Matt Klentak is the Assistant General Manager for the Anaheim Angels. Here he talks about how he became one of the youngest executives in baseball.
I graduated with a degree in economics from Dartmouth. My first job was working as a teacher assistant at the same collaborative my mom works for. I’d be there from seven to two, and when I got home at 2:30 every day, it was my time to call and email clubs. I used that time as my platform to make contacts and put myself in a position to be ready for something. That’s really all I could do.
I faced all the same challenges that a lot of us face. All my friends lined up to buy new suits for interviews with the Goldman Sachs, JP Morgans… and I really felt the pressure. But bonds versus baseball…it was no comparison. I didn’t know in what role or for what team, but I knew that baseball, the business of baseball, was what I was meant to do.
I remember it was Columbus Day, in a brutally busy time for baseball clubs, and I was sitting at my kitchen table having a conversation with Theo Epstein. At the time, he was not a household name by any stretch. Theo took an hour, maybe more on the phone with me to tell me how he got from A to B and to offer his suggestions and advice. Less than a month later, Theo is the youngest GM in baseball. Me and five thousand other people emailed him to wish him congratulations.
Maybe a week later I get an email from someone in the Red Sox office conducting the search for next year’s internship. The Red Sox wanted to talk to me based on the conversation with Theo. So I go through phone interviews, in person interviews…a long, drawn out month and a half process until it’s down to me and one other guy. For whatever reason, I don’t get the job. It killed me.
The best piece of advice I ever received was, ‘Do not leave a conversation without getting the name of at least one other person to talk to.’ That’s the profession. You get to know one, you get to know another. Sooner or later, you get to know all the guys in this inner circle.
I told the Red Sox and Jed Hoyer, “Listen. If you hear of anything else, let me know. Anything with another club, or with the Red Sox…I’m still waiting it out…baseball is still what I want to do.”
Maybe a month later he called me and said, “Matt. You gotta give this guy in Colorado a call. His name is Thad Levine. The Rockies have a similar internship to the Red Sox and I heard they haven’t filled theirs yet. Give him a call.”
I called Thad, he puts me in touch with someone else there…within two days they offered me a full time baseball operations internship in Colorado. Contingent upon me being able to get there in ten days.
I picked up and moved from the east coast, somewhere I’d lived my whole life, and moved to Colorado, where I didn’t know anybody. That was my first real job out of school. And it was definitely my first real baseball job.
The Rockies were a low revenue team with a lot of financial trouble, so I really was exposed to the baseball side from a very financially prudent standpoint. They lost two guys and didn’t replace them so a lot of full time projects fell to me. I learned the value of a dollar. Got to go through a draft, the trade deadline…did some work on arbitration at the end of the year. Did some video scouting. I feel like it was a blessing to be able to be exposed to the Rockies.
The hardest part for me was there was no definitive end date to the internship. I had a desire to stay. They had a desire to keep me. But their hands were tied from a dollars and hiring freeze perspective. I operated for a few weeks under the assumption that I was going to be there for another year, or indefinitely, but that plug was pulled. I had to leave and I didn’t know what I was going to do.
Dan O’Dowd, the GM of the Rockies, called me in. We identified what would be a good fit for me, moving on. He got on the phone and called the labor relations in the Commissioner’s Office. Dan convinced them to take me on for a few months to help with arbitration hearings.
So Dan totally hooked it up. And he has a tremendous track record with placing his interns. I was in the third year of the Rockies internship program. The first year was Jon Daniels, who is now the GM of the Rangers. The next kid ended up working for the Scott Boras Corporation. And then me. Everyone who had a desire to stay in the game has stayed in the game. Dan is just awesome at helping people.
Finished my gig in Colorado and come to New York. New York is not a cheap place to live. I literally lived on my buddy’s couch in Queens. Indefinitely. As long as I was going to be at the Commissioner’s Office, I was going to be on his couch. So you talk about challenges, try sleeping in the living room on a leather couch with no air conditioning through the months of May, June, July. That’s hard.
So I work on salary arbitration for three months, and then had an assessment to see what was going on. I made the case that I contributed in this way, and expressed that I really enjoyed working here. From that meeting, we collectively set forth to getting me hired full time. Which was not easy. It wasn’t like I was replacing someone who was already there. This was creating a new position. But it happened. I’ve now been here two and a half years.
I think what kept me going through the hardship and the failure is…its just fun. Even during the trying periods when you don’t know where you’ll be sleeping tomorrow night…the work product is just cool. Would I have gone through the trials and tribulations to land a municipal market data job? No, of course not. I would have liked that. But I would not have slept on a couch, or taken an internship for a year. You have to have the desire and the passion…that’s what makes it all worth it.