Alhambra, California, native Zane MacPhee '15 interned with local baseball team the Walla Walla Sweets during his time as student. Now, the economics major and math minor has made his way to the major leagues, working with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins.
What led you to an internship with the Walla Walla Sweets?
Zane MacPhee: My sophomore year, I realized I wanted to work in baseball for a career, and so I reached out to Noah Leavitt, head of the Student Engagement Center, asking if he could connect me with anyone in the Walla Walla community or the Whitman alumni network that could lead me down that path. Noah was more than happy to put me in touch with Zachary Fraser, the general manager of the Walla Walla Sweets, the local summer collegiate team owned by Whitman alumnus John Stanton '77. After talking about my goals with Zachary, I accepted an internship doing analytics for the team.
What did you learn from the internship in Walla Walla, and what connections did you make?
ZM: Needless to say, I learned a lot. With the help of then-Whitman professor Kelly McConville, I developed some hard programming skills during the internship that really helped me find some actionable conclusions for the Sweets. I was exposed to the inner workings of collegiate baseball and, more generally, the amateur baseball talent pipeline. I worked and learned from the players themselves, coaches, front office members and scouts along the way—about the game itself and the culture around it. I learned communication is an integral part of the relationship between front office and field staff, and that the best ideas come from open and candid conversations.
After your Sweets internship ended, how did you find your way to the Dodgers and Twins?
ZM: I had the opportunity to pick the brain of John Stanton, now majority owner of the [Seattle] Mariners about breaking into the professional sports world, with an eye on a career in baseball operations. He recommended that, rather then holding out for a very specific job (baseball operations jobs are few and far between), that I get my foot in the door with a professional sports team and slowly work my way up. With that in mind, I spent the summer of 2015 working as a game day marketing and promotions assistant with the Los Angeles Dodgers (I picked people for the Kiss Cam).
With a Major League Baseball team on my resume, along with some personal research projects on the free agent market, I was able to land an internship for the 2016 season with the Minnesota Twins baseball operations group. After a season learning more than I ever have before, I was offered and happily accepted a full-time position with the Twins as a baseball research analyst. In this position, I analyze data and produce research projects to aid decision-making throughout the club, including baseball operations, player development and scouting departments.
What are your future career plans?
ZM: When it comes to the future, I don't have too many specific goals. When working for a professional sports front office, the on-field product is obviously a direct product of your work, and I would like to continue aiding in the decision-making process to create and ensure a sustainable winner in Minnesota. On a personal note, I would like to continue to hone my programming and communication skills and continue to learn from people in the game with different perspectives. I've been around or playing this game since I was five years old, and I am continually amazed at how rich of a game it is.
How did Whitman prepare you for the Sweets internship, and other things you have tackled along the way?
ZM: I'm very thankful for the education that Whitman gave me. I felt like in general I learned the hard and soft skills necessary for my career, as well as curated a sense of continual curiosity and a desire to learn throughout my life. Specifically, I have to thank the guidance that professors Josh Foster [economics], Kelly McConville [math] and Jen Cohen [economics] provided me during my time at Whitman. Josh really helped me flesh out some ideas in behavioral economics that could be applied to markets in baseball and encouraged me to follow this passion. Kelly really helped me hone my skills in R[, the statistical programming language,] and also was incredibly patient with me bouncing baseball ideas off of her. And Jen Cohen taught me a great lesson in life: that strangers really want to help young people they don't know and that you should just email general managers out of the blue to pick their brains. Her economics classes also taught me to think critically about everything and never be afraid to challenge assumptions.