By Sean Yoo ’13
Bristol, Connecticut was an unfamiliar place for most back in 1988, but that summer was the second year in a row that Muzzy Field was selected to host the College World Series. It was the final game of the Division III College World Series, with the two teams — Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans and Ithaca College Bombers — battling until the very last out.
Wisconsin-Oshkosh was feeling good about this game after dominating Ithaca College 11-3 earlier in the week. On top of that, Wisconsin-Oshkosh had a three-run lead and was on the verge of closing out the seventh inning with two outs already on the board. Ithaca’s last hope in the seventh was sophomore outfielder Vince Roman. With one crack of the bat, the Titans 5-2 lead was cut down to 5-4 as Roman drove in two runs with a two out single. From then on the Bombers were rolling as they scored three runs in the eighth inning, defeating the Titans by a score of 7-5. Ithaca College went on to win their second National Championship — but oddly enough this piece isn’t centered on the College World Series.
In fact, it’s actually about Mark Gross, who is currently the senior vice president/executive producer of production at ESPN. Mark is also a graduate of Ithaca College. As a senior in my final semester of college, I was itching to ask the question, “What did you want to do after you graduated college?” Mark responded, “I can tell you a story about how I got my first job.”
After graduating in May of ‘88, Mark — along with many of his fellow classmates — was jobless. “I remember getting out of school and thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’” Mark said. “I didn’t even know anyone.”
Mark then received an offer from Pete Moore, who was the sports information director at Ithaca College at the time, asking him to join the Bombers baseball team as they headed for regionals. Mark happily accepted the offer — and lucky for him the team kept winning. Eventually the team made it to the College World Series, which just so happened to be a mile from the ESPN headquarters.
As the team continued to dominate Mark decided to call up a friend who worked at ESPN at the time: Tom Pellack, a fellow Ithaca College alum. Pellack recommended Mark to the PA position at ESPN because they were hiring. A couple of months later Mark got the job, and started work August 1st of that year. I asked Mark if the CWS was his savior back then, “It was without a doubt!” he exclaimed. “I wouldn’t have gotten that connection to this place [ESPN] if the CWS wasn’t in Bristol – and if Tom Pellack didn’t come by.”
During the interview I realized some of the similarities between the two of us. Mark had a passion for sports, and knew after his first semester at college that he was going to pursue that career. At the time of the interview, I was in Secaucus, New Jersey with a friend following the IC basketball team for a class documentary project. Mark also had a close group of friends, “I can send an email to any of my friends from Ithaca and I’ll get a response immediately,” he stated. Mark is the same way. During class, I emailed him asking for an interview, and Mark remarkably responded within five minutes. It was a moment that truly defined Mark as a very personable man, and a moment that had our whole class shocked with amazement (given his prestigious position).
Not only that, Mark felt the same way as I did about graduating, “I’ll be honest with you, myself and my close group of friends, we had no interest in leaving,” he recalled. Having the same attitude that I was currently going through, I was very curious as to how Mark has been able to stay at ESPN for such a long time.
Mark did his part by sharing another anecdote — this time featuring the ESPN Zone, a place where I had my fourteenth birthday. Mark explained how being in California, creating the ESPN Zone, was a beneficial experience for his career. “I was in a production cocoon in Bristol, and the Zone helped me learn how a business operated, and I met a lot of good people while working at the Zone,” Mark said. He called it his own “little master’s program,” but eventually in 2002 he made his way back to the headquarters in Bristol.
It seemed like he enjoyed every job he’s had, so I asked why each position has been so satisfying. He replied, “I think the key to me for working here, is the passion the people around me have. These people have high integrity, they’re upbeat, optimistic, and positive.” To me, this sounded like a vision I’ve had about my future profession. Mark continued, “That’s why I’m still here – because of the people. This place [ESPN] is built on quality people, people who value integrity.”
Mark Gross’s career may be defined by the relationships he’s had throughout his life, and his ability to hold on to those relationships. If it wasn’t for Mark’s willingness to accept Pete Moore’s offer and his initiative to call Tom Pellack during the College World Series, then his two decades of work for ESPN may just be a fantasy. For Mark, the College World Series from 25 years ago is a lasting memory and almost a daily reminder of where he launched his professional career — especially since he is less than a mile away from Muzzy Field.