OK, folks. Full disclosure: this is a story where I’ll be writing a lot in the first-person about my son, Zach Seidel, who is 27 and director of multimedia communications for UMBC’s athletics, which means he wears a number of hats in his job.
Last weekend, he became an international Twitter star — although he didn’t mean to.
Here’s how this perfect storm hit.
Last week, UMBC’s men’s basketball team made the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in its history. Zach’s boss, Steve Levy, asked him to handle the Twitter account during Friday’s game with Virginia, the top-ranked school in the country.
And that’s when my son’s life changed.
@UMBCAthletics had about 5,000 followers in the world of Twitter before the game. Zach decided to inject some of his personality into the account, which is what he usually does – a bit of sass, some sarcasm, but always humor. After all, this was a big game, which grew even bigger when UMBC became the first No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed with a 74-54 rout of Virginia in Charlotte, N.C.
That’s when our family’s weekend began to change. Dramatically.
Zach, who went to Pikesville High School before earning a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree at UMBC, started getting inundated with media requests for interviews right after the game. The Twitter account went up to more than 40,000 followers and just kept growing.
It grew to 110,000 after UMBC lost to Kansas State on Sunday night – and Zach kept being asked to do interviews by major national media outlets.
The funny part was I didn’t even follow what he did on Twitter on Friday because I didn’t know he was doing it. He usually doesn’t do it for men’s basketball.
Of course, we followed on Sunday.
Overall, it was a 48 hours that Zach will never forget. Suddenly, he was being begged for interviews by the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, Associated Press, ESPN Radio, CNN, SB Nation, CBS Sports-– the list seemed never-ending. He had a bunch more set up for his return to Baltimore.
“It was surreal; it was fun; it was weird,” he said before boarding a plane back home early Monday morning. “It was all this attention. It was very strange. The team is the team that won. I was just tweeting.”
Since I’m in journalism, I knew what they were looking for when fielding calls, texts and emails begging me to connect them with Zach. It sure kept me busy all day Saturday and Sunday.
“What am I now?” I asked my wife, Nadine, on Saturday. “I feel like an agent.”
She just wanted to make sure Zach wasn’t being overwhelmed. Yes, he’s a big boy at 27 and can make his own way, but this was a rare situation.
Zach did interviews in his hotel room on Friday night until 4:30 on Saturday morning. He got about two hours of sleep, and all the interviews began once more – almost with an unending fury, which was tough because he had a job to do, helping with the basketball team while an entire nation watched because the UMBC Retrievers truly made college basketball history with the win over Virginia.
“I was surprised by the interview requests,” he said. “They just keep coming and coming. I ate only one meal on Saturday, but that’s OK. It won’t hurt me. I couldn’t understand why they kept wanting me.”
However, he was happy to do the interviews because he’s a big fan of UMBC. My wife and I went there, and our daughter, Kara, is about to graduate from the school. It was a place that wound up fitting all four of us.
One thing Zach never lost sight of was wanting this crazy weekend to do something very good for the school.
“As long as it helps the school in the long run, I’m happy about it,” he said. “I’m a UMBC guy. I’m sorry if that sounds funny, but it’s true. It’s just true.”
From what I know about Twitter, what caught the attention and imagination of so many people around the country is that Zach made people laugh. We’re in a tough time right now in our nation’s history, and laughter always is the best medicine.
The requests for Zach continued pouring in on Monday morning, and who knows when they’ll stop? ESPN’s SportsCenter did a whole segment on Zach’s tweets. That’s how crazy it got.
But for now, Zach just wants to go back and get re-focused on another part of his job, which involves being the media person for the softball team, something he was trying to work on before Sunday night’s game while sitting in the arena in Charlotte.
My wife and I implored him to stay grounded throughout this whole episode, and we’re proud that he did. For now, though, he just wants to take a day or two to rest and get back to his normal life.
“Everyone on Sunday night in Charlotte was saying, ‘What are you going to do now?'” He responded, “Well, I had to upload the softball statistics when that game was over. Hey, that’s my job.”
Jeff Seidel is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.