Baseball: More than just a game -
Beginnings – Stepping into the batter’s box
Growing up in Southern Illinois in the heart of St. Louis Cardinals territory, baseball was part of my life from the beginning. My brother, who was eight years older than me, taught me everything a kid needed to know about baseball, including the intricacies of filling out a scorecard properly. He, along with everyone else I knew, was a Cardinals fan and so, for my first few years as a baseball fan I too rooted for the team in our own backyard.
Sometime around the age of 8 I came to my senses and chose the team that would lead to many happy days but even more frustrating ones (especially the last 3 years!). Now for the better part of 25 years I have been a fan of the Houston Astros. The greatest moments in their history happened during my high school and college years and were a factor in my decision to pursue a degree in Sport Management. Not to mention the fact that I learned fairly early on that my playing days were numbered due to a lack of talent.
Decision time – Leading off first
I pursued my degree at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, MO (also Cardinals territory) and also attained a minor in Business Administration. Upon my graduation in December of 2006 I had a decision to make: what sport would I attempt to work in? Baseball is in my blood, but sports in general are a huge part of my life. I am an ESPN junkie and can pretty much watch SportsCenter at any time, repeats included. The choice was made for me during a trip to visit my brother in Nashville, TN when on a whim I stopped by the offices of the Nashville Sounds (AAA for the Brewers) and was offered an internship for the summer of 2007. The summer was filled with long hours but I made a lot of good friends and learned a lot about the industry and decided that I wanted to pursue a career with my childhood passion.
That winter, the Baseball Winter Meetings were held in Nashville as well. Most fans of baseball know this is the time that players sign large free agent contracts and general managers (GMs) trade players to build their team for the coming season. It is also the time that Minor League teams fill their front office rosters for the coming season.
The Big Move – Sliding into second
At the Winter Meetings in 2007 I picked up my first job in baseball as the Director of Ticket Operations and Merchandise for the Beloit Snappers. That meant for my first job in the real world I was moving to Wisconsin where I knew no one and an introduction to baseball played with a threat of snow flurries in April. During my first four years in Beloit I learned about the behind-the-scenes aspect of running a baseball team. A lot of fans commented to me that they assumed the staff arrived at 5:00 p.m., opened the gates at 6:00 for a 7:00 game and were locking up and heading home by 10:30. The reality is that the staff arrives by 9:00 a.m. to begin preparations for the gates to open at 6:00 and often won’t leave the stadium until midnight after the trash has been taken out. This process takes place every game in a home stand, which can sometimes stretch out to 8 games long. Over the course of 70 games plus the additional high school, legion and college games the staff of the Snappers is definitely pushed pretty hard. Because of all the hours there is a high turnover rate with staff in all of MiLB, but one thing seems to hold true for those that continue to work in the sport: Everyone has a love for the game, and for people like me they want to be a part of the process that produces the future of the Major Leagues.
Promotion – Rounding third
At the conclusion of the 2011 season the Snappers went through a big change when Jeff Vohs decided to step down as General Manager after 11 years with the franchise. The team decided they wanted to replace him with an internal candidate and after 4 years with the team I was the choice. Over the next 2 years I learned that no matter how much you think you know about something, there is always lot more left to learn.
As the GM for a small market team like the Snappers there is always something that requires your attention. You have an MLB affiliate to communicate with (and keep happy), you have new young staff looking to you for direction (after you hire them that is), you have a coaching staff to work with on team travel and needs (the GM also serves as the travel service liaison for the team), you have a team of 25 players in a new community that need help from time to time (keep in mind our players are typically between 19-22 and new to being on their own), you have a board of directors to answer to (as well as receive projects from), you have high school, legion and college baseball coaches scheduling and playing games at your facility (don’t forget someone has to staff those games as well), you have game day staff and volunteers of a few hundred people to oversee.
I think that covers all the groups that come to the GM with things but on top of all those things I was also responsible for day to day accounting (including payroll), all HR needs, securing and managing corporate and group sales, coordination of all planning sessions for the organization, heading up efforts to promote the team in community and being the face of the franchise (outside of Snappy D. Turtle of course). In case you didn’t notice, none of the above functions have anything to do with the actual Snappers games! The game day functions really wind up being collaboration between the full-time staff, game day staff and volunteers to put on the best possible presentation of Snappers baseball. We all pitch in where necessary (food and beverage, media relations, ticket operations, grounds crew, etc) to make the game experience happen for the fans.
Time for a change – Heading home
After all of the things I mentioned, it probably sounds like there weren’t a lot of positives about the GM position with the Snappers. But the reality is that my passion for baseball and the great people that I worked with at Pohlman Field is what made the whole experience a valuable one. Going back to the beginning and my love for the Houston Astros leading to my degree choice of Sport Management and ultimately my career in baseball there was always one underlying goal. That goal was to someday work for the team I became so attached to as a child. As I progressed through my baseball career that was still the vision I had of my ultimate landing spot. However as each year passed and I attained more knowledge, the realization of just how tough it is to land an MLB job became clear. The supply of interested candidates is virtually limitless as kids across the country grew up with similar dreams to mine (although I am guessing very few children currently aspire to work for a team that has lost 324 games while only winning 162 the past 3 seasons).
While the players are employees of one specific MLB franchise and have a defined path from the time they are drafted until the time they make the Majors (provided they are talented enough), employees in MiLB have no such luck. With each career move you go through the process of getting a new job and are not necessarily any closer to the Major Leagues. During my climb towards Houston, a funny thing happened. I found a lot of good friends in Beloit and discovered that the town is similar to my hometown (minus the Cardinals territory part) and also that the city is on a very positive upward path. Then another funny thing happened, an opportunity arose to work with Visit Beloit to bring sporting events to our community. Considering that a position with the Astros wasn’t a realistic option, I decided that committing to a job in the world of sports in a community on the rise with so many great friends, not to mention a baseball team that plays an affiliate of the Astros (Quad Cities), was an option that I just couldn’t pass up.