Since its inception in the 19th century, Major League Baseball has been a professional home for close to 20,000 players. Some have stayed for just a cup of coffee; others have lasted through a 20-year meal. But with only the rarest of the rare exceptions, none got his start there. The Minors, the farm, the pipeline ... there are many ways to refer to it, but baseball's future has always been as vital as its present.
This explains why clubs devote considerable resources toward attracting top amateur scouting and development personnel. Without a stable of successors, the future Theo Epsteins and Brian Cashmans of the baseball world will be much harder to identify. Just as the game takes great care to find the next on-field star, it does the same with its front-office talent.
Case in point: The MLB Diversity Fellowship program, which is wrapping up its inaugural "season." The Fellowships often last 18 months, affording those in the program an opportunity to dive deep into the inner workings of front-office life.
"I have held a bunch of different roles within the fellowship," said Yankees baseball operations fellow Amanda Brady. "I started out more on the general [baseball operations] side at the Major League level, did a little bit of quantitative analysis and then I spent the Minor League season traveling around with the Staten Island [Class A Short Season] affiliate."
Brady is far from the only fan of MLB's Diversity Fellowship. The inaugural class included talented young professionals from the Bay Area, Middle America, New York's suburbs, down the coast and beyond the continental U.S., reaching Venezuela.
The program has helped mentor young professionals during each step of the process, with many building on skill sets developed through previous internships, employment and sports roles. Six fellows from the inaugural class have so far accepted full-time positions, with more permanent hires expected in the near future. One fellow-turned-full-timer, Chad Tatum, parlayed his position into a job as a scouting analyst with the Orioles.
"So at first, I wasn't really looking for anything in baseball," said Tatum, a former infielder on the Rice University baseball team. "I was getting ready for either grad school or applying for something in data science back home in Texas. But Tyrone Brooks [MLB's senior director of the front office and field staff diversity pipeline program] reached out to me on LinkedIn, and he said that my analytics background would make me a good fit for a baseball front office."
The application and interview processes were, as expected, rigorous, given the deep lineup of qualified candidates. But the opportunity to meet professionals from around the league allowed Tatum to take a big lead in developing his network.
"I interviewed [with MLB] first. There are a lot of questions during the initial screening. Once you get through that, that's when your resume gets sent around to teams, and teams are able to filter through those resumes and see who they want to get to know," Tatum said.
"I talked to about 10 to 15 teams. And the cool thing about that -- I was able to get to know a lot of different people from a lot of different teams just from the interview process. Just making connections within the game before you have your foot down in it."
Those connections, as baseball insiders can attest, are critical resources for those trying to make it in the game. This applies to many industries, but particularly one in which jobs often circulate by word of mouth. That is why one of the fellows, Al Gilbert, greatly appreciated the chance to meet the rest of his class during an orientation at the Office of the Commissioner.
"After the teams selected their [employees], we had an orientation in New York, where all the fellows got together. They had different people speak to us, telling us what they hope to accomplish from the program. They gave us a chance to meet all the other fellows, as well as people in the MLB league office, who serve as support for us throughout the process," said Gilbert, who now works full-time for the Dodgers.
"It was a really great orientation. It was also nice because we now know people at other clubs, and we keep in touch and share our successes."
After obtaining bachelor's and master's degrees from Stanford, a JD from Harvard Law and working at a San Francisco law firm as well as the city's District Attorney's office, Gilbert opted to marry his passion for baseball with his acumen for contract law.
"My mom learned about the fellowship while listening to some program on the radio," Gilbert said. "She realized I was interested in working in sports. I didn't know if the clubs would be interested in someone with a legal background, but the Dodgers reached out with a role."
Those wishing to apply for the next fellowship class can do so on the fellowship's official website. The deadline to apply is Oct. 15.