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Nats Applicants Yearn for a Shot at the Big Leagues

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 24, 2005; Page A01

Mike Shulman is 23, a newly minted public relations and marketing professional, and is willing to do just about anything. "I'll sweep the floors if I have to," he said. Michael Sendar is 58, an attorney who owns several bicycle shops in the Washington area, but wouldn't mind a little extra work. "I've grown up with baseball," he said.

And earlier this month, 38-year-old Jeffrey Deceder walked into the Washington Nationals trailer in the parking lot at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, asked where he could locate the director of marketing and promotions, and, upon finding her, declared, "I'm going to be your mascot."

Mike Shulman, 23, said "it's always been a dream" to work for a sports team. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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They are just three of the ever-growing lot of people who have indicated -- either by letter, e-mail, phone, fax, personal appearance or all of the above -- that they would like to work for Washington's new baseball franchise. The Nationals need managers for guest services and grounds and turf. They need a scoreboard producer and a Spanish-speaking secretary. They need a receptionist and corporate sales account executives. Be it baseball-specific or business-related, the team has been overrun by more than 15,000 résumés, from candidates both qualified and not, in their effort to fill just 45 spots in the front office.

"It's been an unbelievable response," Nationals President Tony Tavares said. "People are everywhere."

The onslaught of would-be workers is another indication that baseball's return to Washington after a 33-year absence resonates deeply with those who love the sport. The team has taken deposits for more than 16,500 season tickets and sold more than $250,000 worth of caps and T-shirts from its lone official merchandise store, another trailer in the RFK Stadium parking lot.

So to some degree, the rush to apply for work with the Nationals is no surprise to Tavares. Less than 48 hours after he arrived in town in October, he picked up the phone in his hotel suite, despite being in the middle of a meeting, and began to listen to a wannabe employee. "If you're interested in a job with me," he said hastily, "e-mail me at . . . " and he provided his address. He has had people arrive, unannounced, at his Georgetown office, looking for work. He has taken a few meetings with particularly persistent people, only to wish he hadn't.

Within two weeks of the team's arrival in town -- when Tavares and his chief assistant, Kevin Uhlich, were a two-man operation -- the franchise decided to outsource the hiring process to TeamBuilder Alliance, a division of Turnkey Sports, a sports consulting firm based in Howard County whose chief executive, Len Perna, has known Tavares for years. The group had a Web site up by the beginning of November where it posted something originally known as the Washington Baseball Job Board. Applicants were encouraged to submit résumés and cover letters through the site which, as of this month, had received more than 375,000 page views, Perna said.

This does not happen when a new construction company comes to town. It doesn't happen when a grocery store opens. It's unlikely that a restaurant has ever received 15,000 résumés for positions on its wait staff. The driving force, of course, is baseball -- and the romance people have with the sport.

"Anybody who's ever played sports or been a fan dreams about working for a major league team," Perna said. "And to be honest with you, this happens to be particularly appealing. It's in the capital of the free world. It's a clean sheet of paper, a clean canvas upon which to paint and completely create a product and a brand from scratch. We've found that there are a lot of people who would give their right arm to work in a situation like that."

Take Sendar. He wrote a letter to Tavares in November, wistfully recalling his days growing up as a New York baseball fan, back when he annually attended the World Series. "My fascination with baseball has continued unabated," he wrote. "My knowledge of baseball history is near-encyclopedic." He said he had "harbored the desire to work in sports management" for years, and that he would offer help in legal and administrative matters for free.

"I'm a sharp business lawyer with an intimate knowledge of baseball, and I [have local] contacts," Sendar said in an interview. "I think I'm a natural for it. I just haven't done it."

Shulman, who lives in Silver Spring and graduated from the University of Maryland last spring, doesn't have decades of work experience that others do, and he already has a job at Radio Free Europe in downtown Washington. But he grew up in the area, interned with a local television station in the sports department and tried to figure out a way to get into the business of sports.

"It's always been a dream of mine to potentially work for the Redskins or one of the local teams," Shulman said, "and this is such a brand-new opportunity."

So back in November, Shulman submitted letters and résumés for a number of different marketing and public relations positions on the TeamBuilder Alliance job board. But he was worried that wouldn't be enough. So a few days later, he marched to Uhlich's office and hand-delivered the same material.

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