In January of 1997, while I was enrolled in graduate school for business, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had heard many times that I should find a way to make a living doing something that was my passion (* There’s a side story that you can read at the end of this post). I quickly realized that I should be pursuing a career in baseball.
In the early days of the internet I started searching for a job in baseball and, after several months, found a marketing internship with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The job wasn’t prestigious, so I knew I had a realistic shot at being hired. I don’t recall exactly, but I probably mailed or faxed my application in which shows how much times have changed in the last 20 years. In early December, I received a call from a woman named Elaine Olivas. She wanted to interview me in person for the job, which made my dream almost a reality. I actually had an interview in Major League Baseball, while it wasn’t a job as assistant GM or assistant to the traveling secretary, it was still exciting to me.
My interview was scheduled for 10am on a Wednesday a few weeks later. At this time, I lived 38 miles from Dodger Stadium, so I knew I needed to allow 2 hours to drive through LA traffic. However, there was one key problem this day: it was raining heavily. The traffic report on the radio referred to the ugly drive all over Southern California with numerous accidents and gridlock. I soon realized that it was going to be difficult to arrive on time. Since I didn’t have a cell phone, which was more common in the late 1990s than it is today, I had to choose between exiting the freeway to call the Dodgers or keep on driving to get there as soon as possible and hope they understand. I chose the latter. I fought through traffic and did everything I could to get there on time, but I didn’t show up until 10:45. At this point, I assumed that I would have no shot at being interviewed and that I had lost out on the internship.
When I arrived at the front office, I informed the receptionist of my arrival and she asked me to have a seat so my interviewer could speak with me. Elaine, the woman who had called me for the interview, came to the lobby and she was very friendly. I profusely apologize for my tardiness. She was very accommodating and said she understood that driving conditions were terrible that day. Next, she asked me to follow her to where we would conduct the interview. I didn’t realize we would be heading to the Press Box for the interview until I saw the sign posted on the door she was opening.
Obviously, I was in awe to be sitting in the dining area behind the press counter and Vin Scully’s booth. My mind raced through all the possibilities of who else may have sat where I was sitting in that moment. Elaine asked me questions about baseball, the Dodgers, working with others, dealing with the public, etc. The questions were easy to answer and the interview was conversational in style. I left the interview feeling pretty good actually, despite my late arrival. After a few weeks, I was officially hired by the Los Angeles Dodgers to work for minimum wage as a marketing intern.
The specifics of the job included working during promotion games of the 1998 season and taking surveys of the fans as they entered the stadium. We had to ask them questions about whether the promotion caused them to buy tickets, how many games they attend annually, and other basic questions about their buying habits as customers. The intern team consisted of about 6-8 of us. Our goal was to complete about 20 surveys per intern. The first thing I found most challenging was that many fans didn’t want to answer our questions even though it only took a minute or two. In fact many fans were quite rude. I thought if you were arriving at a game when the gates open an hour and a half before first pitch, then you wouldn’t mind spending a minute answering a couple of questions. Even those who did agree to answer the questions seem to be bothered by the process. Completing 20 surveys suddenly became a daunting task. As the first pitch approached, it got worse since fans didn’t want to miss the action. Sometimes I would walk up to people standing in line to buy beer and ask them questions while they stood there, but I didn’t get too far with that either.
After working a couple of games, I suddenly discovered that some of my colleagues we’re going into the restroom or sitting in the upper deck and completing all of the surveys themselves. I heard one guy admit to walking out to his car and filling out the surveys while he listened to the radio. I chose to not go that route. I wanted my research to be legit, even if it was painful to collect. I also wanted to develop a career in baseball and starting off with that kind of behavior didn’t seem like a good idea. So, I continued to toil away and I was usually the last guy to come in with his results, which meant I had to assemble the data. I didn’t mind the extra work, because it gave me time to show that I was a committed employee with a good attitude. As the first few innings of the game went on, I was in an office inputting data into a computer, while the rest of the interns were out catching the game for free, which we were allowed to do.
While I worked in that office I met a guy named Scott Bolton, who was a full-time employee in the marketing department. He was an easy-going stand-up guy who was willing to converse with a lowly intern. I recall one conversation where we discussed how to package a mini plan together. I thought it made sense to package your desirable games with some of your less desirable games in order to boost attendance and sales for games against the Brewers and Pirates. He actually said that you sell more plans when you do a prime package instead, including games against the Giants, Cardinals, Mets, and Braves. It was that type of conversation that started my thought process down the road of working in baseball in a non-baseball related capacity. We all have dreams and aspirations of following in the footsteps of Theo Epstein & Company but there are a lot of jobs to be done there aren’t directly related to baseball operations. Not only did I learn from Scott I also developed a positive working relationship with him that would result in my continued employment with the Dodgers later on, but I will discuss that in part 2 of this story…
* Side Story: During my sophomore year in college, I took an accounting class with a dynamic professor who clearly worked in 2 fields of passion: accounting (yeah, I know) and teaching. The day before the final exam, I was sick with the flu and decided to take NyQuil so I could sleep and be ready for my 9am final. I set my alarm for 8am and fell asleep after some last minute studying. The next morning, I awoke to my alarm blaring at 9:45. 9:45!!! My alarm was set accurately, but I slept through it for nearly 2 hours.
I quickly dressed, skipped brushing my teeth, and ran a brush through my hair once and darted off to my class at a feverish pace. When I finally made it to class, the professor asked if I was ok. He had a grave look of concern, but I assured him I was fine and asked if I could still take the final. He agreed and told me I could finish it in his office if I needed more time. After I turned in the final, I went to the restroom and as I was washing my hands, I caught my first view of myself in the mirror. My hair was a wreck, my eyes were bloodshot, I was sweaty, and I had a 3-inch diagonal cut on my forehead. I looked like a cross between Herman Munster and Nick Nolte’s mugshot. The cut came from my brush that morning, but I never looked in the mirror to notice. I now understood why my professor looked concerned, he must have thought I went through hell to get to that final. Knowing him, he probably told the story of a student who battled greatly just to get to his class. My professor taught me many things that semester. In addition to accounting principles, he showed that he cared about people and never took himself too seriously. He did what he loved and got paid for it.
I am a child of the 1980’s who became engrossed in baseball after attending my first Angel game in 1982. As we headed to the Big A, I was told great tales of a man named Reggie. Sitting down the first base line, I watched the lineup announcement with great anticipation, but discovered that Reggie wasn’t in the lineup. It didn’t matter, the experience was magical, my grandma bought me my first Angel cap, and I fell asleep in the car on the way home. As the next decade emerged, I started a 25-year run in fantasy baseball, which ended with the 2014 season. I have been working in education since 2002 and also spent 2 seasons working for the LA Dodgers. Now, I am having fun observing baseball rather than obsessing over every box score that included one of my fantasy players.