DETROIT — The Tigers celebrated the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier by showcasing the opportunities available in the game for people of all backgrounds — not just on the field, but in the front office.
“If you love this sport, if you love sports in general, there are endless opportunities for you to be part of the action,” said Devin Gardner, Bally Sports Detroit host and former University of Michigan quarterback, who hosted a panel during which Tigers front-office members talked with local students about their jobs, getting into the business, the challenges they faced and the rewards of working in sports.
– Corey Bell — Manager of purchasing and buyer
– Deepika Desai — Account executive
– Carlos Guillen — Bilingual coordinator, media relations
– Brian Jemison — Director of client services
– Ashley Robinson — Manager of fantasy camp, alumni and player engagement
– Matthew Williams — Community impact manager
Like Gardner, many of them followed an interest that began as kids. Williams played baseball at nearby Wayne State University and he has worked as a personal trainer. Bell grew up down the street from the ballpark and was a Tigers fan before attending Michigan State University, then started out involved in disabled sports.
Working with the Tigers has allowed them to combine their love of sports with their respective skill sets.
“It’s fun. It’s also hard work,” said Bell, whose two decades with the organization included the experience of the 2006 and ’12 World Series. “You put in a lot of hours. You have 81 shows [home games] to put on, and sometimes these guys don’t see their families like they want to. But the reward is pretty awesome.”
For Robinson, the reward includes the ability to show the personal side of players, helping support those players and their families.
“I’ve always been interested in the storytelling component, or the human side of every aspect,” she said. “And with sports, everyone is used to seeing the number on the back of the jersey. Yes, you see a name, but it’s the number or it’s a stat. I love that I have a job where I can work with them and get to understand them as humans, and they convey that story so that you see the person and not just the number.
“When you’re watching, you don’t feel like you’re watching just to see if they can hit a home run today. You’re rooting for them that much more, because you know who they are, how much work they put in — you know that they care about the Detroit jersey that they wear and the city they come from.”
Guillen — not the former Tigers shortstop — has a role that also includes interacting with the players, serving as a bridge between them and the media. Some of it involves translation for Spanish-speaking players, but his role has grown to include a bit of everything with the entire roster and much of the front office.
“I’m getting paid to watch the games. I’m getting paid to talk to [players and coaches],” Guillen said, “but I’m also getting paid to learn from my colleagues on a daily basis, trying to move forward.”
Continued development and learning was a common theme that the panel members discussed. Bell began with the Tigers in community affairs and moved across departments as he learned new skills and adapted to needs in the organization.
Another theme was the ability to network and communicate with people.
“Make sure you’re networking and make sure you’re showing your best self out there with people, because that will go a long way,” Jemison said.
Just as important, they agreed, was don’t be afraid to fail.
“Fail as much as you can, as early as you can,” Gardner said, “because the failure helps you to move forward. On the other side of failure is everything that you want. There’s no possible way you can get anywhere in your life without failure. There’s not one person up here, there’s not one successful person — Jackie Robinson included — nobody has gotten to where they want to be without failing first.”