There Is No Offseason for…Mike Vassallo

It’s been awhile since the last installment of “There’s No Offseason for…”

That’s the series where I aim to dispel what I call “the myth of the offseason” by profiling people and departments across the organization to help you understand what goes on at One Brewers Way during the winter months when baseball is not played at Miller Park.

I recently caught up with Senior Director of Media Relations Mike Vassallo who, at 40, has already been working in the industry for over 20 years.

We sat down to discuss how he got into baseball, the ins and outs of his job (in season and out of season), wrestling and more. Read on.

Here sits Senior Director of Media Relations Mike Vassallo. After 20 years in the business, his office is a treasure trove of cherished memorabilia.

Here sits Senior Director of Media Relations Mike Vassallo. After 20 years in the business, his office is a treasure trove of cherished memorabilia.

Ever since he was a little boy growing up in Long Island, Mike says he’s wanted to be in baseball.

“Obviously I wasn’t dreaming of being the Media Relations Director then…. As a kid, I wanted to be a player, like everybody else.”

Nonetheless, the baseball seed was planted and by the time he went off to college, Mike had tailored his aspirations to becoming a baseball announcer, enrolling in the broadcasting program at Oswego State University in upstate New York.

While still in school, a chance encounter with Hall of Famer and then Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto would forever change the path of his career.

It was 1995 and Mike’s stepfather, who works at Pfizer (the pharmaceutical company), had arranged a  summer job for Mike at the company, as he so often did, in whatever department needed help.

One night that summer, Mike had tickets to the Yankees game and planned to leave straight from work to meet his friend there, but he wasn’t yet entirely familiar with the subway system.

Enter Andy, an older gentleman who worked at Pfizer as a greeter in the lobby and manning the elevators, etc. Andy’s night job happened to be doing the same thing at Yankee Stadium, so Mike and Andy left work together on that fateful night and headed to The House That Ruth Built.

“I brought a baseball with me because I was a big fan of Phil Rizzuto….I knew Andy knew him and I wanted to get his autograph,” Mike recalls.

“So we got to the game and I’m outside the elevator. Phil Rizzuto comes off. Andy introduces me. I get my ball signed. I’m all happy. I step aside to wait for the elevator to go meet my friend and I overhear Phil say to Andy, ‘My assistant never shows up anymore. I think I’m gonna have to get a new one,’” Mike recounts, affecting Phil’s strong New York accent as he tells the story.

The enterprising 20-year old wasted no time.

“I think I might have even raised my hand….I said ‘I’ll do it for free!’ Of course [Phil] was taken aback at first because he had just met me five minutes before, but Andy said, ‘Oh, he’ll do a good job. Give him a chance.’”

And that’s how Mike got his first job in baseball as the personal assistant to Phil Rizzuto. For the rest of the summer, whenever the Yankees were on Channel 11, Mike was happy to be Phil’s gopher, getting him his coffee, keeping score for him during the innings he didn’t announce and whatever else needed to done.

Holy cow! How time flies. Here’s Mike with Phil Rizzuto, the man who took a chance on him back in 1995.

Holy cow! How time flies.
Here’s Mike with Phil Rizzuto, the man who took a chance on him back in 1995.

 

That experience helped Mike get a real internship with the Yankees in 1997 which led to him getting an entry-level job in the Yankees Media Relations department where he worked in 1998 and 1999. (Fun fact: Mike says he didn’t dislike the Yankees, but he was a Mets fan growing up.)

From there, he took a job with the Cincinnati Reds as Assistant Director of Media Relations, where he worked for six years before joining the Brewers as Director of Media Relations in middle of Spring Training in 2006.

As the current Senior Director of Media Relations, Mike’s department includes Ken Spindler (Senior Manager of Media Relations) and Zach Weber (Manager of Media Relations).

These three guys are responsible for handling interviews and media requests, writing press releases, keeping stats and more.

“I kind of forgot about the broadcasting stuff because this worked out so well,” Mike says.

In particular, Mike is the primary contact for interviews with our players, Manager Craig Counsell and General Manager David Stearns.

Mike says that part of his job is not as demanding during the offseason as it is during the season—for the players at least.

“Sometimes in the offseason, it’s actually more demanding because of all the Hot Stove talk, so the requests for GM go up a little bit,” said Mike.

And of course, the stove will be heating up even more with next week’s Winter Meetings, so Mike will be traveling to Nashville with the Brewers contingent.

In season, Mike and his team are responsible for producing the game notes, which is a six-page packet containing updated statistical information and bio information of all the players that comes out for every game during the season.

While there aren’t game notes during the offseason, there is still plenty of stat and bio work to be done.

“I’m the lead writer on the media guide. I do all the bios for the 40-man roster and the non-roster players for the media guide. I’m working on that right now,” Mike said.

Those items will take Mike and his team right up to Spring Training.

For Cactus League play, Mike will typically relocate to Arizona for a good six weeks. However, this year will be a little different as he and his wife Jeana are expecting their first child, a baby boy due February 26.

So instead of heading down in mid-February as he usually does, Mike will wait until about two weeks after Baby Vassallo joins their team to travel down to Arizona to catch up with his staff and the Cactus Crew.

Speaking of travel Mike is also the primary media relations contact that travels with the team, making about three-quarters of the roadtrips during the season.

“My favorite part (of my job) and least favorite are the same thing—travel,” Mike says. “It’s my favorite part because I get to visit all these great cities and stadiums and it’s the least because it takes me away from home and my wife—and kid next year.”

In his two decades working in the field, Mike says the main thing that’s changed his job is social media.

Mike is also responsible for writing all the baseball-related press releases—roster moves, injury updates, etc.—and he says, “I can’t remember the last time that I did a press release about a trade where it wasn’t already on social media. I feel like our press releases now just confirm what’s already all over social media, whereas in the past, we’d write the press release and that’s how people would find out.”

While social media presents some challenges from that side of things, along with generating false rumors and making things tougher for Baseball Operations, etc., Mike is quick to point out that it’s also a positive thing (which is good since you know, I’m the Director of New Media and all).

“Whenever we have a player or a manager do an interview, I put it right there on Twitter….How would we get the word out so quickly in the past?”

Speaking of Twitter, that’s another part of Mike’s gig. Since he’s the first to know about roster moves and injury updates, as well as TV/Radio interviews, etc., he’s able to assist us in the New Media Department by putting that information up on Twitter right away. But it doesn’t stop there.

Known amongst the media for sprinkling the game notes with interesting tidbits, such as these….

Mike has great access and often helps us capture some great moments for social media as well:

With so much to cover and traveling on a smaller percentage of road trips, I definitely appreciate Mike’s creativity and contributions!

Another thing you might not know is that Mike has a hand in some of the music that ends up being played at Miller Park.

“I’m pretty much the person that collects the players’ music for the scoreboard, which is kind of fun because sometimes I suggest songs to them and they use them,” Mike said.

[For those of you who don’t know what we’re talking about, check out the list of Brewers walk-up music.]

Because he’s sometimes seen as the conduit for getting those song selections to the scoreboard folks, Mike’s also been able to marry one of his other passions with baseball—wrestling.

“I’ve liked it since I was 10 years old. 1985 Wrestlemania was the first one and it’s just something I never grew out of I guess…. I think we all have our guilty pleasures. I just take it for what it is. I just find it really entertaining,” Mike says.

So, oftentimes those songs Mike suggests to players involve wrestling.

“I’ve had quite a few over the years. The first one was Tim Raines, (an outfielder) with the Yankees. He was the first person that I remember approaching and saying, ‘Hey why don’t you use this song?’ and it was a wrestling song,” Mike said.

And that’s how Rock Raines started using The Rock’s theme song for a time.

Among the Brewers that he’s converted, Mike counts Todd Coffey (Ultimate Warrior), Nori Aoki (Fandango), Lyle Overbay (Adam Rose), and Shane Peterson (New Day).

“There have been probably at least 10 players over the years,” Mike says.

In his 20 years in the sport, Mike’s certainly experienced a lot, but among the things that stand out most for him include various Postseason appearances.

“I got spoiled right off the bat…We (the Yankees) won the World Series in 1998 and 1999,” said Mike.

Winning the World Series is the ultimate goal for anyone in baseball. Mike Vassallo, pictured here with Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner, was fortunate enough to reach this pinnacle during his first full season in MLB.

Winning the World Series is the ultimate goal for anyone in baseball. Mike Vassallo, pictured here with Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner, was fortunate enough to reach this pinnacle during his first full season in MLB.

 

But while he cherishes his Yankees World Series ring, he still counts the Brewers Wildcard season in 2008 among his fondest memories.

“It was awesome being part of that because we hadn’t made the playoffs in 26 years, so it was just real exciting but in a different way. With the Yankees it was just expected every year…. It was exciting but it wasn’t as exciting as ’08 where we just came out of nowhere and the whole thing when CC was here, that was a great experience,” Mike said.

Of course, 2011 ranks right up there for Mike as well—winning the division, Nyjer Morgan’s walk-off hit in Game 5 of the NLDS, etc.

But for Mike, many of his favorite memories are off the field, too—the relationships he’s made and maintained over the years.

“It’s all the friendships,” Mike says. “I get to hang out with Bob Uecker on the road. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Indeed. We may not have a true offseason in baseball, but we’re lucky to be surrounded by great people who share our same passion and help make long hours go by quickly.

To keep up with Mike both in-season and during the offseason, follow him on Twitter @MikeVassallo 13.

Stay tuned for more “There is No Offseason” profiles. Is there anyone in particular that you’d like me to highlight? If so, please let me know in the comments below!

-Cait

@CMoyer

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