You know my story by now. I spent 14 amazing years working in minor league baseball. I took the next 15 months to travel around the world. I came back to Durham, NC to start my second adult life doing something else. Seemed simple enough to me, except for this objection I occasionally receive from a hiring manager:
“I’m not sure how your experiences in minor league baseball translate to what we do here.”
It’s a reasonable concern. Most people who buy tickets to minor league baseball games aren’t entirely certain of what we do. When we tell someone we work in baseball, they assume we’re either a player or a liar.
Some of what we do probably doesn’t translate, unless your office has regular sumo wrestling matches between co-workers in giant puffy suits. Most of what we do will completely translate, and some of those experiences will be major assets to your business. In the spirit of the grand old game, here are nine of them…
Teamwork knows no limits: If you go to a Durham Bulls game on a miserably rainy night, you’re going to see a smiling gentleman drenched to the bone and covered in field sludge because he’s been anchoring the corner of the field tarp as it went on and off and on and off the infield all night long.
That’s the Bull’s general manager.
Whether you’re the team’s top dog or the lowest ranking intern, when it rains everyone from the front office pulls the tarp. You’re never too important to do the dirty work.
Working hours are any hour you’re still breathing: I’ve been woken by embarrassing cell phone ringers more times than I can count. “Dude, we just lost. You’re not going to have the Olympic team at your stadium because we aren’t going to the Olympics,” came from an aggravated official from USA Baseball at 2 AM from Central America. “Matt, the media is going to be calling. One of our pitchers was shot last night,” was a 5 AM wake-up call from my general manager. I don’t remember ever answering, “Hey, I’m sleeping!” During a season our day begins at 8:30 AM and lasts until 11 PM assuming nothing bad happens. We’re not going to be outworked.
Other duties as assigned: That is a familiar catch-all to any minor leaguer that has perused a team’s job postings. It doesn’t matter what you were hired to do, you’ll be doing things you never dreamed would fit your job description. As a PR and game entertainment director I’ve spent a day in a female penitentiary, tried to hire a trained monkey, mowed the infield, cleaned the concourse signs, torn up carpet from a clubhouse, dressed as a giant sea monster, wrestled Sgt. Slaughter and thrown a ceremonial first pitch as a 195-pound Santa Clause in July. One sentence you’re not likely to hear from a minor league veteran is “That’s not my job.”
First pitch is at 7:05: You want to talk about deadlines? On game day, thousands of people are going to know if we made our deadline or not because a great big clock in center field is going to alert them as to what time our pitcher threw the first pitch. It will also be in the online box score for anyone interested. Several of my colleagues can tell stories of installing outfield billboards as the pitcher was throwing his warm-up pitches on opening day because the sponsor had paid for all 72 games. You don’t get 30 more minutes, you can’t push it until tomorrow. Unless Mother Nature is throwing a fit, you better have your job done on time. No exceptions.
You’re not the boss of me!: What if your most valuable workers didn’t have to answer to you? They came to your office, made you a ton of money, but could say “no” to anything you asked of them. That’s the relationship a minor league front office has with the players and coaches. In short, their real employer is the major league team that pays their salary. Other than play the game, they don’t have to do a darn thing for us. If we want to be successful, we have to learn how to get things done without a title. We have to be smart, fair, persuasive and trustworthy. Otherwise our mascot is going to be doing all of the autograph sessions.
Aliens just landed in the outfield? Can they dance?: I suppose if predictions in the Book of Revelation came to fruition a minor league guy might get a little freaked out, but if you spent anytime in the game you learn to expect the unexpected at the worst possible time. I received a call from Dodger’s Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda the night before the 1999 California/Carolina League All-Star Game telling me he had to cancel his appearance scheduled for noon the next day. I’ve had my entire opening day pre-game show get stranded on the highway after emergency vehicles had locked up traffic when a guy collapsed and died at the front gate of our stadium. We prematurely landed a helicopter at second base carrying an American Idol finalist because the chopper was about to run out of fuel and rushed Kevin Costner off the field before a tornado practically touched down on his stage at our 4th of July celebration. We don’t panic. To survive, we learn to just roll with it.
Opportunities to create raving fans are everywhere: Imagine being surrounded by 10,000 of your customers every day. The odds that all of them are going to have a perfect night at your establishment are pretty slim, but when things go wrong, we learn to make it really right. My favorite story is of a fan who had an accident with a mustard dispenser resulting in the yellow stuff all over his shorts. After getting him settled in his seat, our assistant general manager went to Target, bought the man a new pair of shorts and presented them to him by the fifth inning. How many times do you think he told that story? We love creating those memories with customers.
Little business, big market: Minor leaguers are scrappy. Most of us have no idea what it feels like to work for the most popular team in our city much less our region or state. Like the youngest child at the dinner table, we learn to fight for our piece of the pie. Media doesn’t usually beat a path to our door and fans are more likely to pick a game based on the date and weather than the success of the team. The New York Yankees can just take orders, the Lake Elsinore Storm better be making phone calls. How hungry do you want your employees to be?
Everyone Loves a Winner: In my time with the Durham Bulls we won three league championships. Within a few days of those championships I’d sit down in the assistant general manager’s office for a meeting about the upcoming season’s promotions that would have been much more difficult if we hadn’t just won a title. Championship t-shirts, championship caps, replica championship rings…you name it, we produced it. Minor league teams have lots of stakeholders: players, coaches, fans, sponsors, major league affiliates, and employees and everyone wants to feel like they are part of a winner. We know how to celebrate our successes with our stakeholders.
So there you go. If you’re hiring, we’re ready to work. And don’t worry, we clean up really well, never mix sunflower seeds with bubblegum and promise not to use your conference room as a waiting area for mascots. Unless it’s your birthday, of course.