BILLINGS — Crack!
A hard-hit baseball accelerates to the outfield, breaking into a downward arc as the rightfielder approaches at full speed.
As the fielder makes a seated dive and reaches out, the ball deflects off his glove.
Hit or error?
The fans, the players involved and their teammates want to know.
The decision has to come fast and has to be made now.
Hit or error?
The scoreboard flashes the sign. One side applauds, the other groans.
“That’s me,” said Evan O’Kelly, with a small smile, of his job as the Pioneer League Billings Mustangs' official scorekeeper for home contests at Dehler Park. “I’m the hit or error guy.”
For a young man whose profession is consumed by athletics, O’Kelly adds another to his down time during the summer.
And that’s the difference.
One is his job. The other his passion.
But for all the hours needed, O’Kelly is passionate about both.
The 27-year-old O'Kelly is the director of communications for the Montana State Billings athletic department. He is responsible for media coverage for the Yellowjackets' 15 varsity sports, including the athletic program’s presence on the web and across all social media platforms.
Simple definition, he is the first one at an event and the last one to leave.
“On paper? Eight hours a day,” O’Kelly said with a laugh about the time he spends with MSUB athletics on a daily basis. “You’ll catch some days off here and there.”
His responsibilities range from setting up video equipment to scoring the games and matches, writing the press releases and putting together the follow-up videos for the MSUB athletic website.
“I’ve always had an interest in sports,” said the Portland, Oregon, native who played baseball and soccer in high school. “Each game, each athlete tells a different story.”
O’Kelly also handles broadcast duties for MSUB baseball on the school website. “That’s one of my favorite things,” he said.
There are days in the fall when O’Kelly will work men’s and women’s soccer matches during an afternoon and a volleyball match that same evening.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed into my suit in my car in the City College parking lot and drove faster than I should have down Rimrock (Road) on the way back before the first serve,” he said of those tripleheaders.
There are two computers and two monitors on his large office desk. They help O’Kelly keep a handle on MSB athletics, the rest of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, NCAA news and Major League Baseball. One screen saver is a picture of AT&T Park, home to the San Francisco Giants, his favorite MLB team.
His love of baseball is what drew him to approaching the Billings Mustangs in 2015 about possible work.
“Baseball is something I grew up playing, I’ve studied the game a lot,” O’Kelly said.
But baseball is more than a game for him, it’s a historical mirror of American history.
“I took a class of the history of baseball in college,” he said of his time at Linfield College in Oregon. “Baseball tells the story of America so well. At the beginning, many of the players had fought in the Civil War. And there was Jackie Robinson and the civil rights movement. Baseball tells the story of American history.”
O’Kelly started working in game-day operations with the Mustangs. He was given the job of official scorekeeper this summer.
It is a responsibility he takes very seriously.
“I feel pressure to get the stats right,” he said. “Baseball is difficult to score. Volleyball is fast, but once you establish a rhythm, you are OK. Baseball is so subjective. Some plays, you still have to wrack your brains to find an answer.”
And O’Kelly realizes the pressure the first-year pros feel while chasing a dream.
“I don’t want to make a mistake to jeopardize somebody’s career,” he continued. “But I feel confident in what I’m doing. I absolutely hear about it (some decisions). Usually through an intermediary. Everybody wants his guy to get a hit. But I feel all those things … hits, errors … work themselves out.”
O’Kelly will miss this Friday’s game against Helena. He will be in Maryland, receiving the “Rising Star,” award from his peers at the College of Sports Information Directors Convention.
His duties with MSUB will ramp up again when the athletes report to fall camp in early August. But he still plans to be at Dehler Park for the home games.
“It all works out,” O’Kelly said of his sports-heavy schedule. “It never overlaps to the point where I have to miss anything.”