SABR conference offers 'big break' to MLB Diversity Pipeline members

Event-goers also visited seven Spring Training camps in Arizona

March 11th, 2024

PHOENIX -- Growing up within walking distance of a Minor League Baseball stadium in Fresno, Calif., UCLA senior Joseph Cordova fell in love with the game.

“I’ve loved baseball since I was 4 years old,” said Cordova, one of 33 members in this year’s Diversity Pipeline Program attending the SABR Analytics Conference in Arizona. “My dad kind of instilled the love for baseball within me.”

The Diversity Pipeline Program was created by Major League Baseball to identify, develop and grow the pool of qualified underrepresented candidates for on-field and front-office roles. The program first sponsored 12 candidates to attend the SABR event in 2017, working to promote diversity at the conference. Eight years later, the collaboration has resulted in in-person access in Phoenix from March 6-9 and virtual access to 145 candidates.

“That’s what this is all about, being able to start making those connections,” said Tyrone Brooks, senior director of the Diversity Pipeline Program. “They’re getting a chance to now start to build that relationship that will hopefully turn into an opportunity for a job, and also finding something that they’re going to do, hopefully, for the rest of their lives.”

The 2024 cohort traveled to Arizona, where they visited seven MLB clubs during Spring Training -- beginning with a virtual meeting with the Mariners and proceeding to in-person trips to the Cubs’, Reds’, Royals’, Rockies’, D-backs’, Giants’ and Brewers’ camps. During in-person visits with front offices, candidates heard first-hand about the skills needed to get hired and what hiring managers are looking for in front-office positions in 2024.

From Wednesday through Friday, participants are scheduled to meet virtually with five additional teams from the Grapefruit League -- the Rays, Twins, Guardians, Yankees and Red Sox -- for even more insight.

Cordova said he now feels “destined” to work in baseball. He didn’t always feel that way.

At 16, Cordova’s life changed when his father died of liver cancer. Without his father around, Cordova’s love for the sport faded, but he found it again as he began to study analytics in class and later worked as a data analyst. He was also the bullpen catcher for UCLA’s baseball team.

“That was amazing, to come and have that opposite feeling than what I once felt,” Cordova said. “Coming from different backgrounds that don’t necessarily have the resources, I think it’s really cool to get a big break and a big jump into what these people are looking for, and how to really succeed.”

Current college students such as Cordova (UCLA), former players such as Mikayla Santa Cruz (Division I Creighton softball) and even current players such as Kolby Johnson (Atlantic League) were among the Diversity Pipeline attendees at this year’s conference, trying to find their place in baseball through data analytics.

As Johnson begins to determine his next steps after he retires from playing in the Atlantic League, he explained that the program has taught him that he does not need to be an expert right off the bat. It has also given him the confidence to explore what best suits him.

Santa Cruz echoed that sentiment. The former softball player graduated from Creighton in 2022 and is using the program as an opportunity to find out who she is outside of being an athlete.

“I’ve learned that there’s so much more about myself than I thought,” Santa Cruz said. “I can give so much more to the game, and making connections with people has put me on a different level mentally.”

Brooks’ vision is to give candidates of all backgrounds an opportunity to learn about data analytics, and that objective continues to grow every year. His passion for diversifying the pool has not gone unrecognized by this year’s participants.

“Looking at all these people around the room and talking to my peers, it gives me a new hope that women will be able to be in these higher positions,” Santa Cruz said. “Everyone brings a different piece. If you had one non-diverse group, you wouldn’t have the fun creativity and different perspectives.”