By Ken Barhorst
Sports has always been a part of Anna native T.J. Ansley’s life.
How could it not be, him being the son of Dick Ansley, the former baseball coach at Anna High School who took the Rockets to the Class A state championship back in 1980.
T.J. played for the Rockets before graduating from Anna in 1998. And he wanted to continue playing when he went on to study at Eastern Michigan University.
The playing part of it didn’t pan out, but it didn’t mean an end to his involvement in sports. Far from it, actually.
Ansley is currently working for the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers as the Director of Digital Experience. At the end of July, he will have been with the Trail Blazers for four years. But that’s just the latest in a string of interesting stops along the way.
He graduated from EMU with a degree in communication technology, and while at school there, he interned with the Detroit Tigers.
“I worked with fans, fan-club type stuff,” Ansley recalled. “I worked with mascots and tried to come up with anything that was kind of in-game entertainment. After leaving baseball, not playing any more, it was fun to kinda get back in it that way, and see the business side.”
While he was with the Tigers, which was a seasonal job, he moved to a marketing position with an agency in Dearborn, Mich. And as luck would have it, the main client was Ford Racing.
“It was kinda the same thing,” he said. “Marketing promotions. I would go to race tracks, help promote like the Ford F-150 (pickup), working with the drivers. That was pretty fun, all the traveling around. We went to (tracks in) Homestead (Florida) and Milwaukee, and to a couple of truck series races in Kansas City.”
From there, he got into sports and news radio in Detroit, where he spent about three or four years in marketing promotions.
“That sort of evolved into website maintenance, creating content, and trying to portray it online for people to use,” he said.
And he was apparently ahead of his time — “I still remember the day I got laughed at when I mentioned the word ‘twitter’ in a meeting,” he said.
Okay, so that’s jobs in baseball and racing since graduation from college. Next came professional soccer, and it brought himcloser to home. He moved to Columbus and worked for the Columbus Crew as digital content editor, and really blossomed.
“They moved the website in-house,” he recalled. “We shot videos, we had a beat writer, and social media. It was all us. We got some good accolades, and won a few awards. And that was kind of the tipping point.”
He was attending a convention in Indianapolis, and met the man who is now his boss with the Trail Blazers. And he had an opening with the NBA club.
“My wife and I came out here (Portland) and looked around,” Ansley said. “They say it always rains, but it’s beautiful in June. The neighborhoods around here are great to drive around in, and it’s a walkable city so there is always something to do. It’s a different type of fandom. Whenever something goes on out here with the Trail Blazers, it’s big news.”
Ansley and his wife now have two children and they get back to Ohio as often as they can to see to see their families. Ansley’s wife is a St. Henry native.
In his current role as Director of Digital Experience, Ansley is part of a large team.
“It’s everything from forward facing things like websites and mobile apps, to making sure fans can buy tickets that way,” Ansley said. “There is the basketball operations and the business side, and we probably have 150 people. We’ve got a lot of good people around here.”
He also keeps a close eye on internal communications.
“We try to bridge the gap between departments within the building,” he said. “I work really closely with the content people, beat writers, social media team, video. We make sure it looks clean out there.”
He couldn’t have imagined how things would turn out when he took the internship with the Tigers.
“It feels like I’ve been in every sport,” he said. “There has been baseball, racing, and with the sports talk, I’ve touched on them all. It was hard to foresee that what I’m doing now would be available, because websites were just websites. But now all these things have popped up. Once I got with the Columbus Crew, I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
One question he knew would be coming, and something he figured a lot of people would wonder about, is does he get to talk to the players much?
“I don’t like to put myself in that position,” he said. “They are here to play ball, and my job is separate from that.”
However, he did break from that on one occasion.
“When Evan Turner (former Ohio State star) first got here, I told him ‘Go Bucks!’ ” Ansley said.