There are 160 minor league baseball teams scattered around the country, all of which are affiliated with major league baseball teams. These organizations provide the golden pathway for baseball players dreaming of making it to the “big leagues.”
Michael Byrnes, St. Mary’s ’00, enjoys an up-close view as these players develop into the stars of tomorrow. He currently serves as the president and general manager of the Oklahoma City Dodgers, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Triple-A baseball is the highest level of play in minor league baseball and the final step before a player advances to a spot in the major league.
Byrnes began his career in sports management in 2001 as a sales representative for the Big 12 Championship Tournament held that year in Arlington, Texas. From there, he landed a marketing position with the Frisco RoughRiders, the Double-A affiliate for the Texas Rangers.
“I steadily worked my way up the ladder with the RoughRiders, ultimately serving in five different roles before being appointed senior vice president for the organization,” explained Byrnes.
In 2010, Byrnes was offered the position of president and general manager for the Oklahoma City RedHawks. At the time, the team was transitioning from serving as the Triple-A affiliate for the Texas Rangers to its new “parent” team, the Houston Astros.
“Many people don’t realize that major league and minor league teams often change their affiliation,” Byrnes said. “Minor league teams usually act as their own independent organization, each looking out for its own financial well-being. If a relationship between a major league and a minor league team is not working out, affiliations can and do change.”
Byrnes found himself in the middle of another such transition in 2014, when the RedHawks were sold to a partnership led by Mandalay Entertainment Chairman and CEO Peter Guber and the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a result, the RedHawks became the Triple-A affiliate for the Dodgers and were rechristened after their new parent club, officially becoming the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
As the team’s president and general manager, Byrnes is responsible for running the team day to day, while all personnel and roster decisions are made directly by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Whenever we have a player ‘called up’ to Los Angeles, traded or assigned to us from either Los Angeles or elsewhere in the Dodgers farm system, it has a domino effect down the line,” he said. “For example, if a player from our Oklahoma City team is called up to the Los Angeles Dodgers, another player from somewhere else in the Dodgers minor league system will be assigned to us to replace the player who has left.
“All of the moving around and trying to stay focused on moving up to the next level can be tough for players, so we try to get to know them as well as possible. It can be a tough business, and we see many work their way up from Single-A to Double-A to our Triple-A level, or even back again. Last season, we processed 250 player transactions in Oklahoma City alone.”
On occasion, there’s even a shift in the other direction and a star player from the Los Angeles Dodgers will spend a stint in Oklahoma City while rehabilitating an injury.
“Three-time Cy Young Award-winner Clayton Kershaw helped us pack in a sell-out crowd last summer as he recovered from a back strain,” Byrnes said.
Prioritizing work and family while paying it forward
Byrnes’ job entails everything from overseeing team travel arrangements and accommodations to ensuring the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark (the team’s stadium) is in good condition to building both corporate and community partnerships.
“The partnership building is very high up on my own priority list,” he explained. “Not only purely for revenue generation, but it helps place us firmly at the heart of the Oklahoma City community. There are a lot of different chess pieces to keep track of, but it is one of the reasons that I love the job.”
Byrnes and his team of 50 staff members work year-round to keep the Oklahoma City Dodgers running smoothly. Much of the off-season is focused on corporate ticket sales, hosting other events such as the Big 12 Conference Baseball Tournament and staff recruitment.
This past December, the Oklahoma City Dodgers were selected by Baseball America magazine as the 2018 Triple-A winner of the Bob Freitas Award. This award is presented each year to baseball franchises exhibiting organizational excellence.
“I’m really proud of our team for achieving this recognition,” Byrnes said. “Keeping our team motivated and engaged, as well as actively recruiting new staff members, is a huge part of what I do.”
He also enjoys a unique situation in which he works closely with his wife, Jenna, who serves as senior vice president for the organization.
“It works out well for us,” Byrnes shared. “The demands of the job require a lot of long days and nights, particularly in the summer. We share a similar lifestyle, and we’re able to balance our time as we raise our two young daughters.”
What advice would Byrnes give to others who want to break into the professional sports industry?
“It’s critical to find your way into the industry via internships,” he explained. “The sports industry is a small one, and people are very connected. If you complete one internship successfully, the odds are that something else will be waiting around the corner for you.
“It’s also important to keep industry timelines in mind as you try to break in. Approach teams during their quieter times or off-seasons, when they are planning and preparing for the upcoming season.”
Byrnes credits much of his own career success to Sigma Phi Epsilon.
“I’ve learned so much as a result of being a SigEp,” he said. “During my undergraduate years, I had the chance to serve as chapter president, which is where I learned how to motivate people and manage different types of personalities.
“SigEp also encourages me to keep a ‘pay it forward’ mentality,” Byrnes concluded. “Whenever possible, I make time to meet with anyone who is trying to break into the industry.”