Announcing is his calling

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Andy Helwig has only been announcing for four years but already has a position with a minor league baseball team. (Marshall Haim/The Griffin)

By Marshall Haim

Senior Sports Editor

BATAVIA — Given the cadence Andy Helwig has when talking into a microphone, you would assume that he has had a dream of becoming a play-by-play announcer since he was a young kid.

That’s not the case.

Helwig did not think of becoming a play-by-play announcer until his final year at Canisius High School, just one mile away from the campus of Canisius College.

The all-male Jesuit high school was going to begin a program for digital media that would enable students the chance to get broadcasting experience by announcing games for a selected amount of basketball and hockey games. Every broadcast was audio only and were streamed on the high school’s website.

In the only year that Helwig would be able to be able to participate in the up-and-coming program, he had the honor of announcing championship games for both the basketball and hockey programs, which included trips to Albany and New York City.

Helwig said he held onto the pro-athlete dream for a while but after announcing the championship games, that’s when he realized that it was announcing, specifically play-by-play, that would be his calling.

“That point, I kind of decided this is what I wanted to do because this is a lot of fun,” he said. “I didn’t know if I necessarily realized, at the time, that it could really be an option of what to really do. I just had a lot of fun doing it at the time and I think that’s really what I had fun with.”

He admitted that Canisius was not his first choice as it came toward college. Helwig said he was dead-set on attending Xavier University, a fellow Jesuit school in Cincinnati.

However, early in April of 2015, Helwig and the Canisius High baseball team were in St. Petersburg, Fla. for spring training when he received an email about Canisius College signing an agreement with ESPN to broadcast all home sporting events.

“At the time I was a little pulled back to the middle on my decision at that point,” Helwig recollected. “After a couple discussions, I was like, ‘Well, if this is really what I want to do, then I’d be dumb to not sign on with this affiliation with ESPN.’ ”

Looking back at it, it was a great decision for Helwig as he has been able to broadcast every sport that has been produced by Canisius on ESPN3 (and future games that are going to be featured on ESPN+ — where viewers must sign up and pay $4.99 per month or a flat rate of $49 for one year).

“After doing a couple games [on ESPN3], and getting into the bigger stuff, like basketball and hockey, it got a lot of fun. That’s when I decided that’s the route I’m going to take.”

Helwig, a journalism and sport management dual major with a concentration in sports broadcasting, just completed his first year as the play-by-play voice for the Batavia Muckdogs, the short-season Class A affiliate for the Miami Marlins. Of all the 14 teams in the New-York Penn League, Helwig joins Auburn’s play-by-play announcer, Drew Carter, as the youngest announcers in the league. Both Helwig and Carter (who attends Syracuse University) are seniors at their respective institutions.

In addition to being the “Voice of the Muckdogs”, Helwig assumes the position of Director of Media Relations and Broadcasting where he is responsible for creating the team’s game notes, handing packages of statistical information to the coaching staff and updating the team’s rosters. He also fulfills requests from members of the media for interviews or to shoot video of players before or during games.

“After a couple games … That’s when I decided that’s the route I’m going to take.” – Andy Helwig

Also, Helwig updates the Muckdogs’ social media pages (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and writes up game recaps for the local media after each game.

“I have to do all that, which most teams have three other people doing it. But since it’s a brand new operation in Batavia, we just have to grind through it,” Helwig said.

The brand-new operation in Batavia is what helped lead Helwig into landing his position — or positions, if you will — with the Muckdogs.

Batavia was under the ownership of the Rochester Red Wings, a Triple-A baseball team. The agreement was a 10-year deal that had expired at the conclusion of last season. Rochester refused to resign and the Muckdogs were left without an owner.

Now, the Muckdogs are owned by the New York-Penn League, the same league they play in.

Helwig was aware that the Muckdogs existed and he went onto the team’s website. He looked up the Muckdogs’ previous announcer, Josh Hess, who is now the play-by-play voice of the Dayton Dragons in Ohio. Helwig then reached out to Paul Spiotta, who is the public address announcer for the Muckdogs and the Canisius women’s basketball and lacrosse teams.

“Paul said, ‘Hey, I know you’re looking for a spot this summer. They just hired a GM (general manager) in Batavia.’ He went back, wrote down the contact information and gave it to me,” Helwig said. “I sat down and wrote Dave [Chase] (the general manager), an email and it took me a while to hear from him. I sent him another email and got a response right away and talked on the phone for about a half hour.

“After another chunk of time gone by, I asked him kind of what was going on here. [I] came in, talked to him for a couple hours and then it was never really you’re hired, it was just a come in tomorrow and you’re going to do this, this and this.”

Looking back at his first full year with the Muckdogs — which came to an end on Monday — Helwig had the chance to visit some marquee venues in the New York-Penn League.

Helwig had the chance to travel to six different states (New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, West Virginia and Ohio). Some of the ballparks that Helwig enjoyed the most were in Burlington, Vt. (Centennial Field — the oldest ballpark in America, which opened in April of 1906), State College, Pa. (Penn State’s home field) and Morgantown, W.Va. (West Virginia’s home field).

Traveling is one of Helwig’s favorite parts of the job, as he is able to see different towns and spectacular venues within the New York-Penn League.

“That’s one of the things that I think is really attractive about this job, too, is being able to travel all over and see really cool ballparks,” he said. “Being able to do that is awesome. The bus rides turn into a grind, there’s no doubt about that. That gives me some time to do some work, but it’s cool you’re apart of the team — to a certain extent.

“You’re there for everything. You’re an expert on your team, you know who the guys are, you know what the guys are like. … It’s a ton of fun going to State College, to go West Virginia to see Morgantown, and Vermont who has the oldest ballpark in America. Stuff like that is really cool and I think guys who do this job really appreciate seeing stuff like that and it only gets more exciting the higher up you go.”

As Helwig said, traveling is a fun part of the gig but also working with a couple of his good friends is an added perk.

Fellow seniors Sean Sharman and Jordan Wheeler were able to land internships with the Muckdogs this past season, thanks to Helwig and the head of the Sport Management department, Dr. Shawn O’Rourke.

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Andy Helwig, left, had the chance to work alongside two of his good friends this past summer, Jordan Wheeler and Sean Sharman. (Photo courtesy of Andy Helwig)

Sharman, who began his studies at Canisius after serving four years in the United States Marine Corps, found out about the internship from an email he had received from Dr. O’Rourke, or as his students simply call him, ‘Dr. O.’

“Dr. O always is finding jobs and knows so many people through the Sport Management and MSA program,” Sharman said. “He gets these emails all the time of other Canisius alumns looking for jobs and he spits it out to us. Andy told him about that, then I asked Andy about it and here I am now.”

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Sean Sharman was the in-game host for the Muckdogs this past season. (Marshall Haim/The Griffin)

Sharman enjoyed being the in-game host for the Muckdogs this past season. He admitted he likes hearing himself talk but the job suited his outgoing personality exceptionally well.

“I think I do have an outgoing personality, so I don’t mind — I love hearing myself talk anyways,” Sharman laughed. “Talking into a microphone and adding to the fan experience at a Muckdogs game is something I get a lot out of.”

Wheeler, the other Canisius senior, originally was an education major at Canisius in her freshman year before quickly changing her major to Sport Management.

“I was an education major and quickly found out it wasn’t for me,” she said.

The Liverpool, N.Y. native found out that she wanted to work within sports after she was did a work study for the Canisius hockey team.

“I just realized that was way more fun and that’s way more what I wanted to do than play with little kids all the time,” Wheeler said. “I switched as soon as I realized how much I loved that, honestly.”

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Jordan Wheeler worked in the Muckdogs’ ticket office this past season. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Wheeler)

Like Sharman, Wheeler admitted that Dr. O’Rourke has been extremely beneficial not just for her but also for the entire Sport Management and Sport Administration programs.

“He gives you the opportunity to go out and you can do what you want,” Wheeler said of Dr. O’Rourke. “If you get an interview, go ahead. He gives you that first step of ‘I should talk to these people.’ … Getting your foot in the door, he really helps with that. And knowing people like Andy, the more people you talk to obviously the more opportunities you’re going to have, especially in sports.”

Even though Wheeler and Sharman both credited Dr. O’Rourke for helping them get the position with the Muckdogs, Helwig did play a pivotal role.

“I sent an email out to Dr. O’Rourke a while back saying we need interns,” Helwig said. “Jordan said she was still looking for something and Sean said he was interested, so they both came here and I sat in their interviews, being there to keep things loose a little bit.

“Just being able to have a couple friends, especially during the day when Jordan’s here it’s a ton of fun. I have a ton of fun when Sean gets here, it makes it a lot of fun because there are some days when things get really frustrating really fast and there’s not a lot you can do about it and being able to hangout with some of my best friends, day in and day out makes it a lot of fun.”

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