UMass Amherst: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends

Fall 2006

Play Ball!
If baseball is your career and your pastime, you've hit a home run
Matt Vautour ’96, Carol Cambo, and Matthew M. Gagnon ’09G

Check out what some UMass Amherst sport management graduates have been up to since their days on campus.

 

WE'VE WAITED ALL WINTER LONG FOR THIS: Opening Day. Finally. April. And during the next six months (seven, into October, if your team’s lucky), a cast of characters will play 162 games of baseball. There’s no sport as relaxing one minute, edge-of-your-seat the next, where each game has its own rhythm, each match-up is a slave to no man’s clock. It’s a sport as artfully broadcast on a transistor radio as on a 72-inch flat-screen television. Baseball is not just America’s pastime; it is the very definition of the word.


Opening day is a train ride, the start of a long journey during which anything can happen: no-hitters, streaks, slumps, late-season trades. And along the way are all the quirks, traditions, and superstitions, from Pesky’s Pole to the Curse. There are superheroes who knock it out of the park just when their team needs it most. And the fans don’t just sit back and glug beer, no, they are part of it too, the 10th man on the diamond, embracing the possibility of every swing, living the hope that maybe this season is the Magical Season. Heck, it happened for Detroit just last year. In April, a great mystery begins to unfold, and the only sureties are the smell of pine tar, the thwack of a double into right field, the tang of a ballpark frank, and the ump’s voice—ushering in the season of possibility, asking us all to play ball! On Opening Day, everyone’s hometown team is in first place.

As fans stand to sing the national anthem, chances are their minds are on the first pitch coming up, not the people behind the scenes. That is, the ones who work long hours, often far from the freshly mown infield, in air-conditioned carpeted offices, palming cell phones and Blackberries, crunching stats on batting averages and ticket sales. And as the pitcher takes the mound, who’s thinking of the woman who sells corporate sponsorships, the bench coach who sits through hours of spring rains, the community-relations person who makes sure a dying kid meets his hero?

Photo: Dick Bresciani
Chris Antonetti ’98G (middle) is assistant general manager of the Cleveland Indians.

Make no mistake, baseball is big business, and UMass Amherst has graduated many of the businesspeople who make the magic happen.

When Chris Antonetti ’98G was a kid, he had a huge collection of baseball paraphernalia. One of the last things he looked at before going to bed every night was a signed poster of his favorite player, Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly. “Baseball has always been part of the fabric of my life,” says Antonetti, assistant general manager of the Cleveland Indians. “I grew up with three brothers, so baseball was often discussed at the dinner table . . . we played many backyard games. Baseball is near and dear to me.”


Though Antonetti looks younger than his years, he’s a mature pro-sports executive whose star is on the rise. He’s regularly listed among baseball’s up-and-comers, oft-mentioned on short lists for general manager openings on Major League teams. While the recognition is nice, the Indians’ assistant general manager has little time to rest on his laurels, even in the off-season. “I’m busy year-round,” says Antonetti, who assists in player acquisitions and evaluations. He oversees the Indians’ Baseball Operations Department, which handles professional scouting, statistical analysis, and video scouting. “We’re always looking toward the next season, always on the lookout for trade possibilities and ways to build the club,” he says.


Antonetti, an alumnus of UMass Amherst’s Sport Management program, is one of a growing roster of baseball executives whose path to the front office didn’t start on the field, as was the norm even a decade ago. This cohort gained national attention in Money Ball, Michael Lewis’s best seller on Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane. The book told how baseball is evolving from being a sport run by former tobacco-spitters to being masterminded by executives like Antonetti, armed with master’s degrees and business acumen to spare.

Many of those degrees are being proffered by UMass Amherst’s Sport Management program, long recognized as one of the best in the field. Alumni of the program’s undergraduate and graduate programs are scattered throughout professional baseball, in team and league offices in the major and minor leagues, in positions as varied as player development, community and media relations, marketing and sales, and player representation.

Sarah Stevenson ’00 took a job as manager of community relations for the Boston Red Sox in 2001. Among other duties, she coordinates player appearances in the community, helps players handle the public aspects of their own foundations, and fulfills donation requests. The latter is no small endeavor: “We say yes to every nonprofit that writes to us,” says Stevenson. “That adds up to about 3,600 items a year, from signed photos and baseballs to corporate and community sponsorships.”

During the season, Stevenson logs long hours, remaining at the park about an hour after home games and going on the road several times throughout the season to coordinate away-game player appearances. The rewards make it worth it; last year, she worked with the Make-a-Wish Foundation to bring a terminally ill boy to spring training in City of Palms. He threw out the first pitch and watched the team from owner John Henry’s suite. “He had been given a week to live,” says Stevenson, “but he ended up having more time. So we brought him to Fenway the next month to meet Ortiz, who hadn’t been in Florida because of the World Classic. The boy died a few days later, and being able to make his wish happen was something I’ll never forget.” Stevenson says she knew she wanted to work in pro sports, “but until I interned at the Red Sox after UMass, I had no idea jobs like this existed.”

Bob Windheim ’02 has always loved baseball, “the tradition, the nuances, the numbers, and

Photo: Dick Bresciani
Over the years, Red Sox veep Dick Bresciani ’60 has encouraged many bright UMass Amehrst grads to work for the franchise, including Sarah Stevenson ’00, who handles the team's community relations.

the history,” he says. And now it’s his career: He’s an account executive for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, where he sells season tickets, partial plans, and suites for regular-season games. “The off-season is primary selling time,” says Windheim, “It’s when we build our season ticket base and establish new people as plan holders.” Like a salesman in any type of business, Windheim had to learn to shake off the “no-thank-yous.” Once the season is underway, his hard work pays off. “I see people enjoying the magic of baseball and the great family-fun atmosphere,” he says.

Bench coach David Jauss ’83 attributes his lifelong interest in baseball to his father. “He was a sportswriter for the Chicago Tribune for fifty years,” he says. Jauss too spends his days steeped in sports, specifically in the Los Angeles Dodgers dugout, interpreting manager Grady Little’s directives. He communicates “whatever the manager delegates to the team,” such as strategies targeted to the level of play of their opponent. Jauss also directs preparations before games and before the season even begins. “Spring training is the busiest time,” says Jauss. “The team gets into a routine, learning the fundamentals of how the season is going to go.”

One of the earliest graduates of the Sport Management program is Mike Tamburro ’74, president of the Pawtucket Red Sox. It was in Pawtucket, says Tamburro, that the whole idea of minor-league ball as family entertainment began. “We led the industry in identifying the family marketplace as the essential ingredient of a minor league team.” Tamburro interned in Pawtucket in 1974, came back to run the club in 1977 as a 25-year-old, and still runs it some 30 years later. “I don’t think I envisioned staying this long, but it has been a tremendous experience. We’ve watched a club that was once bankrupt become one of the top franchises in professional baseball, at any level. We’ve become part of the community.”

Tamburro attended UMass Amherst because it had one of the first sport management programs in the nation. “I knew this was what I wanted to do at an early age,” he says. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to pursue a career in a business that I really love. The program was helpful back then, because there was no direct route into this industry.”

Not so today: more than 200 schools offer some type of sport management education, far more than the handful that did when UMass Amherst began its program in 1971, when it was part of the Department of Physical Education. UMass Amherst offers both undergraduate and master’s degrees in sport management, now through the Isenberg School of Management. Master’s students have the option of pursuing a dual degree, which earns them both a master’s in sport management and an MBA.

“When we became part of the School of Management, it legitimized our program as an applied business discipline rather than a retread kinesiology/phys-ed major, which is what a number of programs in the field are,” says acting department head Jay Gladden.

Despite new and growing competition, UMass Amherst’s program is recognized as one of the best. Last September, The Wall Street Journal ranked it as one of five schools considered the ‘Class of the Field.’

Much of that distinction stems from the caliber of the faculty and the type of courses offered, which range from business and marketing classes to labor relations. The latter, which focuses on collective bargaining agreements, was especially useful to Chris Antonetti. His wide-ranging job description includes salary arbitrations and contact negotiations, processes that call on skills learned at UMass Amherst.

“One of the most useful experiences I had was working with [professor] Glenn Wong on salary arbitration cases as he was serving as a consultant for the Red Sox. That provided me with a very practical experience,” he said. “The skills I initially learned I’ve fine-tuned as I’ve progressed through the industry.”


Well-trained alumni find work in other areas of the industry besides major- and minor-league teams. Joe Fitzgerald ’90 works for Major League Baseball Special Events producing the annual All-Star Game. “UMass definitely prepared me for my career,” says Fitzgerald, who works behind the scenes on such details as transporting all the media, players, VIPs, and celebrities and securing musical performers. For him, one area in which UMass Amherst excels is especially important: “The network of alumni that exists in the industry is great,” he says.

The network is considerable. For example, Antonetti started out interning with the Montreal Expos, in the player development office, then headed by Dave Littlefield ’88G, who is now general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. While Antonetti was in Canada, he worked with Neal Huntington ’92G, also now in the front office in Cleveland. Sarah Stevenson started out interning for Dick Bresciani ’60, vice president, publications, at the Red Sox and is now his colleague.


As players’ salaries have grown and ballparks look for ways to beef up the bottom line, the business of baseball has expanded. Chuck Steedman ’84 was originally hired by John Henry and Larry Lucchino to help craft their bid to purchase the Red Sox in 2001. Now he’s a vice president with the club, “overseeing the nonbaseball revenue-generating uses of Fenway Park, everything from corporate sales meetings to concerts.”


Like many alumni, Steedman is still actively connected to his alma mater. “UMass has done a great job staying current. The faculty has stayed well-versed in what’s going on in key issues in the industry,” Steedman says.


Steedman, like his fellow Sport Management alumni, take the game of baseball very seriously. “I’m surrounded by people striving to be innovative, to always do things better,” he says. But at the end of the day, he admits, it’s fun to go work at Fenway Park.
“I wasn’t one of your typical ex-patriated Red Sox fans checking box scores,” says Steedman, of when he lived and worked outside of the area. “But when I moved back to New England, I watched my son fall in love with the Red Sox. It reminded me of when I was little, which made it easy for me to get sucked back into it. And then I was lucky enough to be here when the Red Sox won the World Series.”


And as any Sox fan knows, it really doesn’t get any better than that.

Baby Brain
Child development expert professor Rachel Keen reaches for new knowledge.
Baghdad ER
Judith Lee ’86 helped heal the wounds of war.
Old House, New Tricks
Two alumnae tackle a major renovation, taking This Old House viewers along for the ride.
Play Ball!
If baseball is your career and your pastime, you've hit a home run.
Sports Management Graduates
The people behind the scenes.
Eye-Opening Technology
Creating animated spaces for the visually impaired.
Wireless Wonders
The Revolabs Guys take the teleconferencing world by storm.
01003
Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

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