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Calvin Grads Find Success Working in Front Office of West Michigan Whitecaps

Monday, July 15, 2013

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By Jacob Kuyvenhoven

At Calvin College, the sports management major is still largely in its infancy.  2007 was the first year students graduated with a degree from the program, and as with anything new, there is bound to be an adjustment period.  Luckily, Calvin has seen three recent graduates see success working together in the box office of the Detroit Tigers’ single-A affiliate, the West Michigan Whitecaps.  Dean Exoo (’07) works in advertising and sales, while Nick Caudle (’07) and J.D. Triemstra (’09) are ticket sales executives.  All three spent time as student workers for Jim Timmer and went on to do graduate work in sports management at Western Michigan University.  Their work figures to add a strong dose of credibility to the program and encourage further success in current and incoming students.

Going to the stadium a couple hours before the game, the offices (fully decorated with stadium-identical seats for those waiting to enter) are already bustling with activity.  There are rows of computers, matching uniforms, instructions being shouted, it is reminiscent of a bustling news room from a Hollywood movie.  Despite the busy atmosphere, there are maybe only twenty or so people in the room, and once Exoo, Caudle and Triemstra are all finally gathered together, it seems uncanny that all three are Calvin graduates.

Of the three, Nick Caudle had the most experience with baseball prior to working with the Whitecaps, playing three years of baseball at Calvin after a successful high school career at Grandville Calvin Christian.  During his time at Calvin College, Caudle played with Jim Deters, unquestionably the best pitcher in school history and still the only graduate of the college ever to be selected in the MLB draft.  “Knowing Jim definitely got me introduced to the minor league baseball atmosphere,” Caudle said.  “We’d take road trips to watch him pitch and get a feel for a lot of the different facilities.”  He also benefitted from a pair of strong internships: working for another West Michigan minor-league team, the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League, and also with the West Michigan Sports Commission, which is now best known for running the State Games of Michigan in the summer.

One of Caudle’s co-workers in ticket sales is J.D. Triemstra, a graduate of Kalamazoo Christian High School and part of the Calvin class of 2009.  Unlike Caudle and Exoo, his introduction to the baseball scene came later in life, as he was a basketball and football player in high school.  Through Calvin’s sports management program led by Dr. Jim Timmer Jr.,  he got an internship with the Whitecaps, and quickly realized it was a place that held future potential for him.  Caudle and Triemstra’s main responsibilities include selling season tickets and luring big groups to games and box seats.  “There’s a big sense of everybody doing everything, though,” said Caudle.  “If it’s raining and someone has got to go pull the tarp over the field, we might still go out and do it.”  Triemstra adds that the back-and-forth with the groups is his favorite part of the job.  “There’s nothing more rewarding than a group giving us positive feedback or finally deciding to come here after years of saying no.”

Also helped by his opportunities at Calvin was Dean Exoo, who graduated, like Caudle, in 2007.  A grad of Whitinsville Christian High School in Massachusetts, where he played “pretty much every sport,” Exoo landed an internship that would be the envy of nearly any sports management major- one with the Toledo Mud Hens, only one step down from the Detroit Tigers in Triple-A.  If that isn’t enough, that year they won the league championship.  With a degree in sports management and experience in Toledo, it was now a natural step to get a leadership position with the Whitecaps for Exoo.  He now deals day-to-day with sales-related clients and their proposals, as well as the programs and advertisements the Whitecaps themselves send out.  “They’ve been great to work for,” Exoo says.  “Providing opportunities to clients and co-workers is definitely the most rewarding part of the job.”  Caudle reinforces the praise of the organization by adding, “We’re spoiled here.  There are Single-A ballparks where you look beyond the fence and it’s just woods.” The professional atmosphere of the Whitecaps has surely helped the three of them emulate that professionalism, and figures to make any transitions they attempt to higher-level employment later in life more natural.

Internships are a huge part of any successful attempt at a sports management career, and clearly these three Calvin grads have accumulated some of the best you could ask for.  Any sports management major enters the field with some sort of aspiration to work professionally in sports, and being given the opportunity to do so, even in “some pretty menial jobs,” as Exoo says, is a lifelong dream for many.  All three graduates expressed their appreciation that their experience at Calvin played a part in the journey to their current employment.  “We’d definitely recommend it” says Triemstra.  “If you’ve got an interest in both business and sports, or even physical education, it’s a really good choice of major.”  These three are clearly an example that a college likes to see- a major on the rise.

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