As might be expected of an 80-year-old facility, the press box at Hagerstown's Municipal Stadium could charitably be described as "rustic."
Access to this journalistic abode is truly restricted, as in addition to the proper credentials, one mustn't have a fear of heights. The press box (with "box" being the operative word in this case) is little more than a rooftop shack, reachable only via a narrow spiral staircase just beyond the last row of grandstand seating. Baseballs are emblazoned on the fraying shag carpet, and the ceiling is pockmarked with holes made by real-life baseballs that managed to fly into the box at seemingly impossible angles.
The sports media elite nonetheless descended upon Municipal Stadium this season, overlooking such operating liabilities in order to cover some of the game's must high-profile young stars. The 18-year-old phenom Bryce Harper opened the campaign as a member of the hometown Hagerstown Suns (Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals), and later in the year the club hosted rehabbing young ace Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
It all resulted in a rare, if not unprecedented, level of attention for a South Atlantic League franchise. And the man responsible for juggling the demands of the insatiable media hordes with the policies of the parent club has been Suns broadcasting and communications manager Bryan Holland. A 2008 graduate of North Carolina's Elon University, Holland worked with the Aberdeen IronBirds and Frederick Keys before assuming his current role in July 2010.
It's been a trial by fire, to say the least.
"When you're a young guy in this business, you have to find ways to separate yourself," said Holland, who travels with the ballclub and broadcasts all the games. "And I told the Nationals from Day 1, I'll have a good rapport with Bryce. I'm going to protect him, but I'll make sure we have a good relationship with the media. ... But yeah, having the media circus come in was a bit stressful, trying to spread yourself across 65 members of the media and 30 outlets.
"It is a balancing act," he continued. "Because while you want to have that good relationship with the media, at the same time, you have to drop the hammer and say, 'Here's how we're going to do things, and this is at the direction of the parent club.'"
This tightrope walk led to some occasional missteps. Earlier this month, Holland issued a press release in advance of Stephen Strasburg's rehab start that laid down the restrictive media policies in a somewhat imperious manner. This led to widespread derision in the sports blogosphere, high (or low)-lighted by a Deadspin post with the headline of "Stay the Hell Away From Rehabbing Stephen Strasburg, You Mongrels, Minor League Team Tells Press."
"Oh yeah, they got me," said Holland, smiling and shaking his head. "I was trying to communicate that this is a unique situation, and if you haven't been to our ballpark, well, it's been around since 1930 and we have a tight press box. ... It was a learning experience for me. If I had to do it again, I wouldn't change the declarative nature of it, but I think I could have infused it with the yes's from the beginning instead of the no's."
But Holland maintains that it's all been well worth it. He's gained a wealth of valuable professional experience while making innumerable connections in both the clubhouse and the press box.
"We've had a star-studded cast this season, no doubt about it," said Holland. "You do get giddy, having an opportunity to talk baseball with [ESPN's] Jerry Crasnick or meeting Buster Olney when he visited us in Lakewood [home of the opposing BlueClaws].
"I've learned a lot this year, and seen a lot. From both a personal and professional standpoint, it's been an outstanding season. I couldn't have asked for anything better."