by Rick Shanley
As the plane gradually lifted its nose toward the sky, an orange--the kind you peel and eat--rolled down the aisle.
The Baltimore Orioles were bored.
For them, this was just another leg of their season--New York to Tampa--and one of the players figured it was a good chance to see if gravity still worked.
But for 2006 graduate and former Hornets baseball player Travis Willey, watching the piece of citrus roll past him on the 737's cabin walkway (like a perfectly laid bunt!) was the good stuff: the behind-the-scenes footage of life in the big leagues he'd always dreamed about.
Travis, a computer science graduate, is a software engineer for Durham, N.C.-based Sports Media Technology Corporation.
You know those hologram-like yellow first down lines during football telecasts? The score ticker at the bottom of the screen? The advertisements that look like they're on the wall behind home plate, but really aren't if you're in the stadium?
That's what his company does.
"When I first moved down here [in 2007], I was a field software engineer and traveled around," Travis says. "My first event was the Summer X Games in L.A. We handled the official time and scoring, put transponders on the racers, set up timing loops to collect data from the races."
Then, last year, Travis joined NBC's Sunday Night Football crew and was on location with John Madden and Al Michaels for every telecast from September to January, flashing red zone statistics across muddy fields from Cleveland to San Diego.
"I would leave on Thursday, fly to the city wherever the game was being held, do set up of the cameras, train the crews, do the game, then come home on Monday. It was a long schedule, but it was fun," he says.
Don't ask him about the games, though. His position required him to stay planted in the always chaotic production truck, a semi-trailer full of crew members, producers and millions of dollars of equipment.
"By halftime, I wouldn't be able to tell you what the score was or, many times, who was winning."
Then there was the Super Bowl, which was any-regular-season-Sunday times a thousand.
"I never really understood what went into covering live events on television. Just the number of people and cables--it was ridiculous," Travis says. "Hundreds and hundreds of people doing their part to put the show on. I don't think people understand what goes into it."
Of course, keeping stats for K-College football games at Angell Field, as Travis did, doesn't quite compare. But it did prepare him. So, too, did other work in 'K's' sports information department.
"I used a lot of Photoshop for [Sports Information Director] Steve [Wideen] and the school, and that helped me for my job now, because I do a lot of work on that side for certain bosses who need to learn more skills on Photoshop," Travis says. "All the experience in the SID office helped me prepare for a career. It definitely got me in more of a professional atmosphere."
There's professional. And then there's Major League Baseball.
Sports Media Technology Corp. has a working agreement with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which broadcasts Orioles games. As a result, Travis spent a few weeks in 2008 traveling with the team in order to track pitch locations and speeds and flash them on the broadcast when needed.
"I stayed at the same place as the team, and these places put the Sunday Night Football places to shame," Travis says. "We stayed at the Renaissance Vinoy
"By halftime, I wouldn't be able to tell you what the score was or, many times, who was winning."(in St. Petersburg), which was amazing. It was very old and supposedly haunted from the time of the Civil War, but it had been renovated and the beds were the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in, hands down.
"I had a day off in between games and I don't think I got out of bed until 3 p.m. And that was just to get lunch, then I went right back into the bed. It was sort of like sleeping on clouds. Not that I know what that feels like, but that's the best way I can describe it."
As a kid, Travis always wanted to be a professional baseball player--thought he would be a professional baseball player. It soon became apparent his skills would not take him to that level, but he still loved being a centerfielder at 'K' because it helped him relieve the stress of studying and going to school.
Even with competition behind him after graduation, Big League stars still dazzled in his eyes when he took his Orioles assignment. This was it. This was making it without actually having to make it. But once he got on the road and saw what the daily grind was like, it changed his perspective.
"As great as it would be to be getting paid for something I love to do, I don't think I could do it for more than a couple years," he says. "I do want a family someday and I want to be grounded and stable in one city."
So now, it's onward to the heights of the software world.
Travis was recently reassigned to a web development position within Sports Media Technology Corp. His new title means less travel--sayonara to the 1,000 thread-count sheets, too--and more focus on his new career aspiration.
"I've always dreamed of being a video game designer," he says. "Now that I've switched to web developer I'm getting a lot of the experience I was hoping for."