“So, You Want to Work in Baseball?” is an THT original series chronicling Mike Silver’s experiences while working in the Public Relations Department of the Triple-AColorado Springs Sky Sox.
Every so often in life, you get a wakeup call.
Living in Washington, D.C., I watched as my two childhood best friends hit the working world while I prepped in a low-pressure office building. Within the confines of the Ad Answer, a promotional products company, I worked off summer nights and sleepless mornings – my last as an independent man.
For you young guys out there: Don’t be fooled – the working world is a very different place from the safe environs of a college classroom or home bedroom in high school. The rules change, as do other people.
There are higher levels of accountability, tests of focus, and more stress – fewer second chances, tougher moral challenges, and terminations in the place of late fees.
There’s a palpable discomfort surrounding the routine I’ve developed – get up at 8:30, shower, shave, brush; get on the bus at 9:00, get to Dupont by 9:30. Work until 5. Get back home at 6-6:30.
By then, you’re too tired to move, so you watch ESPN on the couch until 11 p.m. while you work off the fatigue of the day. Funny thing is, by the time you’re ready to go out, it’s time for bed and you do it all over again. Sometimes you might force yourself out on a Tuesday to taste the local fare and $1 Pabsts at the local bar – but its forced in a way it has never been before.
My friend Jake put it best, “It really sinks in when you have to find yourself health insurance. Ugh.”
Thank God I have access to his dementia.
But in the end, it’s all the more reason to pursue a career I love, a luxury most people can never afford – and added motivation to begin planning for the future.
Fast-forward to October.
I’ve applied to countless affiliated ballclubs across the country, while sending out letters of inquiry to every reputable Indy league squad I can find – probably more than 60. The sheer number of options are daunting. Adding urgency to my search, I have to accept the fact that the Northeast constitutes a very small portion of the American baseball universe – and in four months I’ll be nowhere near Massachusetts.
Though this is something I’ve known since I submitted my application to the Sport Management Major at UMass more than three years ago – a top-3 program nationwide (sorry for bragging) – I have to admit it was something I’ve since tried to force to the back of my mind – out of both denial and necessity.
In sport, the intense competitiveness and volume of similar applicants has created an environment where you don’t choose the job – the job chooses you – and, if you aspire to become a player on the big stage, you inevitably cede control of a large portion of your autonomy: where you live, who your friends are, and with whom you associate.
Honesty, at times, it can be very disconcerting. And if I had been truthful with myself at age 19 – with the level of maturity I had at the time – I’m not sure I could have proceeded in this business.
Because it is a business.
The players, the glitz, and the glamour are all secondary to the revenue generation machine that constitutes the true backbone of this sport. Without this institution, MLB would be just another beer league.
Those looking for gainful employment in the sports world need to remember that sales is the primary task – and often only task – of 9 in 10 of those who call it a career. When professors stress the importance of sales in the workplace, make sure to listen. There’s never been a truer word spoken. For every one job in player analysis, there are 100 others in luxury-suite sales, corporate sponsorship, group ticket sales, marketing, promotions… the list goes on.
There are no fans in the workplace.
While the spectators’ universe revolves around the GM’s personnel moves, long blasts to center field, and the third out of the ninth inning, an employee’s revolves around deadlines. What most all of America fails to realize is that personnel decisions, contract negotiations, and locker room anecdotes constitute only the face of this business – the very tip of the baseball iceberg.
Without billions and billions of dollars – attained through countless hours invested in advertising, ticket sales, corporate sponsorship, sky box sales, etc. – affiliated baseball would not exist. Without revenue from tickets, fans don’t sit in the seats. Without advertising dollars, broadcasting corporations will search for another way to fill programming space.
This business is about MONEY, not finding the best available players or putting the best team on the field. It’s about turning profit, which means moving merchandise, selling program ad space, concessions, luxury suites, group ticket packages, and so on.
Do you ever remember thinking of how fun it would be to have a certain theme night at the ballpark? Well, the reason it’s never happened is not because someone didn’t think of it, but rather, because it probably doesn’t drive revenue streams to the stadium. A few walk-ups may decide to attend the game, but meaningful sums of money are not generated until group ticket packages can be sold or until a business can purchase sponsorships at the game, on TV, or on radio.
Bobblehead Night doesn’t occur because ownership thinks fans will enjoy a trinket or collectible now and then. They use it to drive attendance to the ballpark – and they schedule it on a Tuesday because those nights don’t sell out.
But I digress.
One of the major reasons I have Colorado Springs at the top of my list is due to the interviews I had with my potential boss, Assistant General Manager Mike Hobson.
If you find yourself in an interview, it is imperative to cast yourself as reliable, hardworking, and trusting. These are extremely important characteristics of any employee, akin to the “intangibles” in sports. Like speed, everyone wants them, but they can’t be taught.
But I never expected a potential boss to project himself in such a light, which Mike did. About five to 10 minutes into our first conversation, it was obvious that he had these attributes and was someone who I could work for and alongside.
Though the job is the primary draw from the vantage point of the job seeker, it’s critical that you be able to trust the person under whom you will be working. A lot of interviewers don’t understand this, but Mike certainly does. He seemed to have a sincere, vested interest in acting as a mentor and to help hone my skills for a successful future in this business.
I didn’t get that sense from any other team with whom I spoke – not the independent leagues, not the other minor league teams, and not the multiple calls from the Astros.
Though it’s an obvious fact, the importance of the personal interview cannot be understated. When teams call, it is imperative that you maintain your poise and calm. Some people make the mistake of sounding star struck, which never sets you in a positive light. Teams want intelligent, confident professionals, not awestruck fans.
Prepare yourself for difficult questions and have anecdotes ready when they arise. Recount every detail from work experiences that tested your patience, forced you to think quickly and creatively, and, especially, get broad with the definition of “sales.”
Whether or not you have ever found yourself – or ever will find yourself – making sales calls or conferences, you are a salesman every day of your life. Every organization, sport or otherwise, covets persuasive, quality salesmen. Even if you’re like me and work in PR, your career is still based in this vein. Two major tasks, selling the team to fans and selling spin to the media, are, at their core, sales initiatives.
It’s unavoidable and it takes hard work to develop the techniques. And, though there’s no right and wrong way to approach a sales pitch, like the greats in baseball, the elite intuitively get it.
It’s as simple as that.
Late on a Friday in mid-November, I schedule a meeting with my closest instructor, Professor Masteralexis, to once again review my options.
Very much a mentor to me since this process began, she knows the territory as few others do.
A very accomplished woman and role model to virtually every student in the major, she is the head of the UMass Sport Management Department. When not teaching, she, her husband, and another professor in the department advise MLB players in their boutique agency – even representing a favorite of mine among their clients, Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Manny Delcarmen. He’ll face his upcoming arbitration case with confidence, knowing full well he’s in excellent hands. I should know. The professor tutored me in agency for an independent study in the spring of 2007.
For about the third time this week, we go over my options… again. The same angles, the same apprehensions, and the same excitement. The same conversation…
…until she interrupts me mid-sentence.
“Mike, you’ve known the answer all along. Just do it.”
Colorado it is.