Not many 9-year-olds who are asked the common question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” answer, “A journalist.”
But Jake Okula of Peconic recently decided that’s exactly what he wants to be, thanks to a contest run by the television station SportsNet New York (SNY).
For an essay he wrote and a series of baseball plays he announced in front of a panel, Jake won the opportunity to interview SNY field reporter Kevin Burkhardt at a recent game between the Oakland Athletics and the New York Mets.
He was one of 10 youngsters from the tri-state area, all between 7 and 15, selected to read essays they’d written in response to the question, “If you were Mets manager Terry Collins, what would you say to the team before Game 7 of the World Series?”
Jake wrote that he’d inspire the team, which hasn’t won a World Series in more than two decades, with three values: determination, loyalty and legacy.
After reading his essay aloud to a panel of SNY judges, Jake had to announce three plays, off a replay of a game, with sports broadcaster flair. He effortlessly called out a home run, a steal and the finish of a game all the while dropping the names of Mets stars.
“You could tell he was very knowledgeable about the Mets,” said SNY senior coordinating producer Julie Frahm, who sat on the panel. “And something we looked for was personality. He stood out.”
Jake took second place and then prepared for his interview with Mr. Burkhardt. He asked the well-known reporter which player on a team with many young athletes has been the most pleasant surprise this season, and which Met would be the most fun for his Little League team, the Blue Sox, to meet.
Mr. Burkhardt replied that infielders Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada surprised him most this season, proving they belong in major league baseball. He said infielder Jose Reyes, with his energetic disposition and permanent smile, would be the best choice for Jake’s fellow Little Leaguers to meet.
Jake, who is now playing on the North Fork All Stars, has always wanted to be a professional baseball player. But now that he’s had a taste of sports journalism, he’s hoping he’ll be able to swing both careers.
“The contest definitely put the idea in my head that being a sports reporter could be really fun and a great experience,” he said.
Jake’s mom, Kim, said the experience opened his eyes to the behind-the-scenes aspect of the game he loves so much and instilled an air of confidence in him. And the whole family — including Jake’s older brother, Sean, who ironically won second place in the contest last year — was treated to field seats right behind home plate at the Mets’ June 23 game, an exciting prize for a family of fans who have a bathroom painted in blue and orange, the Mets’ colors.
Ms. Frahm said SNY has run the contest for the last three years to connect with its fan base and give kids hands-on experience in a career they might not otherwise consider.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to gain confidence and do something they wouldn’t normally do,” she said. “To get that at such a young age is an invaluable experience.”