10 Things to Learn from Working at the Ballpark [Baseball, Sports Jobs]

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Working at the Ballpark: The Fascinating Lives of Baseball People from Peanut Vendors and Broadcasters to Players and Managers by Tom Jones should be first on the list of books to check out if you would like to work in the sports industry, and most especially, baseball. It’s the sports equivalent of It’s a Living by Dr. Gerard Sasges, which discusses the working lives of Vietnamese.

Almost any job you might imagine, from the famous (ball player) to (seemingly) mundane (ball boy), is in the book as Jones interviews people across multiple baseball clubs about their jobs. Interviewees simply talk about what their working lives are like, and overall, two things stand out – 1) they love their jobs 2) working in Sports is long hours.

The book serves as a listing of all the things you could do in Sports, with the interviews providing insights on what day to day life is like, the pros and cons, and also implicit tips to consider on how you might want to differentiate yourself when applying. I really learned a lot from the interviews with specific coaches (do you know the full extent of what a bench coach or 3rd base coach does?) as well as team staff such as the Director of Entertainment (Baseball is entertainment today, not just a sports game. The ball park is like an amusement park with lots of side attractions for the family), Groundskeeper, and the Traveling Secretary.

To list the 10 best things to learn was a bit difficult since the book covers so many jobs, but I hope you’ll still gain some insights and check the book out. I’ve added job descriptions in [] to clarify each excerpt.

1) [Managing General Partner] “Baseball teams are small businesses. We’re not talking about General Motors here. We’re talking about $150 million or so in revenue. That’s not a real big business. The profile we have is so extraordinary that it’s a great platform for representing the city, and leading other businesses in the sense of corporate citizenship. Many people think that professional franchises are one indice of municipal status. So in that sense, I think it’s more of a quality of life issue than it is an economic, or standard of living, issue. I think baseball, and other professional sports, do have an economic impact, but I think it’s far surpassed by just the psychic benefit that’s derived from a city from being associated with a successful professional franchise. It can be an economic catalyst, but more importantly, I think it can be a cultural societal leader.”

2) [Senior Director of Player Personnel] You’re risking years of your life trying to get to the major leagues, and you are not really getting there because of the money. You’re getting there so you can say that you’re a major leaguer. If you’re not going to be one of those guys that really makes the money, you’re risking possibly ten years of your life. You’ve got a good chance of coming out of high school or college and being twenty-eight, twenty-nine years old, and really have no skills for the job market.

3) [Pitching Coach] The lowest batting average in the history of baseball is [against] the down-and-away strike. All the great pitchers own that part [of the strike zone]. When you own down-and-away, that allows you to go to all the areas of the strike zone.

4) [Manager] nobody should ever beat you mentally. I think that’s the thing that separates the good teams from the mediocre teams. How do you cultivate that? You just have to talk about it a lot, especially in extra-innings games where you get into a tough spot, then you really see guys bear down. They get through it and come out on the other side and win the ballgame. Then you point to it and say, “We were mentally tough tonight.” It becomes a part of the culture.

5) [Player] about the pureness of trying to hit it right. I like to hit, but the end-all is the feeling of when the ball is hit perfect—just like a golf shot if you smoke one right down the middle of the fairway with your best drive. That’s the physical feeling. What that feels like is the same in any sport: same with a tennis racket, same with any ball-striking sport. What that feels like is what it’s all about. That’s what I’m after. A home run is the one that is the ultimate. But the fact is if you strike it, it feels the same on a home run as it does when you strike it square on a low liner. That feeling is indistinguishable to me.

6) [Umpire] I guarantee you very few people actually know the rules. There are some that are tough enough where it would take four umpires together to make a decision. Let’s take interference for instance. In the rulebook, it says, “No runner shall advance or score on interference.” It’s plain and simple. There it is. Four pages later, there’s a situation where there’s interference and a guy can score. Well, wait a minute; you told me no one could ever score on interference on page ten, but on page twenty-two a man can.

7) [Ticket Reseller] They used the term “ticket scalping.” When I said, “This is wrong. I see what you’re doing here,” they came after me. So I’m in court, and it was “Scalper-this, John-scalper that.” I stood up and I said to the judge, “Listen, that term is a racist term. It doesn’t belong in your court-room. It’s denigrating to the American Indian. It’s like calling an Irishman a ‘bogtrotter’ or a Jewish person a ‘kike’ or a black person a ‘nigger.’” I said that he shouldn’t have that kind of a term in his vocabulary.

8) [Writer / Journalist] So, yeah, what often happens in sports is you will quote players accurately and you will quote them in context, but then they’ll get grief from their teammates or from the organization, and they’ll come back and claim that they were taken out of context or that was supposed to be off the record. It really is smart if you’re talking to a player on a touchy subject to lay the ground rules, “Is this off the record? Is this on the record? Is this on the record, but not for attribution?” Just to make sure that you’ve got your bases covered with the player.

9) [Groundskeeper] Once the game starts, it’s in the umpires’ hands. The umpires make the call. Any other time, it’s up to the general manager and the groundskeeper. Most of the time, the groundskeeper decides, “Am I gonna put it on overnight, or not?” If we have a chance of rain overnight, and you don’t cover the field and you get to game time and your infield’s too sloppy to play—but it’s not raining—then you lose the game, and it’s the groundskeeper’s fault. You don’t want that to happen to you. You could lose your job whether it’s in the minor league where you might have five thousand dollars at risk, or whether it’s in the major leagues where you have over a million dollars at risk. So that’s always on your mind. People say, “Luke, why don’t you put the tarp on every night just to be sure?” Well, if you do that, the grass will die. You’ve got to really manage it properly. When you put that tarp on, especially in the summer, it’s creating like a big incubator dish for disease, and the next thing you know you’ve get a big square dead spot out there that’s 170 feet by 170 feet. My rule of thumb was: If there was a 30-percent chance of a quarter inch, or more, I would put it on; if there was a 20-percent chance of an eighth of an inch, probably not. That was something that I was used to, but always dreamt about the Southwest and how those guys didn’t have to pull the tarp much.

10) [Director of Entertainment] One of the things about baseball that I feel, and I think that many people feel, is that it’s so different than any other sport because of the pace of the game, which is criticized a lot. What it allows is for you and your family to come to a game, and be able to converse while things are going on. To relax and enjoy the company of each other while still being able to follow the game, whereas, in hockey and some of the other games, you can’t do that.

10a – BONUS!) [Director of Merchandising] Like most retailers, we do a large amount of our business in the last quarter of the year, so we’re continually selling Indians product. We sell everything from shot glasses, keychains, pins, plush blankets, throws, T-shirts, hats, foam fingers, pens, pencils to three- to six-inch Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner bobbleheads. We carry authentic merchandise for authentic fans. I mean, you can go to any other retailer and find a T-shirt or a hat, but you can’t go there and find a set of poker chips and playing cards, or golf balls. You can’t find vintage pieces like a Satchel Paige figurine in motion, where he’s actually throwing the ball. We pride ourselves on doing the things that are outside the normal retail chain.

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