Internship with Curve enhances Cal U senior's educational plans
"It's a great experience," said Lytle, a senior sport management studies major at California University of Pennsylvania. "I couldn't have asked for anything better. The hours can be long, and they have me doing a little bit of everything, but the opportunity to learn this way is something I'd never pass up. It certainly complements what we're taught at California."
Lytle, 22, a 2002 graduate of Ringgold High School, is working in the ticket office of the Curve, a Class AA Minor League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. His primary duties involve ticket sales, including the team's unique online program, but he also works with financial matters, personnel management, end of the day reports and other aspects of the club's operations.
"Jeff has been a great find for us," said Jeff Adams, director of box office operations for the Curve. "This is our first experience with someone from California University, and we are extremely pleased with his work and his attitude. He hit the ground running when he started and he has become our go-to guy when we want something done. We all put in incredibly long hours, which is a new experience to our interns, but I've never heard Jeff complain. He's so enthusiastic about learning how things are done behind the scenes and he just goes out and does the job."
Lytle, the son of Lou and Debbie Panza, of Eighty Four, began his assignment as the first Curve intern of 2006 on Jan. 23.
"That has proved beneficial to us and to Jeff," Adams said. "Being available that early in the year gave both sides the opportunity to get to know each other and build a strong working relationship. The preseason work is extremely demanding, but Jeff was well prepared by the time opening day rolled around. Coming here early in the year as he did was a definite advantage. He shows a lot of potential."
Adams, who earned a degree in telecommunications from The Pennsylvania State University, is in his fourth season with the Curve, which competes in the Eastern League.
"This is a great place to learn the ins and outs of the business, especially for someone like Jeff," Adams said. "Our stadium (Blair County Ballpark) seats 7,210 and we averaged about 5,500 fans per game last year. That means a lot of work in terms of ticket sales, promotions and marketing. This is going to be an incredible summer for the Curve as most games over the summer will sell out. And we're hosting the Eastern League All-Star Game this year, so that will be another major assignment."
While Lytle's internship runs only for the current semester, the Curve has asked him to stay on for the duration of the 2006 season. He will graduate from California University with a bachelor's degree in sport management studies on Saturday, one day before Mother's Day, which carries a special meaning to Lytle.
"My mother has always been very supportive of me," Lytle said. "She has encouraged me to pursue my dreams and not to let anything stand in my way. I'm very fortunate to have someone so loving and understanding in my life."
That big weekend notwithstanding, Lytle is eager to face the future.
"I'm looking forward to continuing here," Lytle said from the Curve administrative offices. "The team is off to a good start (6-1 after its first seven games) and if they make the playoffs, the season will go even longer. Having the All-Star Game here is something else I'm looking forward to. Add those incentives to the great people here and it's an invaluable opportunity."
The assignment in Altoona is the second in as many years with a professional baseball team for Lytle.
"I worked with the Pirates last year," Lytle recalled. "That was a good experience, too, but Jeff and the others are really giving me some important assignments, and it is proving much more beneficial. There are so many opportunities here."
Lytle said his decision to choose the sport management curriculum at Cal U was based "pretty much on a general interest in sports."
"As an active person, I have always enjoyed watching and participating in sports." he said. "I have felt for a long time that I would like to pursue a career that would allow me to go behind the scenes. The program at California strengthened that desire and the more I learned, the more I liked it. Dr. (Roy) Yarbrough has been a terrific teacher and mentor. His program prepares you well and instills a strong sense of independence. It emphasizes that you really can choose what you like to do. I keep in touch with him and go to him for advice."
Yarbrough, a nationally recognized leader in sport management studies and director of Cal U's program, is not surprised that Lytle is adapting and doing well with the Curve.
"Jeff is every professor's dream, an ideal student," Yarbrough said. "He has always displayed a willingness to learn, a very positive attitude and a commitment to doing anything that we've asked of him, and doing it well. I had no reservations about recommending him to the Curve. I thought he would be an asset to the club, and he's proving that."
Lytle displayed his openness to tackling all assignments with the Curve in his second day on the job.
Among the team's promotional features is a group called The Remnants, characters similar to the Pittsburgh Pirates' racing Pierogis. The Remnants, costumed as rolled-up rugs, are sponsored by a local carpeting firm and entertain at home games.
"We had a Hot Stove Dinner to benefit the Navasky Foundation at the end of my first week of work," Lytle said. "One of the regular Remnants couldn't make it, so I got to be 'Royal Plush' for the day. I didn't win any races, but I had a lot of fun."
Special promotions are a big part of the Curve's marketing strategy.
"We like to say every home game offers a different show every night," Adams said. "We feel we have an economic impact on the community and the region, and we have had solid support from the fans, the city of Altoona, Blair county and Central Pennsylvania in general. Because of that support, we see it as a responsibility to give the people something in return in terms of special events. We have a good baseball team and a number of our players over the past few years are now with the Pirates or on other Major League rosters. Our basic idea is to provide affordable family entertainment in a very competitive league and complement that with great memories folks will be able to take with them when they leave the ballpark."
In addition to the Curve, the team's parent company, Curve Baseball LP, also owns and operates the new State College Spikes, a Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, which will make its New York-Penn League debut this summer.
"The inaugural season for the State College Spikes is also going to provide Jeff with some very unique experiences that will complement what he has accomplished here in Altoona," Adams said of Lytle. "We're confident he can handle anything we send his way."
That type of praise for California University's sport management interns is typical of the reaction to Yarbrough's students. Through the hands-on training students receive during their undergraduate studies at Cal U, many of the interns' supervisors have been pleased with their on-the-job performance.
Sharon Talarico, of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, said a few years ago that her Cal U intern, Laura Flynn, did "an exceptional job ... She's been a great intern."
Timothy Cleary, of Bethel Park, a 2004 graduate of California University, said his experience as an intern with the Pittsburgh Steelers was very beneficial. He said he sought the assignment with the Steelers for the "experience, connections and references."
"To have the Steelers on your resume is a huge thing," Cleary said.
Chances are, Jeff Lytle will offer similar sentiments about his experiences with the Altoona Curve.
"I don't know what will happen after I'm done here," he said. "But I do know, and appreciate, that what I'm learning and the opportunities they've given me will help me down the road. You can't put a price tag on that kind of education."