Striking a Balance Between Doing What You Love and Doing What Pays the Bills

Matt Spillar is the author of the personal finance site Spills Spot.

Today he shares how he was able to strike a balance between doing what he loves as an employee for a minor league baseball team and doing what pays the bills as a marketer for a tech company.

Matt explains that sometimes it’s best to follow opportunity over passion, that it’s possible to have more than one passion, and that acquiring marketable skills can lead to a higher income and more freedom.

It’s no secret that trying to break into the world of working in sports is a long and difficult road. The long hours, low wages, and fierce competition are well documented. Despite these obstacles, the quantity of applicants for jobs in sports continues to be on the rise.

Some people choose a career based upon maximizing the amount of income they can make. Those people often end up working in a job where there is little enjoyment. For me, pursuing work in the sports industry has never been about the money. It was all about pursuing my passions and finding a career that I thoroughly enjoy.

Discovering a Passion

I fell in love with baseball as an elementary school kid playing Little League. There’s something about the game that’s just hard to put into words. It’s the greatest sport in the world.

From that early age, I was captivated. From looking up stats in the newspaper, to doodling sketches of AT&T Park, to writing out lineups in my school notebooks. Baseball became a passion of mine and has been a huge part of my life ever since.

I played baseball from Little League through high school. As a kid I had dreams of reaching the MLB, but I quickly got a reality check and realized I needed to figure out the next best option.

I started learning about various careers that would let me still be involved in the game. In high school I became interested in law and decided to pursue a degree that would set me on the path to becoming a sports agent.

I got my degree at Fresno State in Sports Marketing and decided to pursue a career right after graduating, rather than continuing on to law school.

working in sports

Interning with the Fresno Monsters in Fall 2012

Experiences in the Sports Industry

It’s been five years since I graduated. I’m definitely not where I thought I’d be, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

Working in sports is not always glamorous, and it can be extremely humbling. Internships and part-time jobs are often the only way to start out, and most are for very low wages.

After completing a Sports Marketing internship with the Fresno Monsters hockey team while in school, I got a part-time job with the San Jose Giants right after graduating. I started as an Usher, and within a few months of working hard, earned an opportunity to work in the Press Box.

I started my second season with them in a new role as a Marketing and Promotions intern, handling the on-field promotions and getting everything set up and cleaned up for each home game.

The last four seasons, I was the Gameday Stringer for MiLB, which involves inputting the pitch-by-pitch events into a computer program as they happen. The data I input is transmitted to the MiLB app for all the users following along with the game. In total I’ve worked about 330 games in my six seasons with the team.

The Allure of the Minor Leagues

I love minor league baseball. It’s exciting getting to work for a team that I used to watch from the stands as a kid. It all feels more intimate, a “small-town” feel in the midst of a big city.

Instead of 40,000 people and nose-bleed seats, there’s 4,000 and you’re right on top of the action. There are theme nights and quirky on-field promotions.

There are also fan favorites like the “Beer Batter” (if he strikes out, beers are half price) and the In-n-Out Double-Double batter (if he hits a double, free burger coupons are given out). The players are more accessible and most haven’t grown tired of being asked for an autograph.

Despite the charm, working in minor league baseball is far from easy. It takes swallowing your pride, a tireless work ethic, and the ability to remain positive even in difficult situations.

It means arriving early and staying late.

It means not getting discouraged when the going gets tough, and remembering that there’s a fresh start and a new game tomorrow.

working in sports

Employee appreciation day, on the field with Mac Williamson (September 2013)

In six seasons, I’ve experienced a little bit of everything. I’ve helped pull tarps onto the field in the rain, wearing dress clothes. I’ve re-organized and cleaned the main storage area multiple times and I’ve used a hose to spray down filthy inflatable bounce houses. Long 10-12 hour days were the norm, and the off-seasons brought uncertainty.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had priceless experiences such as volunteering at one of Jeremy Affeldt’s charity events, where San Francisco Giants players served as bartenders. I even had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of walking down Market Street in San Francisco as part of the Giants’ 2014 World Series parade!

working in sports

Riding a cable car in the SF Giants 2014 World Series parade!

Doing What You Love vs. Doing What Pays the Bills

Clearly you can tell that baseball is one of my biggest passions in life. Working in sports has been a dream of mine for a long time, but I’m currently not working in the sports industry full time.

So am I abandoning my dream? Am I focused just on the money?

Not exactly.

After two full seasons with the team it became evident to me that a full-time position wasn’t going to open up for me. Not only are full-time positions for a minor league team limited, but I was also so early in my career that I hadn’t built up enough marketable skills.

I had reached a dead end and had a decision to make:

Choice #1: I could be stubborn, continue working part-time for the team, making minimum wage, and hope that a full-time role eventually opened up.

Choice #2: I could pivot, find a Marketing role in a different industry, and build additional marketable skills to better prepare myself for a role in the sports industry down the road.

For me, it was clear that #2 was the right decision to make, both from a personal growth and financial standpoint. It was time to learn new skills and make some money. Change can be difficult, but it’s often necessary to reach our full potential in life.

Finding the Best of Both Worlds

In March of 2015, I got a job doing Content Management for a startup. I worked that job for two years, and then got a new position working in Customer Marketing for a tech company.

I have loved aspects of both jobs and have grown tremendously. I’ve also been able to keep my foot in the door in the sports industry by continuing to work part-time for the minor league team during games on the evenings and weekends as a side hustle.

During baseball season, I head straight to the ballpark, after working a full day at the office, and eventually get home around 11 PM after working about a 12-hour day. While the days can be exhausting at times, I love what I do and am grateful for both opportunities.

working in sports

Posing with two of the SF Giants’ World Series trophies

Final Thoughts

My advice for those looking to work in sports is that it doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” type of mindset. Be flexible. I was so dead set on securing a full time job in sports, when, in fact, my situation now is incredibly fulfilling.

My goal had always been to work full-time in sports, but on the journey I discovered a new passion for personal finance, and built additional marketable skills.

Just because you have a passion for a particular area doesn’t mean that you can’t have other passions as well. It took me a few years to figure that out. The more skills you can build, the more opportunities will open up. Be coachable and learn everything that you can.

The road hasn’t always been easy, but it’s brought me to where I am today. While I’m still not working full-time in sports, who knows what the future has in store? Right now, I’ve still got one foot in the door, I’m enjoying the ride, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world.

Republished with the permission of Spills Spot.

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