By Luke Galati
When the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, Alex Anthopoulos, walks into the classroom, people pay attention. He has a well maintained dark beard, wears a loose fitting black trench coat and a white dress shirt underneath, no tie. He’s escorted to his seat at the front of the class. To Anthopoulos’ left sits his right-hand man, Toronto Blue Jays assistant general manager and fellow Canadian, Andrew Tinnish.
For a big league general manager, Anthopoulos is remarkably young at 37, landing the job five years ago. He says this event on Feb. 18, organized by the Ryerson Sports and Business Association, would have been something that he dreamed about as an economics major at McMaster University. As a student, Anthopoulos says that a Canadian sportswriter once came to his university to speak. “When Stephen Brunt came into my class, I lost my mind.” Now almost two decades later, he’s become the main attraction.
He tells the class some inside knowledge within the Toronto Blue Jays organization, about his journey to the big leagues, and most importantly for the fifty students in the classroom: how to make it in the sports industry.
“Who wants to work in sports? Raise your hand,” Anthopoulos says to the class.
Every student in the class raises their hand.
“I’ve heard it a million times. Now, who’s actually done something about it?”
Now, fewer than 10 raise their hand.
Anthopoulos begins his story when he was 21, and his father died. The Montreal native moved back home to run his family’s heating and ventilation business. “I hated every minute of it.”
Post graduation, he remembers applying for a job with the Toronto Blue Jays, but, “I couldn’t get into baseball.” He turned down “a real job” with Fidelity Investments in Toronto, which one of his friends offered him. Ultimately, after two years of running his family business, he’d had enough and accepted an unpaid job with the Montreal Expos in 2000. Two years after graduation, he was finally doing something related to his passion, although it wasn’t glamorous. Anthopoulos started out as the guy who dealt with the players’ fan mail.
This could be why he says that when he’s part of the hiring process, “I’ll get a little more excited if I see some grunt work in there, because you’re going to start at the bottom.” Throughout his talk, he says the phrase “grunt work” six times.
Anthopoulos’ coat is now behind his chair, and he tells students that if they’re going to chase a career in the sports industry, “You better love it. If you’re going to pursue this, you better love it. It’s not going to be a job; it’s going to be a way of life.”
When looking for a job that you’ll love, he tells the students, “Don’t just send an email and say, ‘Hello, my name is Joe Blow. I really have strong interest in this. Please get back to me.’ Good luck! No chance.”
Anthopoulos says that, “You want to get after it. Call someone – I get maybe two phone calls a year, I get a thousand emails and letters. Do you know how easy it is to ignore an email or letter? It’s the easiest thing, totally impersonal.”
He then gives everyone in the classroom his work phone number.
“I get maybe two phone calls a year, I get a thousand emails and letters. Do you know how easy it is to ignore an email or letter? It’s the easiest thing, totally impersonal”
Anthopoulos says that you should try to get in any way that you can. He uses the example of hockey. “Whether it’s cleaning the ice, corporate sponsorships, whatever it might be. If doors get slammed in your face with the Leafs, maybe it’s the Toronto Marlies down the street.”
He says that if the Marlies have no openings, go to Barrie, jump on the GO train daily and try to work for the Barrie Colts. “But keep going and going and while you’re there, as long as you have a good attitude, you can do it.”
When applying for a job within the sports business, he says that, “It’s nice to say that you got an MBA, went to Ryerson, but what have you done above and beyond?”
Two years after starting his volunteering, Anthopoulos was hired as an in office co-ordinator, being paid $25,000 annually. When he was in Montreal working for the Expos, he says that he couldn’t get enough.
“I was so happy just typing up scouting reports while living and breathing baseball,” he says. On his own, he’d go into the office to work on Saturday and Sunday.
While the pay wasn’t great, “Passion is the biggest thing that you can ask for, because it will keep you going. And if you’re not sure, you’re going to need it to get through some lean years,” Anthopoulos says.
“If you have to go get sandwiches or drive a bus, do whatever you have to do, just remember that it’s part of the plan. Remember in the long run, you’ll get your opportunity and make the most of it.”
Anthopoulos advises students to be self-starters. When he went down to Florida to scout players for the Expos, he was around a lot of Latin players. He was able to speak French, so he took his own money, went to Broward Community College at night and took Spanish classes. “No one told me to do it, but you know what, it adds value.”
“If you have to go get sandwiches or drive a bus, do whatever you have to do, just remember that it’s part of the plan.”
If Anthopoulos goes to a Raptors game on a Sunday, or happens to be downtown on the weekend, he says that he’ll slide through gate seven at the Air Canada Centre and stop by the Rogers Centre. He does it to see who’s in there, still working like he was when he was starting out. He doesn’t expect them to be there on a Sunday, but he says that stuff like that is very telling to him about who really wants it. “I just want to see who’s there. Those are the little things that we look for.”
Before Anthopoulos speaks to students individually, puts his coat back on and leaves, he says that, “Anyone who works in sports has a story to tell. And one day, if you get a chance to work in sports, you will have your very own story to tell.”