Ricky Benichak is a baseball operations intern with the Cincinnati Reds. A native of Bethany, CT, he relocated to Ohio following the completion of his Bachelor's degree at the New York University Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management, and a two-year stint as a finance intern with MLB Advanced Media. Ricky was kind enough to share some of his experiences and future aspirations with MLBTR.
My responsibilities with the Reds
One of the greatest perks of a baseball operations internship, at least in my experience, is that every day presents different challenges and experiences. If I had to identify what a normal day would look like, it would be something like this: update the statistics for our BATS video software, chart a game using that same software or capture pickoff moves to help our Major League coaching staff or players for an upcoming series, compile advance scouting reports, and work on research assigned to me by my bosses. I would say about 30-40% of my workload consists of research, some targeted by my superiors based on the needs of the team, some targeted based on my own interests. I have used that time to further look into the ROI of international players, waiver claim and DFA analyses, valuation of farm systems, and aging curves for defensive abilities.
My internship started back in January, so the definition of a normal day has changed greatly over that time. At one point, my days consisted of arbitration research, eventually becoming spring training-based assignments, preparing for the Rule 4 Draft, and now that the season is over two-thirds through, I’m looking forward to what hopes to be a deep playoff run for the Reds.
My favorite work experience
I think my “welcome to baseball operations” moment was fittingly my first day with the Reds, back in January. Having relocated to Cincinnati only a few days earlier, I was getting adjusted to my new life in a new city, and still, work was among the biggest of my worries. I worked in finance for MLB Advanced Media for the past two years, so I didn’t know what to expect of my first position with a team. Hours into my first day, I was sitting in an arbitration conference between Reds baseball operations staff members. With the deadline to exchange figures a few days away and a potential hearing weeks away, it was early on in the process. It was more of an opportunity for the team to establish parameters on the desired salary of its arbitration-eligible players and to formulate the statistical arguments to hopefully get to these figures. I recall reading about the procedures of arbitration, but until I experienced it firsthand (although this was not a formal arbitration hearing), I never fully grasped the extent of research that goes into it. Like a game of chess, you want to think a few steps ahead, recognizing that your own strategy includes an understanding of the moves that can be used against you.
The best advice I have received
Before coming to Cincinnati, the one thing that I was most frequently told by baseball operations executives was to play the game as long as possible, as that would best help me understand and evaluate players. It makes sense, but for someone who has never played the game at a high level, the advice isn’t really applicable. In some cases, this advice was delivered to me as somewhat of a be-all end-all statement on how to get hired by a team. It wasn’t until a conversation with my parents that I realized the argument of playing baseball in order to best understand baseball is like arguing that you must be a criminal to be a good defense attorney. That’s one piece of advice that I’ve never really accepted.
Perhaps it’s because I have never listened so intently to a person, but a current GM once told me the most valuable trait he identified in entry-level baseball operations personnel was an ability to contribute immediately. More practically speaking, have some type of research and analysis that shows a deep level of understanding of the game.
I think a lot of people are very protective of their knowledge and the work they produce, but you can make a much stronger case of your skills if it’s in writing. Sure, there is a risk that you might not get credit for that work, but the reward is that a team understands that if you can come up with one compelling baseball idea, there is a likelihood that you can come up with many more.
The first steps to getting that job or internship in baseball
Once again, if you can show you can contribute immediately to an organization, that is golden. Find some particular skill or area of research and own it. If you’re a player or former player, be able to easily communicate the skills you look for in players. If you have aspirations of becoming a sabermetrics savvy professional, know every statistic and how each statistic helps you answer a question, and definitely learn SQL. If rules and regulations are your interest, know the current CBA and league rules front to back. I think the biggest differences between high-level and low-level professionals in a baseball operations department are opportunity, leadership, and most importantly, communication skills. However, in breaking into the industry at the entry level, the more technical skills can help set you apart.
It’s also important that you have mentors. I had mentors when I went to college at the NYU Tisch Center where I studied sports management –- they helped me get opportunities that eventually led to me getting hired by the Reds. Not all of us have parents or friends in the industry, so it’s important to build your network as soon as you can. It’s as simple as sending an email or having a phone call. People love to talk about themselves and their experiences, and those who work in baseball operations are no different.
In pursuing an opportunity, a prospective employee should have the right mindset as well. It’s in our nature to think big and expect big. When I was initially looking for jobs with teams, I had this grandiose vision that all 30 teams would be interested in me and my abilities. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but there was a great lesson in that misconception. The reality is that you aren’t looking for 30 jobs or even a dozen jobs, rather you are looking for one team to listen and value the contributions you may bring. Discouragement and disappointment are a part of the cycle in finding employment, but you must take it in stride, and remember the big picture. The satisfaction in getting that first position in baseball is unparalleled.
My future aspirations
I think most baseball operations professionals –- whether or not they would openly admit to it –- dream of becoming a general manager. I don’t see myself any differently than the majority, but I am cognizant with the reality that there are only 30 GM chairs and many, many more people looking to sit in them.
Dreams aside, I honestly have no idea where I am going to be once the season ends, but for now my main focus is getting as much as possible out of my internship with the Reds. It can be nerve-wracking not knowing where I’ll be come next January, but that’s the nature of the beast in this industry. Before getting that first full-time baseball operations position, many will spend a few years interning. The way I see it though, interning is like the proving ground for baseball operations. I’m likely headed that path for another few years, and if anything, it could be a blessing in disguise to get the opportunity to work for a variety of teams and live in different cities. The life of a baseball operations intern offers few guarantees, but what keeps me going is thinking about all of the other types of occupations I could be doing, and how much more interesting baseball is to me. You could tell me a million times that I am not going to make it to GM or even garner a baseball operations assistant position, but that only fuels the fire. I’m willing to stick it out, and hopefully I’m off to a great start here in Cincinnati.