Nashua’s Parolin Working Where it Counts for ESPN
April 13, 2010
by Tom King
The studio lights go on, the ESPN SportsCenter theme song plays, and "DA-Da-Da! Da-Da-DA!" it begins.
Meanwhile, Nashua's John Parolin is just under a mile away, still on the vast ESPN campus in Bristol, Conn., downloading statistical information you may see on SportsCenter, the Bottom Line, or any ESPN production at any time. He watches up to as many as four or five sporting events a night, double- and triple-checking the info.
Not a bad gig, eh? His official title is "Statistics Associate, Level 1."
The 23-year-old Stonehill College grad, who formerly worked as a jack-of-all trades at Nashua's all-sports radio station, WGAM-900, is now doing that same type of statistical work for ESPN's "Baseball Tonight."
"If this isn't exactly what I want," he said, "it's pretty darn close. I certainly have no complaints."
Parolin has been part of a stats team that observes a game, looking for "a story line you generally can't get from a box score." For example, when the Celtics got blown out by the Spurs at the TD Garden last month, every time guard Rajon Rondo got the ball in the half court Parolin and a co-worker tracked whether he penetrated with the ball, or when someone set a screen for him. The work would help illustrate a graphic describing "when the Celtics are at their best."
It's called "Next Level Tracking."
"When you do this ‘Next Level' stuff, you have to know what you're looking for going into it," he said. "See what you think the story-line might be, and go from there."
In fact, Parolin charted Bruins shots in an expanded slot area he created to gauge their quality. Boston, he noted, was outshooting teams but its quality shot selection was limited.
"The results were amazing," he said. "They outshot their opponents by something like 15 shots. But it was under 15 percent of their shots came from that range (of the expanded slot area).
"A lot of people had given different versions of it, but I was the only one who drew it the way that I did. ...That's just one thing we would do for hockey."
ESPN.com used it in a graphic on the Web site following the Winter Classic back on New Year's Day. Now, his focus will be on baseball.
"One of the things I like about it the most is my duties change quite a bit," he said. "The first (fact) check and second check are pretty important, and other nights I'm watching."
How did this all come about? It almost didn't. Parolin had his resume on all the journalism and career-related Internet posting sites, and was being overwhelmed with calls from insurance and financial recruiters. But one call early last autumn came from India, from a recruiter who said he was representing a company in Connecticut. Parolin said thanks, no thanks.
But the recruiter called him back and left a message saying that he should have indicated that company was ESPN.
"This," Parolin was thinking, "is a call I need to return."
The hiring process was tedious. Parolin counted nine points of communication with either the recruiter or the company, including face-to-face and phone interviews, plus e-mails. The first was a three-question sports quiz over the phone.
"I probably took three or four different ones of those," he said, "and they got progressively harder... One of them was name as many Lakers as you can other than Kobe Bryant. I almost went down the whole roster. I think he stopped me after I said D.J. Mobenga.
"The line they used a lot was ‘We don't want the fit to be right. We want the fit to be perfect.'"
And Parolin understood, because the audience isn't small, and the information "needs to be accurate, and it needs to be quick. ...You can't have one without the other."
Parolin has gone beyond being star truck. He hasn't had much contact directly with any of the SportsCenter anchors, but has met many of the on-air analysts. Parolin worked on an observation shift for stats from the NLCS coverage last October and met Buster Olney and Fernando Vina, giving Olney some info he used for his ESPN.com blog.
"For just a kid on his first observation shift, they were pretty pleased I was able to make some sort of an impact," Parolin said.
He'll meet even more personalities as he joins the behind-the-scenes crew for Baseball Tonight. Parolin will be involved in production meetings, gathering mounds of stats to back up highlights.
"We'll be dealing directly with everybody involved," he said. "Directors, producers, talent - just about everybody."
The atmosphere? It's for sports fanatics only.
"I mean really like sports," he said. "You have to be able to watch the two least interesting college basketball teams in the country, analyze it and take it all in. Not only do you have to watch it, but you have to be able to know it inside out and backwards and be able to dissect it if you want to do the ‘Next Level' stuff. It's intense, there's definitely a learning curve and I'm still nowhere near the top of it. ... You can be there for as long as you like and there's always going to be things you can do better."
Parolin is primed for baseball, knowing that a perfect game or home run barrage can send the statisticians and background fact checkers like himself scrambling as they drop what they normally would be working on.
"Baseball can go on and on and on," he said, "and anything can happen."
Anything did, as John Parolin found out last fall when he returned the right phone call.
"I still haven't gotten over it," he said. "I really haven't. And it's only going to get better. The next three months I have The Masters, the World Cup and Baseball Tonight."
For more information, contact Communications and Media Relations at 508-565-1321.