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Front-office hopefuls aim to make dreams a reality

Job seekers set sights on internships, which could pave way to more opportunities

SAN DIEGO -- Early Thursday morning, Tyler Hadzinsky summoned the strength to cram three days worth of suits, shoes and other belongings into his suitcase and headed to the airport for a six-hour flight back to New York, where his real-world job and his real-world life awaited him.

Soon enough, Hadzinsky, 25, will be back in the office at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he's currently a financial services senior consultant. It's a job he loves, Hadzinsky said. He's compensated well, and as a West Coast transplant from California, he absolutely adores living in New York.

"The best city," Hadzinsky said, smiling.

Yet Hadzinsky, like many other 20-somethings who filled the lobby and nearly every nook and cranny of the hotel for baseball's Winter Meetings, could honestly say he would give it all up for a position that pays minimum wage and doesn't guarantee full-time employment, but would give him a foot in the door -- the chance to work as a front-office intern with a Major League team.

Tyler, are you crazy?

"Actually, that's the first question I get in almost every interview," said Hadzinsky, who had 19 different interviews over a dizzying three-day stretch, some lasting 15 minutes, some up to an hour.

Hadzinsky said he planned on sleeping the entire flight back to New York -- and dreaming.

"I love the job, the people that I work with and the concept of it all. It's a safe job. But baseball is in my blood. I played. My dad played in the Minors. And after sitting down and looking at it, I'm thinking: Am I going to give up the six-figure salary or go after working for a Major League team like I've dreamed of?" Hadzinsky said.

"I didn't come from very much, but I got the big job, living in New York. But there comes a time when you wonder if 30 years down the road, are you going to wake up and wonder if counting derivatives made you happy, or was it trying to win a championship?"

Crazy? Maybe just a little bit, considering how stacked the odds are against these front-office hopefuls.

The reality for Hadzinsky and others who came to San Diego this week is somewhat grim, as not all teams offer these internships, which can be the launching pad for a career in the front office. The teams that do offer these gigs might have a holdover from last year.

The competition for these front-office internships is fierce, and what teams are looking for has evolved over the last decade or so, said Padres assistant general manager Josh Stein, a proponent of the internship program, and not just because he was once one himself.

Stein said he "was fortunate enough to send out his resume six months before the book 'Moneyball' was released." He landed his internship with the Padres in the spring of 2003 and has worked his way up the ladder. He feels the Michael Lewis book that detailed the inside workings of the A's front office changed the landscape for job seekers in the industry.

"It's definitely become more competitive; there are more job seekers. The candidates are more talented and have more experience in baseball and have been thinking about a career in baseball as more accessible than before," Stein said. "When I started, I thought that you had to have played professional baseball to work in the front office."

Kate Powers, 22, hasn't played any baseball or softball, for that matter. But Powers has been a fan of the game -- Yankees and Dodgers, she said -- since she was young, and she gravitated toward it for reasons she can't explain. For four years, starting as a senior in high school, she worked as the team manager of the UCLA baseball squad.

Last summer, Powers, who graduated with a degree in political science from UCLA in three years, had a front-office internship with the Dodgers, giving her an inside look into how the organization runs. She is currently an intern in the labor relations department of the Commissioner's Office in New York, a plum gig that offers knowledge of free agency, the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the arbitration structure and process.

This week, it paid to be light on her feet. Powers canvassed the lobby of the hotel. In all, she met with 10 American League teams and nine National League teams this week. At one point, she had three consecutive meetings at different locations of the hotel, all stuffed in a 50-minute window.

"I'm really trying to network and meet as many people as possible and allow them to get an idea of who I am and tell them about my experiences," Powers said. "Sometimes, it's nothing more than grabbing a couple of minutes here and there. I just try to make sure I'm as prepared as possible … understanding what direction they're moving in, players they might be looking at."

So what exactly are these conversations like between prospective intern and team? Candidates face a daunting task in getting hired. First, they are run through a gauntlet of questions.

• Would you trade the 10th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft for, say, the 25th and the 35th overall Draft picks and why?

• Under the parameters of Major League Baseball's current Collective Bargaining Agreement, can small-market teams still compete?

• What do you think of the potential implementation of the international Draft and the problems that might accompany it?

• If Martin Perez signs a four-year contract extension with three club-option years with the Rangers, who won the deal and why?

"They want you to be current with baseball news, have an analytical mind and then really find out if you know their team," Hadzinsky said.

The Padres' internship program has produced seven full-time staffers in the front office, including Stein. Nick Ennis, another former intern, was recently promoted to director of baseball operations.

"One thing we're really into is trying to provide an experience that will give an intern a broad exposure to all different parts of baseball operations, exposure to the amateur Draft process, player development, how we track the development of our players, our decision-making, new technology, video," Stein said. "We want them to feel that when they come out on the other side, it was time well spent and it prepared them well."

Hadzinsky, who played at Chapman University, bills himself as being able to look at the game through the lens of a former player, with his financial background coming in handy on the business side. He's now added, at the suggestion of teams last year at these Meetings, some scouting to his repertoire, as he spent time with scouts from the Cardinals and Angels in the Northeast last year and has even written articles for Baseball Prospectus.

He did all of this on the weekends, after working close to 100 hours a week at his day job.

But, of course, he'll be doing what he loves, which was the entire point of this whole week -- getting on a team's radar and, ultimately, getting hired. The same can be said for Powers, who won't consider doing anything else.

The game has its hooks in her, and she's perfectly fine with that.

"There's so much strategy … it's a game within a game within a game. I think my political science major kicks in and maybe that's why I like it so much," she said. "It's game theory, integrated thinking. There are so many different levels to it.

"To me, baseball is romantic. I'm infatuated by it."

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter.