Q & A with Tyrone Brooks

Oct 10, 2016   //   by rhireynolds   //   Q & A with TPGF  //  Add a Comment

Tyrone Brooks is everything The Perfect Game Foundation aspires to provide to its fellows, but he did it all on his own. He followed his passion to land a valued internship with the Atlanta Braves after he graduated from the University of Maryland with a double-major. Within weeks, he was hired as a full-time employee. His ravenous appetite for learning all aspects of the game was quickly noticed, and he moved into new and more important roles in short order, even a scouting role he wanted to master in order to better understand the player evaluation process
In 2016 he was lured away from the Pittsburgh Pirates to head up Major League Baseball’s diversity initiative. He is roundly considered one of the most talented “rising stars” on the MLB landscape.
He recently spoke with us, at length, about his career and his philosophies.
TPGF: You had a double major at the University of Maryland, in accounting and marketing. When and how did baseball become a key mission in your life?
TB: I started playing baseball at age 5, and I always loved the game. I played all the way through high school, but I knew I wasn’t quite good enough to play Division 1 ball, so I focused on my education.
I’d always loved the University of Maryland. It was destined to be my school. I got into photography there, and since sports are a big part of the school, I was able to get into sports photography and that kept me closely involved. I thought about pursuing it as a career, but being actively involved in sports was my number one goal. I was determined to find a way to be directly involved.
Over Christmas break, just a semester before I graduated, I found a book called the “Internship Bible.”  Most of the intern jobs were Wall Street or business based, but I saw a listing posted by the Atlanta Braves, for a position Hank Aaron and Stan Kasten had put together. I applied, got an interview, and got the spot. It was just a three-month deal, so I knew I had to come in and make an impression.
TPGF: TPGF exists to give people like you an introduction to the sports industry, to be the person you know. How did you do this without any help?
 
TB: For me, it was a “right place at the right time” sort of thing. That’s part of it, but after that you still have to deliver.
I understood where I was in life, and I understood my skill set. I knew what I could bring to the Braves, and I was eager to impress them. I love the game of baseball. I love its history.
Just being in a Major League front office, even as an intern, was fascinating to me. Watching the draft unfold, and seeing what the Braves looked for in young men, was eye-opening.
Then, another person in the front office left the club and I got the job.
Right place, right time. But also, I knew I had to show the club what I could do to even be considered for such a job.
TPGF: Your first position in baseball was with the Braves, as a trainee and intern in the baseball operations department. Within three months you were hired full-time to be an admin in the Scouting and Player Development department. How did that happen so fast?
 
TB: I was eager to be as well-rounded as possible, and I let everyone know that. There was never a time when I thought “This is my box on the organizational chart and that’s all I’ll be.”
The Braves were a scouting based organization, and I realized the importance of it. They had a training system, a “scouts school” and I dove into that. Scouting is a craft, and to be successful you have to work at it. Thanks to the staff at the Braves, they worked with me and took the time to help me learn the craft.
TPGF: You then went to the Pirates and it was all baseball jobs, rather than business or marketing. Was that the plan all along, or did it just happen?
 
TB: By this time, I was all about being the best baseball person I could be. I wanted to know all the jobs, all the crafts, and be the best at it.
The original front-office environment was critical for me. Being there, with those life-long professionals who understood the game, helped me understand what a team should look for in a young player. I understood that, and was able to develop my own evaluation skills.
I loved scouting, because I was out there on my own accepting the challenge. I loved being in the players’ homes, getting to know the families, and establishing those relationships. There’s a lot more to scouting than just seeing the talent. I loved that part of it.
TPGF: Now, at MLB, you’re the Senior Director for Front Office and Field Staff Diversity Pipeline. What’s your mission in this position, and how do you go about planning for the future?
 
TB: The mission is to help the teams identify and recruit talented people, whether they’re minorities or women. We need to help them get in the door to show what they can do. There’s been a lack of a true pipeline, historically, and we need to proactively feed that pipeline.
I’m like the poster child for this program. For a hundred years, general managers were just ex-players who moved into the front office. Now, many of them started out like I did, as interns. The pipeline is shifting, and we have to be ahead of that curve to keep it going.
The key is the teams, not MLB. The teams have to be invested, they have to buy in, and that means getting out there to identify candidates and keep track of them.
Every team is involved in this. They need to be aggressive and inclusive. Historically, they’ve been able to take the easy road. Now, we have to reach out, identify, and enable.
TPGF: There are various types of diversity issues, including race, gender, ethnicity, and now “non-baseball” people in key analytical roles, even as general managers. How do you see that?
 
TB: I saw this whole revolution in baseball first-hand. It unfolded in front of me. There were these really smart people, Wall Street types who could make a fortune moving money, but they also realized they could use their skill sets in a different way. It wasn’t as financially rewarding, but it was far more rewarding in a different way.
“Money Ball” changed the game. Information is power. The more you know, the more you can quantify, the better you’ll be.
With it came bigger front-office staffs, with a new type of staff. That changed the general manager’s job, because it wasn’t just about a staff of former players anymore.
Now, we need to keep expanding. There are talented women who can run baseball teams and understand the metrics that make teams successful. You don’t need to have played in the big leagues, but you need to understand what makes a big league organization successful.
We need to be in tune with this and understand how information works.
TPGF: Baseball has been seeing a decline in the number of African American players. Why do you think that is, and how can it be reversed? Since most field staff positions are filled by former players, this seems to be a critical trend.
 
TB: This is a long-range plan that starts at the grass-roots level. We need to get more kids playing, just for the fun of playing the game. It doesn’t need to be formal and organized. Just get a ball and a bat and go play, like kids always used to do. We are finding ways to make that happen, and we’re seeing a lot of progress. It’s a wonderful game, and the best part of it is the playing.
The NBA and NFL have done a great job at marketing themselves to these kids. I give them credit for that.
We show these kids, through MLB programs, that baseball can be a key to a great education. With that, you can be successful in life.
We have programs in place where we can identify young players and provide the coaching and development they need. We’re working at it actively.
TPGF: What would be your direct message to the younger Tyrone Brooks when he graduated from college? Are there any pitfalls you’d warn your younger self about?
 
TB: Every kid needs to focus on their own skill set, and understand it. That’s a lot to expect from a high school or college kid, but I managed to do it and anyone else can do the same.
Be aware of what you can do the best. Be ready to jump right in and do it.
This is all about the power of relationships, too. Meet people, get to know them, understand them, and make sure they understand you. Follow up. Stay in touch. Expand your network.
It all comes down to relationships. At some point, you’ll know a person who believes in you, and who can help you. The relationship you built with that person will be the key to your success.

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