Hunter Horenstein, Brian Sanchez

Surrounded by a capacity crowd of about 1,000 fans at renovated Albert Field in San Rafael at a baseball game this summer, Dominican communications and media studies students Brian Sanchez and Hunter Horenstein, along with Dominican adjunct faculty member Stuart Horne, could not believe their good fortune.

Their chosen field had met its first field of dreams. They were witnessing history and describing it at the same time as the radio broadcast crew in the inaugural game of the minor league San Rafael Pacifics.

It was an engaged learning environment in more ways than one. They were transitioning from studying in the classroom to working in the press box at a professional baseball game, expertly commenting on a team that a few weeks earlier arrived from all over the world as complete strangers.

“I couldn’t have imagined this opportunity when I came to Dominican,” said Sanchez, who will be a senior in the fall. “I’m 20 years old with one year of experience of radio at Dominican and I’m getting an opportunity like this?! It’s unprecedented.”

The opportunity presented itself in April of 2011 when Horne approached Brian Clark, one of the Pacifics owners, which led to Bradley Van Alstyne, chair of Dominican’s Department of Communication and Media Studies, and Michael Shapiro, president and general manager of the Pacifics, connecting late last year to form a partnership.  Shapiro was willing to grant his team’s radio broadcast rights to Penguin Radio and Van Alstyne was looking for a way to give his students more real-life, hands-on situations to further their education.

"At Dominican we emphasize engaged learning opportunities for our students. That means going beyond the classroom and finding experiences that are related to the curriculum, professional field settings and are potentially life changing, and this is certainly one of those,” Van Alstyne said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was a no-brainer and something we knew would be a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for our students.”

But working for a professional baseball team in high profile positions?

“It’s definitely surreal,” said Horenstein, a junior-to-be who also serves as the Pacifics’ Community Outreach Coordinator and Media Operations Director.

Baseball is the common denominator for Horenstein, Sanchez and Horne. They all love it. It is the job of Horne, who was co-founder of Penguin Radio and has taught radio communications classes for 11 years, to help Dominican student harness that love and hone their crafts, cutting their teeth describing pitchers who throw cut fastballs and batters who take big cuts.

“We have students working at a professional level,” Horne said. “It is rare for a university to be afforded a chance to do something like this.”

Horne and his students are locked into covering each of the Pacifics’ 42 home games this season. During the first homestand of the season Penguin Radio was averaging about 700 listeners a game, from as far away as Japan,  Spain and the Dominican Republic.

“It’s a living laboratory for students to learn the sports industry. Here it is. It is real-life experience,” Shapiro said. “They can walk away with this incredible rich learning experience from actually having hands-on operating goals.”

Horenstein, in his roles through community outreach and media operations, has learned the business of baseball inside out.  He has been privy to behind-the-scenes negotiations one day and the next day found himself on the field negotiating a young child to the pitcher’s mound to be introduced as honorary bat boy for the day.

“And I thought this would be a regular internship,” said Horenstein, cracking a smile and reflecting on the myriad of information and responsibilities he has been given.  He also hosts his own “Pacifics Baseball Insider” sport talk show on Fridays from Penguin Radio’s studio in Angelico Hall.

“I owe so much to Brad and Stu,” Horenstein said. “And I feel I owe Dominican a huge thank you.”

Horenstein and Sanchez have Shapiro to thank as well. The Pacifics’ president and G.M. understands the value of engaged learning.

“I’m able to give a gift,” said Shapiro, who has been a front office executive with the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals.  “I’ve had so many mentors and wonderful breaks in my life that you feel an obligation to give it back.”

Thankfully, Dominican is on the receiving end of this gift. In baseball speak, it’s  an educational opportunity to hit a grand slam.