Stephen Cooke Reflects On Time With The Baltimore Blast
I am a Baltimore resident who graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in communications. A college baseball player, I actually never played soccer growing up but I had attended Blast games throughout grade school. Upon my graduation I knew that I wanted to work in the sports industry. I began my search in minor league baseball but when I found an opening with the Blast I thought that an opportunity with a professional franchise was worth a try. I accepted an internship after college and was fortunate enough that it turned into a full time position. The experience has taught me a lot and being able to begin my career in professional sports at the highest level of indoor soccer was a great advantage. I was surrounded by the best of the best with the Blast. On the field I was fortunate enough to cover teams that appeared in 3 consecutive championships and won 2 (2016 & 2017). This past season was my last with the Blast as I have been offered a different career opportunity.
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The Blast organization has some great people involved which are why they are so successful. Ed Hale has spent a lot of time assuring that the Blast stay competitive year in and year out and indoor soccer is lucky to have his knowledge and experience involved. Kevin Healey, Mike Conway, Mark Meszaros and Cindy Smith all work extremely hard every day to make the organization run at the highest level. I also got the opportunity to promote and get to know some of the best indoor soccer players the league has to offer. The Blast do an excellent job or bringing in players who can perform at a high level on and off the field. The amount of professionalism the players and show year round is striking.
What I enjoyed the most is the ability to connect fans all over the nation with information. The Blast fan base is extremely loyal. I really took pride in my writing and posting of information because I knew that those who read it had a strong interest in what was happening with the organization. I also got to know the season ticket holders and individuals who attended our games and camps. The family environment that the Blast have created is perfect for fans of all ages.
The Blast do an amazing job not only on the field, but in the community. The players and staff really do care about the fans, the youth in Maryland, and making an impact that goes beyond winning. A few examples that come to mind are Ed Hale and Kevin Healey creating programs so that kids in need are able to attend our games, head coach Danny Kelly teaming up with the Baltimore Station to help veterans, and goalkeeper William Vanzela taking his personal time to visit a young fan in the hospital who has been battling cancer on a regular basis. These are only a few examples of the numerous things the Blast are involved with, some bigger some smaller, but I really do think they are the most active Baltimore sports team in the community.
Of course there are challenges that come along as well. The biggest challenges the Blast face are due to the size of the organization. With a handful of people they are tasked with first and foremost, putting a winning team on the field every year. Beyond that they are responsible for attracting fans to the game, creating and managing sponsorships, running summer camps, and providing quality customer service. In my role I know that other professional teams have entire “media teams” dedicated to running social media or creating promotional materials that I was doing on my own. The small organization also has its advantages though, how many teams have their GM carrying mini balls around on giveaway nights or has their equipment manager selling season tickets? The fact that we all held so many responsibilities really helped me gain experience in all aspects of the sports world.
Another challenge is getting coverage from Baltimore media. While I understand the Ravens, Orioles, and Terps cover larger markets I do believe there is time to add in more focus on the Blast. The coverage that the Blast do receive we appreciate though and I would like to extend a thank you to those media members who we know we can call on to get information and stories published.
The league is on the rise. After an offseason of uncertainty the new commissioner Josh Schaub has come in and really solidified the MASL. Expansion teams are entering, the league is growing, and the fan base seems to be extending. There are still a few things to be worked out but that happens in every professional sports league, the MASL is most certainly going in the right direction and now is the time to hop on the bandwagon.
Regarding the future of the team I think that soccer is growing in Baltimore. If Baltimore got into the USL or other outdoor opportunities I think that it would help grow the fan base. The Blast have signed so many players that come from the USL that it would not only strengthen the recruiting the Blast would be able to do but it would really shed a light on how competitive the indoor game is and the types of athletes that are competing in it. I think that Blast fans would follow the outdoor team and the outdoor fans would follow the Blast. It would help create a real soccer community where people can come together which would benefit everyone involved.
As the Blast continues to contribute to the growth of soccer in Baltimore through their presence in the community, summer camps, school appearances, numerous other programs, and their NINE league championships I think they should be recognized as a staple in Baltimore sports.