Derrick Hall started out in this business the same way everyone else did – at the bottom.
He was young, eager and willing to do anything, and he did in 1992, throwing himself into his work as an intern with the Class A Vero Beach Dodgers. He stocked shelves. He gave away free car washes to lucky fans who bought the right stamped program. He hammed it up in the stands as a Monty Hall-type entertainer.
He also learned how to deal with people.
“I knew every one of my season ticket holders by name,” Hall recalled. “I knew which ones liked Bud Light and which ones liked frozen lemonade.”
Today, he’s still on a first-name basis with season ticket holders. Sponsors, too. And every front office employee, top to bottom. It’s all part of his job as the president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, an organization widely regarded as boasting one of the industry’s healthiest work environments.
Hall, addressing a roomful of job seekers on Wednesday in Houston, ticked off his list of criteria when he’s looking to fill a position.
“You have passion,” he said.
“You truly love the game of baseball. You’re a fit for the right reason. And you want to make a career of it.”
It sounds simple, yes. That’s because it is. Hall understands what it takes to work in baseball. He’s been doing it for most of his adult life, as have most industry executives. They do it because they love it.
Sustainability in this game requires skill and know-how, sure, but a genuine appreciation for the game is another vital element. It takes almost no time for the novelty of “Neat, I’m working in baseball” to wear off. A few 80-hour workweeks and modest wages are usually all that’s needed to weed out those who say “Heck, why not, I’ll give it a try, might be fun” and those who will do anything it takes to work in baseball, because it’s all they’ve ever wanted to do, and because they’ll go to whatever lengths necessary just to get the proverbial foot in the door.
I think it’s safe to say if you travel to a far-away place on your own dime in order to get 10 minutes of face-to-face time with a baseball executive without any guarantees that it will lead to future employment, you fall into the latter category.
That’s why if I was in a position to hire someone, I’d begin my search at a baseball-sponsored job fair.
There are currently two — the PBEO job fair at the Winter Meetings, and the Job Seeker Trade Fair at the Diversity Business Summit. PBEO (Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities) has been around for a couple decades at the very minimum, while the Diversity Business Summit is newer, just having hosted its second-ever event in Houston on Wednesday at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Both offer opportunities for job seekers to meet with teams in person. In essence, their resumes fly to the top of the digital stack, and even if there’s not a match, the chance to network and lay groundwork for possible future employment can prove invaluable. From a team standpoint, it’s a good way to jump right over the people who may not be serious about it and get right to those who say they want to work in baseball and mean it.
I’m admittedly a little biased. I got my first baseball job after attending the PBEO job fair at the Winter Meetings in Los Angeles in 1995. I bought a plane ticket, booked a hotel, grabbed a stack of resumes (and my mom) and headed west, where I had no idea what was ahead of me. All I knew was that it was what I needed to do if I was going to make a serious go of this baseball thing.
(This was before the Internet, so I had to actually call a number to sign up for the job fair. No, seriously — I talked to someone very helpful named Anne, who explained that I would need to write the phone number to my hotel on my resumes when I got there, so that perspective employers could call my room if they needed to find me, especially if they had a job offer. Really, this is how we did in the stone ages, when # meant “pound” and “apps” was short for appetizers.)
The experience was excruciating. Three days of anxiety, sweat and nervous nail-biting, while competing with 500 other job fair attendees trying to nab the same low-paying (or no-paying) mostly Minor League jobs. There was one Major League opening, with the Dodgers, but you needed to know how to speak Japanese. (Nomo-mania and all.)
I don’t remember how many teams I interviewed with, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of more than two and less than five. Salary-wise, I figured I could make it work if I didn’t do anything frivolous, like eat. One interviewer from a New York-Penn League team asked, “How do you feel about cleaning bathrooms?” Another said they couldn’t pay me. It wasn’t an internship, like for class credit. They were just not offering money. I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.
I landed a job with the Double-A Canton-Akron Indians, was handed a semi-cool title and a salary that basically took care of the rent and a biweekly six-pack of Milwaukee’s Best. I pulled tarp. I cleaned the stadium after rainy nights. I sold concessions when workers didn’t show. It was a tough year. Let’s just say the work environment was very much the opposite of what Derrick Hall has going at the Diamondbacks. But it was exactly where I needed to be to get to where I wanted to go. The Indians job was a start. The job fair was my springboard.
That’s not to say job fairs are the only way to go. A former colleague at the Astros still has the hand-written rejection letter Drayton McLane sent him 12 or 13 years ago. A soon-to-be graduate at Texas A&M University, Clint just wanted in and was willing to take on just about any task to get there. McLane — not his secretary, not his public relations staff, but actually Drayton himself — kindly explained they didn’t have any positions available, but encouraged him to stay determined and keep charging.
Clint finally got one foot in the door working in the tour department. He eventually landed an internship in marketing, and a couple of years later was promoted to Director of Marketing.
That’s how it was in the Astros’ front office for a long time. College students did internships and internships sometimes turned into full-time employment. At one point, about half the workers on the business side of the operation had started out as interns.
This isn’t unique to just Houston. Every team has similar stories. Most executives, both high-ranking and the middle of the pack, started out by doing the grunt work dumped on them by their bosses. They stayed because they couldn’t imagine ever doing anything else.
In this game, that’s not just the right attitude. It’s the only one that works.