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Inside Baseball
Vol. 55   No. 5
 

By Rita Zeidner  5/1/2010
 

Bettina Deynes had been back at work for only a few days following the birth of her third son—and a tonsillectomy—when she got a call from an executive recruiter. She had not given much thought to leaving the wine and spirits distributor where she headed up human resources. But she was having difficulty reconciling that job with her personal values, including a commitment to help homeless people struggling with alcoholism.

The recruiter was pitching an intriguing opportunity—even though the employer’s identity was kept secret.

Two months later, Deynes was interviewing for the top HR position with the Washington Nationals, Washington, D.C.’s newly franchised baseball team. She was hired in October 2006.

Today, Deynes works out of an executive suite in Nationals Park, the team’s two-year-old stadium. In a late-February interview—just before heading out for Viera, Fla., to ready the Nationals’ major and minor league teams for spring training—Deynes offered insights on her role.
 
Was encyclopedic knowledge of baseball a prerequisite for your job?
Coming for my first interview, I thought, “I don’t know the first thing about baseball. There’s no way I’m going to get this job.” But before I went to the interview, I did what I tell job candidates to do: Make sure you’re familiar with the company. I went in knowing the names of players, their positions, the name of the general manager, background on team President Stan Kasten, background on baseball as America’s pastime and the historic element that baseball was coming back to Washington. I was well-prepared.

Now that you do the hiring, do you give preference to proven baseball fans?
Passion helps you endure the 80-some home games that we play every year—and the long hours. But working here is a job, not a hobby. I make applicants aware that when you work for the Nationals, you’re not going to be going out with the players. You’re not going to be getting autographs, and you’re not going to be hanging out in the clubhouse, although you may have the opportunity to watch games.

Do you get to hang out with players?
I see players during spring training. I have the job of collecting documents. We have international players who have visas. I have to collect I-9s and W-4s. Because I’m of Hispanic descent and I speak the language, I have a connection with Spanish-speaking players. I help with immigration issues.

When it comes to players, do you play a role in typical human resource functions such as recruitment or making recommendations about pay?
No. We have a vice president-general counsel who arbitrates and negotiates contracts. The scouts recognize talent. I work with those people and others who are making decisions about players. Am I the one who decides who they are going to hire? No.

Still relatively new to sports management, where do you turn for help?
Through Major League Baseball, the organization that operates the American and National baseball leagues, I have this community of brothers and sisters, and that’s a wonderful gift.

Are there hot issues for baseball’s HR executives?
Last year was former Sen. George Mitchell’s investigation into players’ illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs, and there are new rules for testing players for drug use. In addition, we have teams building stadiums, including the Yankees, Twins and Mets, and that raises issues about how a team transitions from one park to the next and how the new stadium is staffed. There are issues about how the Fair Labor Standards Act applies to a baseball team and whether employees will be classified exempt or nonexempt.

Also, Major League Baseball has committees, and I was invited to be part of a committee on diversity as an economic impact in our business. They are looking for diversity in coaches, field personnel and executives. There should be more women in executive roles. There should be more minorities. And Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is taking a huge stand promoting diversity.

The Nationals’ record isn’t enviable—the team ended the 2009 season in last place. How do you maintain staff morale?
I tell staff, and job applicants, that if your expectation is to come to work where everything is done and you just continue to do what the previous person was doing, this isn’t for you. If you want to be part of a legacy, be challenged every day and see the fruits of your labor, that’s what you’ll be doing here. We’re still growing. The expectation for fans is that we win the World Series. We’re all going to be part of that.

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Personally, it’s balancing my job with my family, faith and everything else in my life. Professionally, it’s balancing baseball and business operations. I am manager, coach and trainer for people who support the team on the field. My challenge is to keep all of the players not on the field ready for the game.   

Bettina Deynes

Current job: 2007-present, vice president of HR, Washington Nationals, Washington, D.C.
Career: 2006, director of HR, Washington Nationals; 2003-06, director of human resources, Washington Wholesale, Washington, D.C.; 2001-03, director of HR and administration, Global Commerce & Information Inc., Columbia, Md.; 1999-2001, general manager, Allen Holbrook Corp., Gaithersburg, Md.; 1993-99, human resources manager, PMM Inc., Rockville, Md.
Education: Bachelor of Science in business management, University of Phoenix, Columbia, Md.
Personal: Age 37; born in Montevideo, Uruguay; husband, Elfred; three sons.
Diversions: Baseball, charitable work and promoting her first book—on entrepreneurial management—through a consulting company she heads up part time.
Connections: http://washington.nationals.mlb.com; (202) 640-7220.


The interviewer is a senior writer for HR Magazine.

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