down the hall, you’d know that he played football… not everyone necessarily knows that he’s from the Congo. Those types of content show a different side to the athletes and show a different side to [the writers] that is also very engaging. The more you diversify your content, it makes you more palpable to people outside of Marist sports fans.” Kristin

“We ran one the other day that I really loved… an oral history of Rik Smits. A student went in depth, and talked to a lot of people and crafted that. Then we had two editors worked on that for months, sharpening it and shaving it down to what it had to be. So that came together as something that turned out really well.” Leander

“The most fun was definitely the Puparazzi piece and I kind of helped a little bit of directing with that. But the best print piece just journalistically might have been one we just put out recently: Oscar’s marketing story. I thought that was really interesting and a good comparison, comparing the athletic program from the past to today.” Meaghan

“Just getting out and reporting, getting out and writing, on a deadline, with an editor is something that approximates a real newsroom. So it is a practical experience that isn’t so much in the curriculum that is beneficial no matter where you wind up.” Leander

“If I were to show an employer what projects I worked on, I would pull up Center Field’s website.” Kristin

“We wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before at this school and create individual content by students on their terms.” – Will Bjarnar

IV – The Future

“I think that we will just continue to grow. I know that sounds pretty simple, but it’s going to be a challenge and I am proud to be a part of that challenge. I hope that the kids that come after us continue to further this thing along. I have faith that kids care enough about this that they care to really make sure that it succeeds that it continues to grow and become a better publication year after year.” Will

“I think we have made great strides… But I’d love to expand: I would love to do more video, I would love to have more dedicated writers. But we are a year in, which I hadn’t realized. I think that we have come a pretty long way.” Leander

“I hope the staff doubles and [the current students] will be able to put out that content that I was hoping to put out, maybe double it. I see a lot of potential in the future, with the management structure in particular. The current students are all capable and driven people… I think they can accomplish whatever they want.” Matt

“I really want to encourage the younger members who are currently involved and those who aren’t yet to get involved because this has been one of my favorite things about my time at Marist. I made a lot of new friends through it and I honestly do think it helped me get the internships that I had so far and will hopefully help me get a job, ultimately.” Meaghan

“Where do we go from here? Only up, man, only up. There’s nothing on Center Field’s horizon but everything.” Will

“If I were to show an employer what projects I worked on, I would pull up Center Field’s website.” – Kristin Dolan

Edited by Will Bjarnar & Meaghan Roche

Contributing Reporters: Will Bjarnar, Lily Caffrey-Levine, Oscar Fick, Meaghan Roche, David Salamone, Dan Statile, and Molly Street

Header Image by Lily Caffrey-Levine

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