It was a late night Monday for 11-year-old David Okula, a budding sports broadcaster and New York Mets fan. The news of a blockbuster trade sending former Met Jose Reyes to Colorado in exchange for shortstop Troy Tulowitzki took preeminence over any bedtime.
A journalist has work to do.
“The trade happened pretty late,” said David, who’s entering sixth grade at Southold Elementary School. “There was definitely a lot of rumors that Reyes was coming back [to New York].”
For David, sports is more than a childhood passion. He aspires to become a professional broadcaster and he’s already been recognized for his play-by-play abilities. David recently placed second in the annual SNY Kidcaster contest, where 10 finalists get the chance to try play-by-play in front of a panel of judges. The winner joins the Mets broadcasters in the booth for half an inning, live on air. The consolation prize for David as the runner-up was a chance to interview Mets field reporter Steve Gelbs that will air on SNY’s “Kids Clubhouse” program later this week. He and his family also received field-level tickets to a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers last week and passes to walk on the field during batting practice. David and his brothers posed for a picture with their idol, pitcher Matt Harvey.
“He came over and spent time with us one-on-one,” said Kim Okula, David’s mother. “It was really cool. They got to talk to him and he signed autographs. He was super nice.”
That David finished second in the contest was to be expected, in a sense. Both of his older brothers were runner-ups in the contest in prior years. Sean, who’s turning 16, placed second in 2010 and Jake, who’s 14, also was second in 2011. The winner in 2011, 11-year-old Jacob Resnick, was in the booth when Reyes hit a home run. His emphatic call quickly went viral online.
David first applied two years ago once he was old enough to qualify. He didn’t make it. This year, he figured he’d give it another try.
“It was a big motivation for me to keep trying and see what happens,” he said.
The contest starts with an essay. David was required to answer a question of how you would convince a friend who had never seen a Mets game to watch the team. He had 100 words max.
In a style perfect for the Internet age, he wrote his essay as a Top-10 list.
Answers included, No. 10: deGrom’s pitching is as great as his hair and No. 5: HARVEY DAY!
His No. 1 reason centered around the SNY broadcasters: “Gary, Ron and Keith are the BEST announcing team in MLB. They will make you want to watch EVERY Mets game.”
Ten finalists were chosen based on their essays. The winners auditioned at the SNY studio in New York. Each finalist was presented two plays of an old Mets game in the studio. It was up to them to provide the play-by-play as a camera focused in.
“I was taking pictures and I think my hand was shaking,” David’s mom said. “He was cool as a cucumber. He didn’t even waver at all.”
David admitted he was a little nervous. His brothers gave him some advice beforehand, mostly to avoid any dead air.
One play David called was a walk-off single. The other play had a twist. The Mets were in the field and the batter hit a fly ball to left field as a runner tried to tag from third. The left fielder was Darrell Ceciliani, who was a recent Triple-A call-up and not exactly a household name.
David got a glimpse of the clip before his audition, giving him a second to think to himself what he would say.
For his interview with Gelbs, David asked him what a typical day at work is like, at what age did he realize he wanted to get into broadcasting and whether he hangs out with players off the field.
The answer to the last question was no, although Gelbs and the other TV and radio broadcasters travel with players on the team plane.
“He was really nice,” David said. “He gave very detailed answers.”
The Kids Clubhouse show airs at 11:30 a.m. on the first Saturday of every month during baseball season, according to the station’s website.
For David, he hopes his first television appearance is just the beginning.
“I would definitely hope to be a broadcaster when I grow up,” he said.
[Caption: David Okula, center, was the most recent member of the family to finish second in SNY’s Kidcaster Contest. The boys, Sean (left) and Jake all got to meet Mets starting pitcher Matt Harvey before a game against the Dodgers. (Credit: Courtesy photo)]