My Internship with the South Bend Cubs
Thomas Zwiller | Tuesday, April 25, 2023
In my time at The Observer, I have written about baseball just once. I have spent the vast majority writing about Holy Cross sports or my obsession with college and professional football.
Yet my first love was indeed baseball. One of my earliest sports memories is getting my first Little League jersey and cap and proudly trying out my first bat. For the next week of practice leading up to my weekend game, I proudly told people that I played for the Chicago Cubs. My dad, on the other hand, was quick to remind me I played for the Saint Joseph Little League team.
And while I was terrible at baseball, I loved playing … until my league decided to remove the batting tee, making us bat from a pitching machine. That was well beyond my skill level, and I lost my love of the sport.
However, one thing that kept me interested in the sport was my family’s occasional visits to Four Winds Fields back when it was still home to the Silver Hawks. Going to the park and getting to see players try and make it to the show was always exciting. I always enjoyed my family outings to the park.
So, when the Holy Cross College Internship program suggested the chance to work for the South Bend Cubs, I leaped at the opportunity. Now rebranded as the South Bend Cubs (the High-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs), to me, it felt like destiny.
The position that the Cubs offered to me was on the team’s production staff. I would help produce the broadcast for MiLB.TV and with their in-stadium entertainment. I could work everything from replay to the audio mixer and, my favorite, the in-stadium cameras.
My first game was on Tuesday, April 11. As the Cubs began their title defense, and I was stationed in the outfield wall (the camera that looks down the pitcher’s mound onto home plate).
My assignment was fairly simple, I would shoot down the plate to catch the pitch at the best possible angle. Should something happen, I would move to where the action was. Then, I would get back into position before the next pitch.
I absolutely made mistakes. I moved when I thought the director had taken me off the main screen, and I was slow to get back in position from time to time. But I learned the basics of operating my camera and figuring out some of the flow of the game.
And while the Cubs mounted a fantastic ninth-inning comeback, they couldn’t quite win the game, falling short in the tenth. And as I walked on the warning from my spot in the outfield, I felt giddy as fireworks coated the sky. I had helped make a fun and exciting game. And I will keep doing so for the rest of the summer and as long as the season lasted.
If Tuesday was Camera Basics 101, Friday and Saturday were more like Game Production 110. Now stationed inside the main production office, I worked the audio, switching back and forth from the broadcast talent to the PA when needed, and I also worked the score bug.
Those two tasks weren’t super time-consuming, just requiring me to follow along with the flow of the game so I could mix the audio as we faded to black. Being inside the production office allowed me to see what the director could actually see and why he made cuts when he did, getting the best angles for different shots and seeing how other veteran cameramen followed players, balls and shot flavor.
Being on the outfield camera, I could only hear what the director wanted everyone to do in my headset. Now, seated just feet from him, I could see why he made the decisions he did. It allowed me to learn more for when I would work a camera again.
That opportunity came Sunday, though the conditions were a lot different than my first few games. Sunday was cold, and freezing, with strong winds and a near-frozen rain. Standing in my camera well, I shook and shivered, hands protected from my camera’s rain gear. While I had worked a camera my first day, it would be the rain gear that made my first day tricky. My camera’s monitor was obstructed by the plastic that protected it from rain, so I struggled to see what I was shooting. What also did not help was the dark plastic that obstructed my view of the body of the camera, blocking my view of critical functions like the white-balancing button, as well as the rings that let me adjust my iris and my focus.
During a normal game, the light changes, and camera operators need to do things like white balancing, which allows for more natural color, and iris, which helps with brightness. I was able to find and operate these functions quickly without the raingear. With it, I was slow to figure out where the rings were, meaning I was slower to respond to direction.
As I’ve said, I made mistakes. For example, my director told me to put my camera’s rain gear back on (I had been able to take if off for a few innings with a break in the rain.) I was slow to get it fixed properly and missed some of the game while getting it back in place.
However, I did have a high of lining up a perfect shot on a hotly contested safe call. That led to getting an on-air compliment from one of the broadcasters and plenty of compliments from my director. While the mistakes made me frustrated, nailing that shot felt great and filled me with satisfaction. I was learning and getting better in real time. In just my second time working with a professional-grade camera, I was making meaningful contributions, despite my handful of gaffs.
A lot of people have asked me if I am enjoying my time with the Cubs. My answer is always the same. Every day so far, I have learned something, I have done something right and I have made a mistake.
Every time I do those three things (though hopefully more of the first two and less of the last one) I have fun. I have had fun four times now and am looking forward to having more for the rest of the summer.
So — go Cubs, go.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.