Beyond Vassar

Major League Alumni

By Lindsay Dawson ’05

Danny Field ’00 had already spent a few years bouncing around the baseball world—marketing for the Philadelphia Phillies, tending grounds for the Pawtucket Red Sox, playing semi-pro in Switzerland and Spain, and coaching at Fitchburg State College—when he turned to Vassar’s Office of Career Development files, hoping to find a new, related endeavor. He entered “New York City” and “Sports” into the Career Advisory Program database and got a match: senior coordinating producer of Major League Baseball Productions (MLB), which is how he came to meet—and work as a production assistant for—David Check ’86.

For Check, sports are not just a day job, they’re a passion. He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and played tennis, first at the Bronx High School of Science and then at Vassar, where he was the number-one player and team captain. During his senior year he held the position of sports editor and wrote a regular column for the Miscellany News. That change in Check’s point of reference would define his professional career. No longer just a player and a fan, he became an observer and an image-maker of the game.

His current line of work, sports video and television production, came calling right after college. He landed his dream job as a production assistant for NBA Entertainment in 1986, and has been in the business ever since. Now in his sixth year at MLB Productions (baseball, not tennis, is his “first love,” he confessed), Check oversees the annual creation of more than 60 hours of original programming in the form of weekly television shows, documentaries, and specials (in English, Spanish, and Japanese) that air on major networks such as ESPN and FOX.

His role is a balancing act of planning projects, writing them, supervising the editing process, and pitching to broadcast partners. Check laughed while he explained, “I think one of my co-workers put it best when he described me as ‘not necessarily having ADD; it’s more that he’s playing three games of chess at once.’” Check’s almost manic energy has paid off in the form of five Emmy Awards—for, among others, Cal Ripken: The Season and the Yankeeography series.

Despite prestige, awards, and the opportunity to meet famous athletes on a daily basis, Check maintains that his most memorable moments have been the quirkier ones. He said, “Ironically, it’s not been meeting a Mark McGwire or a Sammy Sosa or a Barry Bonds that is the most interesting, but individuals who are on the periphery of the game. Interviewing Babe Ruth’s daughter, who is in her mid-eighties, and so vibrant, was pretty magical—she’s the one person in the world who can call Babe Ruth ‘Dad.’ She talked about growing up on the Upper West Side with her dad, going to Japan with him, and being in the stands when he hit home runs. I was pretty awestruck.” Recently, Check went to Puerto Rico to visit the site where Roberto Clemente, his favorite player, died in a plane crash in 1972. “I was moved beyond words,” he said. “I went back and had dinner with his widow, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world at that moment.”

Check has always felt an equally valid connection to the more cerebral aspects of athletics, and is as comfortable discussing what he calls Phil Jackson’s “esoteric and eclectic” reading lists for his players as he is last night’s controversial play. Even while talking business, he can easily theorize about the role of sports in society. He said, arguing for the ethos behind his work, “Baseball is so embedded in American culture and American history. When you talk about Jackie Robinson, he was a bit more than just a baseball player; he was a social pioneer. A lot of our baseball athletes and baseball stories, in fact, transcend sport.”

In 1989, while working at NBA Entertainment, Check co-wrote the top-selling sports video of all time, Michael Jordan: Come Fly With Me. In 1997 his penchant for sports stories was again made palpable, as he co-wrote and published a book to educate young fans, Basketball Stars: The Greatest Players in the History of the Game. Check seems to operate best in the realm where the athletic, the intellectual, and the creative merge.

But success has not made him immune from some Vassar-related ribbing at the office. Check remains good-natured about the jabs he receives as a liberal-arts jock: “Bring it on, that’s what I say. Sure, Vassar has never played in a Final Four, or a college World Series, but its a wonderful place, and I wouldn’t trade it for any school on the planet.”

But you might say the Brewers are slowly taking over the sports production industry. Jason Jhung ’98, former captain of Vassar’s baseball team, recently joined Check and Danny Field at MLB Productions.

Check concluded, “A lot of people say to me, ‘I would kill for your job.’ And I believe them. For many years I have said that I’m lucky or fortunate, and a lot of my friends have said, ‘You know, Dave, you’re not lucky. You’ve worked for everything you have.’ To me it started at Vassar, which gave me the confidence and the vision to pursue a job where there’s not exactly a training program out there for it. The fact is, these jobs are hard to come by, and I really appreciate the position that I’m in.”