NEW YORK -- "I don't know who he is … where he is … but he's coming."
Major League Baseball's third annual Diversity Business Summit began on Monday morning with those symbolic words from Harrison Ford's Branch Rickey character in last year's movie "42." They were shown in a high-energy video to start the opening remarks in the ornate Hammerstein Ballroom at the Manhattan Center, beginning two days of opportunity creation and networking that coincide for the first time with Jackie Robinson Day today, extending a great legacy to help open doors.
The MLB Diversity Business Summit, co-hosted by the Yankees, provides more than 1,000 job-seekers and entrepreneurs with unprecedented access to human resource and procurement executives from MLB's Central Office, all 30 MLB clubs, MLB Advanced Media, MLB Network and Minor League Baseball clubs. Panels are underway throughout the first day as well as a large trade-show floor featuring those baseball entities and new touches such as the World Series Trophy, a Jackie Robinson Montreal Royals jersey and the new "Legacy 42" apparel line.
Fans can follow @MLB_DBS for real-time updates at the event, and #MLBDBS is the hashtag to use on Twitter.
"This is such a great opportunity for a lot of people," said Peter Stafford, a local business consultant and a member of the New York Urban League Young Professionals, while he was standing in a line at the Commissioner's Office booth. "It's a great opportunity for students to get into sports or do internships, and for a lot of people who are older and who are interested in maybe working in the sports world, this is a great opportunity to segue into this venue. This experience tests your analytical skills, your intellectual skills, your capabilities. It's just a good opportunity to network. Networking with a person now could lead to something down the road. It's fun."
Stephanie Stephens is in human resources and brought her resume to the MLB.com booth as well as others, including regional clubs. A Brooklyn native, she said baseball has been important in her family's life. Stephens learned of this event two months ago at Adelphi University. It was there that she met Wendy Lewis, MLB's senior vice president of diversity and strategic alliances, the catalyst for taking this event around the Majors after its inception in Chicago and Houston.
"She told me about the event, I spread the word and shared it with my son, who's a sports management major at the University of New Haven," Stephens said. "So the two of us are here, and we look like 'Men in Black,' but we're ready to engage and meet with new people and hopefully find an opportunity with MLB or a team here. I'm focusing on the Northeast region based on whether or not I could relocate.
"So I'm focusing on Major and Minor League teams, and obviously the Commissioner's Office. I've spoken to folks at the New York Yankees and New York Mets, and I'm just going to keep moving around the Northeast."
Leonor Romero, senior director of human resources for the Dodgers, said after meeting with at least 100 interested attendees that she was "amazed" at the talent they see coming through here.
"The youth and the excitement that the kids have, they're so interested and passionate about the sports industry and really baseball. We just love that aspect," Romero said.
"This is such a hard industry to get into, so we want to be able to help these students out. We want to be able to recruit the best talent that we can. So any way we can help them, and us bringing these resumes back to the organization and providing it to our department heads for future recruitment purposes is very beneficial to both the attendees and the organizations."
Yankees president Randy Levine was among the speakers in the opening remarks, and he made the formal announcement that the late Nelson Mandela would be honored today with a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, in front of South African representatives and attendees from this conference. Mandela was celebrated at old Yankee Stadium after he was released from prison in 1990, putting on a Yankees cap and jacket and saying: "You know who I am. I am a Yankee."
Levine said the host club embraced this opportunity to do "things no one has seen before."
"The New York Yankees are committed to diversity in every single thing we do," Levine said. "In the building of Yankee Stadium, we needed to make sure that opportunities would be provided for everyone. … Every single day in our business plan, one of the main things we look to achieve is opportunity for everybody, whether it be employment, contracting, in any aspect we do. Because baseball is a national and an international game, and we need it to be enjoyed and shared and experienced with everybody.
"When we were asked to co-host this, it wasn't a question of, 'Do we do it?' It was a question of, 'Yes, and let's make it really, really significant.' This year, as Wendy said, it's part of the Jackie Robinson festivities, it's going to be really special."
Sonny Hight, senior vice president and chief security officer for the Yankees, told the audience how he had grown up in the Bronx and gone on to a long career working for the Steinbrenners.
"As a young boy, I was a Yankee fan and attended Yankee games, never thinking that one day I would be head of security operations here," Hight said. "Of course, being young, I didn't always have money to get in, so there was this hole in the fence that we would use. Once I became a security officer, that was the first thing I did, patch that hole in the fence."
Commissioner Bud Selig will issue the keynote address today, and the entire conference will pause to pay tribute to Robinson with a group screening of "42" at the end of the second day's events.
One of the most anticipated panel sessions was at the end of the day: a business operations conversation in which Peter Woodfork, MLB senior vice president of baseball operations, interviewed Yankees general manager Brian Cashman in an informal setting. Their discussion was wide ranging, with Cashman addressing everything from who might play first base next for the Yankees (probably Kelly Johnson, if it's against a right-hander and probably Russ Canzler if it's a lefty) to how he got his current job and why he never thinks ahead to what's next for him.
"It's been a long road," Cashman said. "I started as an intern [in 1986]. I never expected to be the Yankees' general manager. When I talk to people who ask, (a) 'How did you get started,' and (b) a lot of people think you plan out five years and 10 years and 15 years. ... Some people have those types of stories, where 'I grew up and I was gonna be this.' Tiger Woods was going to be a golfer -- you saw the video of him as a kid when he was golfing. All I did as a kid was work my tail off.
"You never know who's watching what you are doing when you are doing it. I just did the best I could. I worked for a very volatile boss -- you may have heard of him, George Steinbrenner, he was a tough cookie. I was wanting to make sure that whatever I did would make sure Gene Michael wouldn't get jammed up or be in trouble or be in position to get screamed at. . . . everything I did up to this point was to make sure they were able to sleep at night knowing whatever they asked me to do I did and I didn't mess up. Because if I messed up, they were in trouble, not me. No one knew who I was. I guess that served me well some way. I kept my eyes focused on what was in front of me rather than planning.
"If you ask me today what's next for me," Cashman added, "I've got no idea. I'm just trying to do the best I can in the present. And if I do that well enough, everything in the future should take care of itself one way or the other."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog.