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August 13, 2014

In The Game

The Loneliness of a Minor-League Intern

by Leo Martinic


We are often asked by readers the best way into the baseball industry. There are many routes. Leo Martinic, a college student at Marquette University, tried one of them, and we asked him to write about his experience.

***

After filling out eight applications and cover letters with various minor-league baseball teams during my first semester at Marquette University, I was feeling confident about my chances of scoring a minor-league internship for the 2014 summer. Who wouldn’t want a 19-year-old who would work hard for low pay and be eager to learn the tricks of the trade? I had grown up around the game, I loved scouting and advanced statistics, and I was willing to work as hard as possible, with no hindrances or other responsibilities in my life. Add it up and you get a kid who thinks he just might have a shot. But with each passing week, my dream of someday working in a major-league front office seemed like it would be over before it even began.

From my understanding, there is no single qualification that one must possess to get a chance in this industry. Each minor-league team had a different application. Some teams wanted a resume and cover letter, while others required only the generic application that could be found at your nearest Target or McDonald's. Teams that required a cover letter asked why I was qualified for the position and what set me apart from other applicants. The applications seemed to be geared toward discerning who had the drive and stamina for the position, rather than looking for any particular skills, experiences, or qualifications.

One evening in early January, I saw that I had an email from the Potomac Nationals assistant GM asking if I was available for a phone interview the next day. After four months of waiting for responses, I finally had the perfect opportunity—I live right outside of Washington, D.C., so I could even stay home for the summer. The interview for the position “General Intern” consisted of the AGM offering background information about the team, then asking me a few questions: “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?,” “What is your greatest weakness?” It appeared that pretty much anyone my age is qualified to become a minor-league general intern, but over the course of the interview I could tell he was trying to see if I really desired the position. He told me there were quite a few others vying for the few spots. A few days later I was told I had received the internship. I couldn’t wait for summer. My first long, cold Milwaukee winter couldn’t end soon enough.

***

The first work schedule for early May came out. I was scheduled to start the day after I arrived home from school—Mother’s Day, as it turned out. (This did not go over well with my mother.) The commute to the ballpark seemed like a breeze, an hourlong drive south on the Beltway and across the Potomac River into Virginia. The P-Nats were playing Myrtle Beach, so I was excited to watch Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro, and Nick Williams. How naïve of me to think interns get to watch the game. Shortly after meeting the P-Nats front office, I was told to fold scoresheets and insert them into the programs. An hour of that had me pretty bored. Then I had to hand out the programs, which was just as boring. But while I was handing them out, I was told to go upstairs to see the GM of the P-Nats, who asked me to pick up a player at Reagan National Airport. I was essentially driving back where I had come from. A few wrong turns and traffic jams later, I had picked up Tony Renda (who was coming back from an injury). The whole series of events was weird and exciting to me. My first day on the job.

During games, the interns are never sitting around. I was doing everything no one else wants to do, from throwing T-shirts into the crowd to helping at the ticket booth. After games we count the money by hand and reconcile the drawers for each food stand. This occurs after the game, so it gets pretty late and tedious.

After a homestand, my job (along with the other interns) was to manually scan in each and every ticket into the computer to calculate attendance. We are talking about taking a hand scanner to ticket stubs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. So you want to be a minor-league intern, huh? Fast-forward a week (when the team is on the road) and I was “databasing.” The task consisted of manually entering information about every grade-school student in Virginia who had participated in a reading program to earn free tickets to a P-Nats game. Thousands of names, thousands of addresses, guardian information, all being punched into an Excel spreadsheet.

Some of the tasks I mentioned above were actually pretty fun. From throwing T-shirts into the crowd, picking up a player from the airport, and counting money after the game (I’m an accounting major), there is a decent mix of excitement and adventure. But these happened so rarely in comparison to what felt like innumerable hours of extreme tedium.

It was around this time that I had figured the job might not be the best route for breaking into baseball. And just as soon as I started to adopt that viewpoint, I questioned myself and started wondering if just maybe this was the way into the game. Maybe there was an opportunity at the end of the tunnel. But the job felt so isolated from what I wanted. I talked to a few employees with the team and everyone had the same aspirations as I did when they joined the affiliate. They just seemed to have become satisfied with the minor-league lifestyle, complacent enough to not chase the dream any further. I didn’t want that to happen to me.

Between stapling endless schedules to pamphlets and rolling up a thousand Taylor Jordan mini portraits, it all had nothing to do with what I dreamt about. Scouting, statistical analysis, being close to the power, it was all so distant. I felt marginalized, like there was no path to follow toward my dream. I started wondering if my aspirations were not realistic and if I should just give up on the dream of working in a major-league front office. I had to buy books and cover other expenses in the upcoming school year, and intern pay wouldn’t cut it—especially after the P-Nats started cutting hours to make budget. Plus, my hour commute on Mother’s Day immediately turned into one-and-a-half or two hours (each way) in the insufferable Washington D.C. weekday traffic.

I decided to give it one more week to see if I could power through, while also working another, better-paying job. I received an email from the assistant GM the night before my next workday warning me to wear clothes I could “sweat in.” That is never a good sign.

That day, when I arrived at the ballpark, I was told that I was going to a local grade school to represent the team as Uncle Slam, the mascot. I wished I could fast-forward through the rest of the day, through the rest of the summer. When my coworker and I found the suit, it was wet with sweat from the game the previous night. I prefer not to recall these memories. I thought I was going to get staph infection.

The principal turned on the fire alarm so all of the kids were lined up outside in a tunnel formation. Walking through a gantlet of K-6 students was hot and painful. The high fives turned into punches to my stomach and lower back—apparently some kids, understandably, found that fun. It must have been 110 degrees in that mascot suit, under the sun in the muggy Virginia summer. I was out.

***

Overall, I learned a lot during my tenure with the Potomac Nationals. What I really learned is what I do not want to do. I truly am grateful to the Potomac Nationals for the experience—it has allowed me to see how difficult it is to break into the business of baseball. After this experience, I do not believe that the best way to break into baseball operations is through the minor leagues, and I will explain why.

In today’s baseball industry, there is more of an emphasis on technology than ever. From advanced stats to new technological systems that churn out player data, those who can comprehend and utilize such information will be in demand. As Billy Beane hinted at in his piece with the Wall Street Journal, the wall between insiders and outsiders in the industry is falling rapidly. Having grown up with all sorts of new technological innovations, our generation is primed for such a technological revolution in baseball.

I am not saying that breaking into baseball through the minor leagues is impossible. It has been done before; Paul Depodesta shot t-shirts into the crowd and accompanied the mascot around town, too. But the best way for those in my generation to make it will be by utilizing our understanding of technology to learn existing systems that offer useful data. The mix between old-school scouting and an understanding of advanced statistics is what my generation boasts—not the ability to withstand the suffering caused by an insulated mascot suit.

To this day, I continue to educate myself on the nuances of scouting, along with studying sabermetrics, so that one day I will get that stroke of luck that puts me closer to my dream career. I truly do thank the P-Nats. But like a hitter who is struggling, I needed to adjust.

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