You don't have to throw like Felix Hernandez, field like Robinson Cano or hit like Nelson Cruz to make a living in baseball.
In the spring, a young fan’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … baseball, of course. But what if baseball didn’t have to be just a seasonal, spectator passion? What if it could be at the center of a part-time job or a year-round career?
Major League Baseball is a business, and where there’s business, there’s jobs, both seasonal and year-round. The Seattle Mariners, for example, expect to hire about 500 new staff members this season, according to Jeremy Weir, the team’s director of human resources. Though many game-day positions have been filled for the coming season, the organization is still recruiting to fill security and housekeeping jobs.
The majority of Mariners’ applicants are huge baseball fans, Weir says, but when it comes to hiring, “we look for candidates with great customer service background and skills.”
The Mariners also have full-time staff in the front office, and in marketing, sales, procurement, finance and IT. For youngsters hoping for a career in baseball, Weir recommends starting out in the Mariners’ Fielder Program (high school and college age positions), then earning a degree while completing relevant internships at sports organizations. In a competitive industry, “[that] allows them to gain hands-on experience, which is crucial to getting hired on full time,” Weir says.
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That’s a sentiment echoed by Jen Mueller, a Seattle-based reporter and producer for Root Sports, which broadcasts Mariners games.
“Sports broadcasting is a very competitive field,” Mueller says. “College internships are key for getting a foot in the door, developing your skill set and building a résumé.”
Volunteering can have the same effect. “Reach out to sports publications or websites that accept freelance articles and inquire about being a contributor,” she says.
Mueller also suggests contacting a small college that could use an extra stats person for games. “It might not seem like it fits with a broadcasting career, but volunteer jobs can give you a chance to practice content creation and hone writing skills — both of which are critical in broadcasting, whether you’re on on-air talent or producer,” Mueller says.
Putting in extra effort in entry-level or volunteer roles can pay off, too. Mueller, who has a degree in broadcast journalism, started her career behind the camera as a writer, teleprompter operator and associate producer. But during the years she spent as a sports producer at KING 5, she would stay late a few nights a week after the shows to create her own reporter demo reel.
“I volunteered to go with our photographers to get interviews, edited my own stories and practiced being on camera every chance I got,” Mueller says.
There’s certainly no shortage of volunteer roles in the development of young players. Most youth baseball organizations, including Little League, are powered by volunteers. It’s not just players’ parents who fill those roles — anyone can apply to become a Little League volunteer by visiting the local leagues’ registration site, according to littleleague.org.
To take the heat off parents, some youth leagues pay umpires by the game, and thick-skinned, cool-headed baseball lovers who enjoy this role could explore landing work umping in the big leagues. Just like MLB players, umpires must work their way through the ranks of the minor leagues to get the experience and training they need to make it to the big leagues, according to MLB.com.
Don’t expect to get started by knocking on the Everett AquaSox’s door and showing a highlight reel. Prospective big-league umps must first attend an approved four- or five-week professional umpire training school — and there are only two. Both approved schools are in Florida and train just one class — about 300 aspiring umps a year, according to MLB.com — usually beginning in January.
It’s not enough to simply complete the program. Only about 16 percent of recent umpire school enrollees were picked to go to the next level of training, the site says, before possibly getting assigned to ump in the lowest level of the minor leagues.
Plenty of off-the-field positions revolve around baseball. Think of the physical and mental training, travel and equipment — including shoes and protective gear — that go into the sport.
Hugh Tompkins, the director of research and development for Renton-based Baden Sports, recently returned from spring training camps in Florida, where he’s continuing to introduce major league players to the unusually shaped AXE bat he’s helped develop at Baden.
The Boston Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia started using the bat midway through last season, and Tompkins says some of the best hitters in baseball tried the bat in camps this year.
“It really caught on the last half of the year, and it looks like it’s going to be an even bigger force at the pro level this year,” Tompkins says.
A former University of Washington rower, Tompkins says he never played baseball growing up, but always wanted to be an inventor. It’s that inventiveness, coupled with his design experience, an education in industrial design and mechanical engineering, and his background in sports mechanics that he says helped him carve his place in the industry.
His advice to those looking to make a career in pro sports? “Find the spot you can contribute,” he suggests.
“I became an expert in bat constructions and designs,” Tompkins says. “If you’re really interested in working in baseball, think about the things you are good at and passionate about and figure out how they fit into the sport.”