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MLB welcomes 1st Diversity Fellowship class

MLB.com

NEW YORK -- As the rate of diversity continues to increase among big league players, Major League Baseball is working to ensure that the same is happening in the league's front offices with its new Diversity Fellowship Program.

The program was designed to recruit talented professionals of diverse backgrounds who are recent graduates and are either just entering the workforce or still in the early phase of their careers to fill open positions in the Commissioner's Office and 18 Major League clubs.

NEW YORK -- As the rate of diversity continues to increase among big league players, Major League Baseball is working to ensure that the same is happening in the league's front offices with its new Diversity Fellowship Program.

The program was designed to recruit talented professionals of diverse backgrounds who are recent graduates and are either just entering the workforce or still in the early phase of their careers to fill open positions in the Commissioner's Office and 18 Major League clubs.

"We have enough self-awareness to recognize where we have some gaps, and we knew that this had to be a priority for us in terms of diversifying talent pipeline, especially when you're talking about the future leadership of an organization," said MLB vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer Renee Tirado. "So we had to be very deliberate and focused to make sure that we found the talent that needed to reflect the country that we live in and also the future of the game."

To spread the word about the new program, Tirado and MLB deputy Commissioner of baseball administration and chief legal officer Dan Halem visited more than 20 colleges across the country from September to November, giving students insight to what it takes to work for MLB.

"When you make things a priority, you got to put your time, energy and money into it," Tirado said. "And that's what we did."

Last fall, candidates were asked to apply online by submitting resumes and essays before going through stages of video and phone interviews with MLB employees. Once those were completed, the remaining applicants were then interviewed by MLB clubs participating in the program.

"In total, I talked to seven teams, wrote 40 essays, had 16 phone and Skype interviews, four in-person interviews and then, three offers," Cubs Fellow Katie Carlson said. "I knew that it was going to be a long wait. You get anxious.. … But all the hard work that everyone on the diversity team has put in, I'm beyond grateful for the opportunity."

Of the 1,300 applicants from 420 colleges, just 22 "Fellows" were selected to be a part of the inaugural class of the Diversity Fellowship Program. On Monday, MLB brought them all to New York City to meet one another during a two-day orientation.

"If you do the math, that's less than 1 percent," Halem said to the Fellows. "It's harder to get a seat in this room than it is getting into Harvard or Stanford or all those other fancy universities, so you should feel proud."

Prior to accepting a fellowship, the Fellows were at various stages of their professional and collegiate careers, including serving as interns and employees of MLB clubs, employees of other professional sports entities, captains of their respective collegiate baseball or softball teams, a college baseball coach and even as an assistant district attorney. These individuals also represent communities across the United States, as well as the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

"Allowing people who are pretty fresh out of school to get immediately immersed into the business is pretty special," Office of the Commissioner Fellow Crisitan Perez said. "I think it says a lot about the direction that MLB is going. I'm very happy and thankful for [senior director, front office and field staff diversity of the pipeline program] Tyrone Brooks and Renee Tirado and the entire staff for investing in the program."

The first day of the orientation was packed with a lineup of speakers who work for MLB to describe their positions and answer questions from the audience. Commissioner Rob Manfred started the orientation with a few brief words of advice for the inaugural class before a number of other MLB employees took the podium.

Monday afternoon was highlighted with a panel discussion that included Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, Yankees senior vice president and assistant GM Jean Afterman and Pirates assistant GM Kevan Graves.

"We thought it was about peeling back the layers so they get a sense of what goes on here at the Office of the Commissioner," Brooks said. "Get a chance to meet some of the people here, get a sense of what happens on a day-to-day standpoint here and just giving them another perspective in addition to what they are going to see at their club."

On Tuesday, the Fellows received lessons on Major League contracts, salary arbitration, Statcast™ and had a Q&A session with MLB senior vice president of international baseball development Kim Ng. At lunch, each Fellow met their mentor who was assigned to them based on the individuals' backgrounds in May. The mentors are located at the Office of the Commissioner, and the Fellows will be required to reach out every month to keep their advisors updated.

"It's something that we're excited about," Brooks said. "When you're in your own little cocoon within your organization, it's good that you continue to expand and build your network. And also just to have someone else who may have been in the same shoes as you having a chance to work at a club. It's good to have someone who knows exactly what they're dealing with when getting started."

The program guarantees each Fellow at least 18 months of employment for the MLB clubs and a minimum of three years for fellowships in the Office of the Commissioner. Once the 18-month period is done, the program will open back up to new candidates to start in the fall of 2020.

"Most of the internships and other fellowships are a year," Tirado said. "We wanted something with a little bit more legs to it that would allow a candidate more time to build out relationships in the sport."

The orientation will wrap up with a six-hour session on Tuesday before the Fellows fly back to their new respective cities to begin -- if they haven't already -- their new positions.

"Everybody's not going to make it, and that's OK," Tirado said. "But what I will promise them is that they will be exposed to a great experience in baseball, and if nothing else, they will leave with a phenomenal skill set that they will be able to leverage into whatever track they go professionally, whether it's inside or outside of MLB."

Mandy Bell is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York.