North Carolina Natural

Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dustin Ackley for a piece that appeared in the Tacoma Rainiers game program, The Dirt. Here’s the result.

North Carolina Natural

By Melissa Marchionna

Seattle Mariners 2009 second overall pick, Dustin Ackley may be just 22 years old, but that doesn’t mean his name doesn’t carry any lore. Since breaking out as a star at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ackley has drawn comparisons to such players as Chase Utley, Tony Gwynn and…Roy Hobbs.

Roy Hobbs?

Yes, Roy Hobbs, the protagonist from one of baseball’s classic tales, The Natural. While one might argue that Ackley is a natural himself, born of baseball blood (his father John was drafted in the third round of the 1979 draft by the Boston Red Sox and played professionally for seven seasons), the comparisons go back to the first year of his collegiate career. In an early spring matchup against UNC Wilmington, Ackley hit a grand slam. While grand slams are always considered remarkable, the truly spectacular part of the hit was that it broke Ackley’s bat.

His aluminum bat.

That one swing inspired the nickname “Roy Hobbs,” something Ackley’s teammates continued to call him throughout his college career.

While Hobbs famously said “I coulda’ broke every record in the book,” Ackley almost did. During his storied freshman year, he broke UNC records and led the nation with 119 hits, 296 at-bats and 73 games. He became just the fifth Tar Heel in program history to bat over .400 in a single season and he set a UNC rookie record with 74 runs.

North Carolina Natural Article - Seattle Mariners Dustin Ackley
Click here if you'd like to read this article in "magazine" format, as it appeared in The Dirt.

Even before heading to Chapel Hill, Ackley attracted quite a bit of national attention. He played for South Stoke High School for three seasons, helping his team to back-to-back North Carolina 1A state titles in 2003 and 2004. After transferring from South Stoke to North Forsyth High School for his senior year, Ackley earned preseason and postseason Louisville Slugger All-America honors.

Despite those accolades, Ackley went undrafted after high school. Even if he had been picked up by a team, there’s a good chance he would have turned it down in lieu of university life.

“A lot of kids go through high school and they see the money and want to go straight to professional ball,” said Ackley. “I think the best thing for me was going through college for three years and getting experience there. I think that was the best preparation for me to play professional baseball that I ever could have had.”

The decision to go to school in Chapel Hill was not a difficult one for Ackley. UNC was always in the picture for the North Carolina native.

“The baseball team had been really successful in recent years. It’s a really good program. A couple guys I had played summer ball with committed there.

“Plus, everyone in my family is a basketball fan there, so it made it really easy decision,” Ackley said with a smile.

As challenging as it might have been to balance baseball and UNC’s rigorous academic program, Ackley did follow in his family’s footsteps by cheering on the Tar Heels basketball team. “I went to quite a few of the games at Carolina. I think I went to every Carolina versus Duke game at Chapel Hill,” recalled Ackley.

While Ackley has followed in his family’s footsteps as a basketball fan and in professional baseball, they never forced him in a certain direction, allowing him to forge his own path. When asked about how his father John may have guided his career track, Ackley responded with the perhaps surprising answer that he has not tried to.

“He’s let me go my own way since college. He knew I was old enough to know what to do when the situation came,” Ackley explained.

“He’s told me about the things that went on in his professional career. The things he did. But other than that, he’s let me take this in and experience it for myself.”

Still, when you see Ackley volunteering in the community, posing for pictures with Rainiers season ticket holders, or signing autographs for fans before and after each game, you are seeing his family’s influence. When it comes to those “little things”—the little things that have big meaning for baseball fans—Ackley credits his upbringing.

“I was raised right by my parents,” he noted.

With his family across the country, Ackley now looks to role models in the Mariners organization.

“Since coming here I’ve been around a lot of people who have been in the game for awhile. They are teaching me the right way to do things. I try to do them and hopefully things will work out.

“When I first got to Seattle last August, Mike Sweeney was up with the team. He took me in and showed me everything. If it wasn’t for him, I would have been lost up there. He introduced me to everybody and made me feel comfortable. He was the first guy who really influenced me when I signed with the team.”

Just two days after Ackley joined the Rainiers from West Tennessee, Sweeney began a rehab assignment with the team. The five-time MLB All-Star continued what he started in Seattle while rehabbing in Tacoma, helping the rookie feel comfortable and adjust to his surroundings in the Northwest.

“It was great to see him,” admitted Ackley. “He’s good in the clubhouse. He made everybody relax and have fun. It’s always good to have a guy like that.”

While Sweeney’s rehab assignment has expired and he is no longer a member of the Rainiers, his influence can still be seen in the way Ackley treats the fans and his teammates, and the hustle he shows each day on the diamond.

In The Natural, Iris Gaines, a pivotal person in Hobbs’ past, tells Hobbs “I believe we have two lives…the life we learn with and the life we live after that.”

Be it family, college, coaches, or teammates, the people and experiences of Ackley’s past have taught him how the be a great ballplayer—and more importantly a great person. As his first season of professional baseball winds to a close, Ackley appears ready to parlay the lessons he’s learned into a new life in the major leagues.

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So you want to get a job at the Winter Meetings.

Before I ever got into the “biz,” I had a certain vision of the baseball Winter Meetings.

To me, the Winter Meetings were a time when all of baseball’s general managers sat around a gigantic table and talked trades (yes, I really believed that was how it worked).

Well, having worked in sports for a few years, I now know this isn’t the case. Rather, Winter Meetings 2010 Logothe baseball Winter Meetings are about business, and only a small part of that is what happens on the field. Last year, I decided to go to my first Winter Meetings on a whim—a bit of a birthday gift to myself to see what it was all about. It was at these meetings that I was offered my current position with the Tacoma Rainiers.

For many first timers, the Winter Meetings are all about the PBEO job fair. As someone who had luck at the job fair last year, I’ve fielded quite a few questions about this year’s job fair in Orlando, FL and I have decided to compile my advice into a blog entry. I hope my experience can help others land their dream job in professional baseball.

How the job fair works

The job fair in Indianapolis was like nothing I had ever experienced. The event took up four rooms. One room was devoted to job postings. There were rows and rows of bulletin boards where jobs were posted (by category) every thirty minutes. Each job posting had a number on the top. When you saw a job you were interested in, you would write the number of that job posting as well as the job title on the top of a copy of your resume and deposit the resume in a receptacle in the hallway.

The second room was where interview schedules were posted. Again, these were posted every 30 minutes. The schedules were laid out in order of job number, so remember the numbers of the jobs for which you’ve applied! Sometimes you’ll be asked to pick a time to interview, other times one will be assigned to you. Often, these interviews are assigned to times not long after the schedule is posted (last year I saw I had been selected for an interview five minutes before my scheduled interview time) so be sure to check this room often!

The third room was the interview room. Last year there was entire ballroom with numbered tables. A dry erase board outside the ballroom indicated which number table a team was performing their interviews. When it’s your scheduled time, head over to the table and do your thing!

The fourth room was where I spent the bulk of my time: the work room. Here is where you and your fellow job seekers wait to go into rooms one, two or three.

My tips

  • Be open-minded. Baseball is a competitive industry, which means there is a good chance you’ll have to move far away for a less than desirable salary to get your foot in the door. Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs across the country or to take an internship you feel might be “beneath” you. Baseball has a way of taking care of its own. Many internships (even if it isn’t listed on the job posting) provide housing and long home stands often mean complimentary dinners at the park. Plus, most minor league teams give interns fancy titles like “coordinator” or “assistant,” which looks nice on your resume when all is said and done.
  • Be organized. Bring a notebook and write down the number, job title, team name, hiring contact and posted compensation of each position you apply for. You’ll appreciate this when you look at the interview schedules. You can use this same notebook to jot down notes after you interview.
  • Be courteous. Do yourself a favor and get yourself some “thank you” notes. If all goes well, you’re going to be having a lot of interviews (I estimate I had between 12-15 last year). Eventually, they all start running together. As soon as you get out of your interview, write your “thank you” note to the individuals who interviewed you. Mail them before you even get on the plane to go home. A follow up email the evening after you interview probably wouldn’t hurt either. If you can, get the business card of every person with whom you interview.  
  • Be prepared. I printed about 300 resumes last year. It was overkill, but I did use about 150 of them. In my opinion, there is very little wrong with applying for a LOT of positions (although I would hesitate to apply for more than 2-3 jobs with any given team. You want to appear as though you are focused and know what you want). At the worst, interviews you get are excellent practice. So bring resumes. If you are looking to get into media relations, bring writing samples. Marketing? Bring design samples. If you can swing it, bring a laptop and thumb drive so you can print anything you may need at the business center.
  • Network. Although I mentioned the work room last, don’t underestimate its value. This is where you are going to meet the next generation of baseball employees. Use your time wisely—network and make friends. Not only will this make the job fair experience easier (you and your new friends can divide and conquer the interview schedule room and make sure no one misses an interview during a lunch break), but these are the people with whom you can start building your professional network. Don’t be afraid to talk to people in the hallways or at the trade show—get business cards and hand out your own. Big caveat here, don’t be a fanboy/fangirl. You probably will see more than one Major League general manager or field staffer walking around. A polite hello is fine, but remember you are a professional before you are a fan. The Winter Meetings are not the place to go all teenage-girl-on-Justin-Bieber with your favorite team’s bench boss. You never know who is watching, so keep your game face on.

I hope this information is helpful to you! If you’ve been to the job fair before, anything you’d recommend or do differently than I suggested?

I’m happy to meet up with anyone or answer any questions you have about the Winter Meetings/PBEO job fair. Please feel free to post a comment or drop me an email at melissamarchionna at gmail dot com.

Good luck!