Elizabeth Martin: General Manager, Minor League Baseball’s Bakersfield Blaze

Sometimes realizing what career isn’t right for you is just as valuable as ultimately finding the one that is. Elizabeth Martin, general manager for Minor League Baseball’s Bakersfield Blaze (a Single A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners), dabbled in sales, considered representing underserved pro athletes and tested out working for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders (just in case). And what did all those pit stops tell her? Elizabeth and Minor League Baseball go together like peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

As one of very few female general managers in baseball, Elizabeth has always accepted that her path is full of challenges. “The culture is still a boy’s network … which is fine,” she says. An attitude that perhaps seems nonchalant, Elizabeth’s I’m-not-different-than-the-boys attitude has been critical to her success. Of course her drive to be the best at any job she’s landed probably doesn’t hurt either. Boy or not, Elizabeth’s advice to be indispensable no matter your role is a home run.

What is it like to work in Minor League Baseball? What is the culture like at the offices of the Bakersfield Blaze?

The culture is still a boys’ network for sure, which is fine. When I first got here I would say that I was probably extra assertive, just because there is the feeling that the guys were thinking: you’re a girl and you know maybe I can flirt with you, maybe I can talk to you differently, maybe I don’t really have to listen to you, etc. That was a challenge at first. There was one reporter from a television network in Bakersfield who was adamant that a woman couldn’t run a baseball team. He didn’t talk to us or interview me for the first few years I worked here.

Did you feel you had to try harder to prove yourself in a leadership position because you were a woman?

I don’t know that. I’ve been a leader throughout my life. Whether that’s the product of being the oldest child or just being a Type-A personality, I don’t know. I remember the professor I worked for during my undergrad studies said, “The whole world is going to be working for you someday.”

I also was fortunate that I had parents who raised me to just do what I wanted to do. I never tried to look at things as, “I’m a girl. I have to prove myself.” That said, there are occasions where I’m aware that people are looking at me that way. And in these situations, conduct wise, I try to mind my P’s and Q’s more than a guy would. For example, drinking with a coach or player after a game if you’re a male GM is no big deal. But as a woman GM, it could be looked on as a little suspicious.

What is a typical day like during your season, and how does that compare to the offseason?

I don’t have a typical day. The offseason is quite a bit more relaxing. For me it involves budgeting and setting goals. One of my favorite parts is an offsite we do as a staff every October. We all sit down and go over the good, the bad and the ugly of the previous year. We use this time to reflect and decide the direction we want to take for the upcoming season.

During the season, on the other hand, I often work 15-to-20-hour days.

Something many people might not realize, is that as a general manager in the Minor League, unlike the Majors, you aren’t making trades.

Correct. Basically I’m a business manager. We run the day-to-day operations of a business. I do what any kind of a general manager of a business would do – deal with budgeting, sales forecasting, goal setting, sales meetings and those sorts of things. It’s much more running a business; I just get to go to a ballpark instead of an office.

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How do you manage your life at home during these incredibly long days, and ultimately, a long season?

I just try, and it helps to have supportive people around me. My co-workers really become my family during the season. We try to take breaks when we can. I also try to work out, keep myself hydrated and remain positive. The older I get, the harder it gets. It’s difficult to work 7, 15-hour days in a row, but we do it. I power through it, and then I take a Monday off every so often.

On the flip side, what are some of the perks of your job?

I get a free pass to go to any Major League Baseball game. That sounds great but when you’re working baseball you don’t realize …

… that it’s the last thing you want to do?

Exactly. It’s a perk I rarely get to use, but I try to go at the beginning of April or end of September.  I’ve never been a person who is star-struck, but I have met a lot of obviously famous athletes. Ken Griffey Sr. was our manager. Eric Davis was a roving instructor. Jerry Dipoto is now in charge of the Mariners, so honestly to have those phone numbers in my phone is kinda cool.

What are some of the challenges that you face as an organization?

Bakersfield is definitely the most difficult environment to work in. We are celebrating our 75th Anniversary this year, so we have the challenge of being in a really old ballpark when there are new ballparks all over the place. Plus, we face the challenge of being in the Central Valley, where it’s 110 degrees on a game day in July, and people are running to the coasts to cool off.

The economy has obviously been up, down, and all over the place, but Kern County is the largest oil-producing county in the country, and so the oil prices over the last year and a half have really hurt people, too. It’s hurt the families here locally, so when people don’t have a job or are underemployed, it’s very difficult to justify spending $45 to come out to the ballpark. Even though we are affordable entertainment, you can’t afford a $25 ticket if you’re looking to figure out how you’re going to eat. Those have been our recent challenges.

Then there are always the challenges of potential changes in ownership, discussions of the team leaving Bakersfield, etc. Our strategy is to let people know we’re here, that we’re still playing in this ballpark, the baseball is live, the beer is cold, the hotdogs are hot, and hey, why not go see a baseball game?!

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What are some of those qualities that you look for in those you hire?

I look for self-starters. In my 15-hour days, I don’t have the time to make sure everyone else is doing his or her job. I always do a 4 p.m. walk-through of the stadium to look around, make sure things are swept up and banners aren’t falling down – you know, the little things that make the fan experience a little less positive. But, I look for a staff who can do the same. I want those people who will walk by something that’s wrong and fix it. I don’t want someone who works in ticketing and thinks, “Oh, that’s for the concession people to fix, or oh well, that’s for the merchandise store team to handle.” I want team members who take ownership for their job and take pride in what we are doing. I like to surround myself with really good people who I can trust to run everything if I can’t be there for a day. That’s hard to do.

Where do you see yourself personally within the next five years?

Oh boy. I never know. I always say to plan for the worst and expect the best. I’m married now. I have two stepchildren, and so for me the thought of picking up and moving to the Carolina league, for example, just isn’t feasible any longer. When I was 25 I would have said, “Sure let’s go. I’ll go anywhere.”

I’m always hopefully that they will find us a new stadium in Bakersfield or at least a location in California that would be workable. Team jobs just don’t really open up at any level. There are a lot of people who are general managers, even in Single-A who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. You get settled into your market and stay put. Everyone thinks you can move up from the Low-A to the Majors, but that’s not always the case. I’m always aware of what opportunities are out there, but at the same time I’m not in a hurry to jump anywhere.

What advice do you have for our readers who want your job?

Have a glass of wine … and think again! [She laughs.] But, if you want the job, prepare for it, go for it, and make yourself an indispensable part of the team – wherever you are. Even if your job is to sweep up the trash, be the best trash sweeper upper there is. If you’re in sales, then do your damnedest to be the best sales person. Be an invaluable team member. People will go out of their way to find a position for you if you’re indispensable

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I’d love to grab a drink with: Sheryl Sandberg

I can’t live without: As much as I hate to say it, my phone. It’s an Android. I’m not a fan of iPhones.

My go-to outfit is: Jeans and a black t-shirt

My favorite place to grab dinner is: My couch!

My favorite song to sing in the car is: “Hello” by Adele, because who can’t scream that song at the top of her lungs?!

My favorite way to unwind is: Junk TV or bad reading. I’m obsessed with crime TV, and The People vs. O.J. Simpson was my latest obsession.

I feel my best when: I get eight hours of sleep.