As the weather shifts from bitter cold to the humidity and heat of summer, the attention of sports fans across the Triangle shifts from March Madness to the heat of baseball season.
For two recent NC State graduates, the warmer days mean Opening Day is right around the corner, marking the end to the long offseason and the spoils of all the hard work they’ve put in.
Max Kaufmann and Tyler Russell, 2014 NC State graduates, are both executives in the Coastal Plain League, an amateur collegiate baseball league with teams from North Carolina and Virginia competing for the Pettit Cup Championship.
Kaufmann began his career in baseball as an intern with the Copperheads. He had grown up a fan of the game but had never played. He impressed the front office during his time as intern enough to hire him when he graduated.
“In the fall, there are only three full-time staff members, so everyone puts on a lot of different hats,” Kaufmann says. “I have to make sure the ballpark is ready year-round, I work in marketing to sell sponsorships, I write press releases after games. Everyone has to do a little bit of everything.”
Russell, the assistant general manager of the Edenton Steamers, took a slightly different route than Kaufmann. A high school baseball player and a softball official in college, Russell always knew he wanted to work in baseball. He took a volunteer position with the Steamers to get his feet wet in the baseball industry.
That volunteer position turned into an internship, which turned into the position he currently holds today.
As assistant general manager, Russell’s main goal in the off-season is to secure sponsorships for the team. During the season, his focus shifts towards the day-to-day operations of running a ballpark.
While the Coastal Plain League has many similarities to the traditional minor league system, there are also several key differences that makes it unique.
For one, the teams are not affiliated with any major league team, which gives their general managers the ability to create the rosters each season without supervision.
Being an amateur collegiate baseball league, the teams recruit and sign the best collegiate talent they can find. A look at the Steamers roster finds a range of players, from current NC State freshman catcher Shane Shepard to Cody Thompson, a redshirt-freshman pitcher at San Diego State.
The players are not paid. Instead, they get valuable experience against strong competition, extra reps in the off-season and exposure to professional scouts.
“We get calls all the time from coaches trying to place players,” Kaufmann says. “We often have to find a nice way to tell them no.”
One of the responsibilities of Kaufmann and Russell is placing the players into the league’s host family program, which matches the player with a local family who houses the player at no cost.
Both Kaufmann and Russell have aspirations of being front-office executives at a higher level one day. The challenges they face are sometimes immense with long hours and little pay.
“It’s small pay and a lot of hours,” Russell says. “On a game night it would be nothing to spend 14 hours at the ballpark and get up and do it all over again the next day. But for me the reward is being able to work in baseball. I love the game.”