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"Early on in my playing career, learning from the veteran players and being engaged in this union instilled a sense of stewardship and respect for all those who came before and made the game what it is. "

Chris Capuano,

Director of Operations

Q & A with Chris Capuano

Chris Capuano

Director of Operations

On his baseball fandom growing up in West Springfield, Mass. 

I have great summer memories of watching Red Sox teams that had players like Wade Boggs, Mike Greenwell, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice and John Valentin.  Roger Clemens was a pitcher I loved to watch as well, and I remember role playing in neighborhood baseball games we would play with a tennis or wiffle ball.  I had flashbacks to those memories later on when I got the chance to compete against him during his time in Houston (and getting a solid base hit off him one game!).

I also watched a lot of Braves games growing up.  I was a big fan of Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux as I became more serious about baseball, emulating and looking up to them a lot.  They informed the way I thought about pitching and changing speeds.  Watching pitchers like Glavine and Maddux really resonated with me, and it's why I liked watching pitchers like Kyle Hendricks and Dallas Keuchel later on in my career.

 

On his involvement with the MLBPA as a player 

 

When I first got called up by the Diamondbacks in 2003, it was loaded with veteran players. There were guys like Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Jay Bell, Matt Williams, Steve Finley, Mark Grace, and Craig Counsell.  I had come out of Duke a few years before, and another veteran player on that team, Mike Myers, tapped me on the shoulder one day in the locker room saying, ‘You’re going to go to the meetings and learn about the business side of the game.’ After my first couple of months in the big leagues, I started to learn more about the union and the players’ situation as it had evolved over time. 

I found at that time that I didn’t know a lot about the history -- the state of the game and the rights and benefits that players had fought for and won over time.  It was a far cry from what it was in the first 100 years, from 1870 to the 1960s and 70s when there were perpetual one-year contracts.  Never at any point in your career did you have the opportunity to become a free agent and negotiate with another team (a right we take as a given in almost any other industry or job). I learned about the offseason jobs that players would take, and about the huge gap that existed for a long time between what a player could earn and the value he generated to management.

On his background as a Duke economics major and MIT MBA student 

I grew up playing baseball, basketball, and soccer seasonally in New England, but my parents always valued and stressed education.  I’m thankful they tried to help me realize at a young age that you aren’t defined by just one thing, that sports is just one part of who you are as a person.  So it became a top priority to make sure I was taking care of business on the academic side in addition to the athletic side.  Trying to make sure I continue to learn and grow, and to the extent I can, to help and encourage others to develop and grow, remains important to me.  Being involved as a player leader in our union was kind of a second education, and of course I can’t say enough about my experiences both in Durham, NC for undergrad and in Boston for business school.

On his time at MIT studying for his MBA 

It was beyond anything I could have expected – going back to school again later in life was energizing and engaging, and it played a big part in helping me navigate the transition to a post-playing career, which is almost invariably a tough experience for every athlete.  I think the best part was being around and learning from my classmates.  They were a diverse group in every sense of the word, which is usually a good recipe for bringing out the best ideas and innovations.  There was a wide array of industries represented as well – energy, health care, IT, finance, tech to name a few -- with most folks having had significant working experience to draw on prior to the program. 

One of the fun things about being with so many international students was that only about 10 percent of them knew anything about baseball or had even ever watched a game, which afforded an opportunity to reconnect with baseball in a much different way than I had experienced as a player.  At one point in the program, I took everyone to Fenway Park, organized a behind-the-scenes tour for them and a group outing to a game, which they absolutely loved.  I was able to teach the game and see it through the eyes of people who had grown up in places like Italy, India, Saudi Arabia, China or Germany never having watched baseball.  I even gave some pitching lessons to one or two of my classmates’ children.  It allowed me to reconnect with the game on a very basic and fun level post-playing. 

On his duties with the MLBPA 

My main duties fall under Operations, which include working with Finance, IT, Communications and HR and really making sure the organization is strong and operating effectively and efficiently while trying to put our staff in a position to be as successful as possible.  This often includes facilitating strategic projects in various areas of the organization. 

Part of my role is also to help support our bargaining efforts in any way I can, whether that’s leaning into proposals in specific areas or helping to educate and engage our members.  Every player comes to realize that we are all connected through the collective bargaining agreement, and one of the most challenging and exciting things is doing what we can to make sure our system is working the way it is supposed to.  Early on in my playing career, learning from the veteran players and being engaged in this union instilled a sense of stewardship and respect for all those who came before and made the game what it is.  Now it’s time to protect and advance.

Another part of my role is being closely connected to our business group, MLB Players, Inc., and to our charitable nonprofit arm, the Players Trust.  Both are areas that I’ve been passionate about for a long time.  As a player, I appreciated all they work the Trust did to help Players leverage their platforms to have a positive impact.  The Trust continues evolve -- especially the youth development and empowerment piece, and I'm excited to be working with staff in that area as well. 

Finally, supporting the holistic development of our members, as players and as people, is one more part of the role that I see as critical.  I’ve seen (and experienced first-hand) so many players struggle with the transition away from the game, whether they had a “cup of coffee” or 12 years in the big leagues. It’s a tough thing when much of your identity has been wrapped up in your athletic career.  It abruptly shifts and you say, ‘What’s my purpose--my reason for being now?’ A lot of athletes struggle with that transition.

 

So at the end of the day, a top priority is empowering players through education and other skill/knowledge-building opportunities in a way that is tailored to what they need and their specific experience. Understanding how to manage your finances in this industry, understanding how to network, leverage your brand, develop new skills, doing and learning things that don’t take a ton of extra time or effort while playing but that will give you so much more confidence and perspective in finding that next career or passion. Anything that might help make that transition away from playing smoother and less disruptive. 

On his fondness for golf (he’s a scratch golfer) and the outdoors 

Before moving to New York, I made my home in Arizona for about 18 years. I love hiking, running, golf and really any kind of outdoor activity.  Golf has a special place for me because I learned the game at a young age from my father.  It’s no secret that a lot of the pitchers like to get out and compete away from the field on the golf course.  It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed doing, and it’s one of my favorite things to do with my dad -- some of my best memories with him are tied to that. 

 

I had some misguided ideas about possibly pursuing golf after baseball. I did it for about six months after I retired. I started playing a little bit of competitive golf around Arizona and really enjoyed it, but eventually abandoned the idea of pursuing a professional career in golf pretty quickly and turned my attention towards graduate school.  I don’t get much time to play these days but the great thing about the sport is you can come back to it, enjoy it and compete pretty much at any age.

On his other off-field interests 

In addition to sporting-type stuff, I am also a foodie. I love cooking (but especially the eating part) and finding new restaurants. I also love movies and books, something I inherited from and enjoy sharing with my mom.  And exploring New York has been a passion since moving there. I love learning the different neighborhoods and experiencing the culture of the city.

 

And one more fun fact - for a long time growing up, I had dreams of being an astronaut. Seriously, I was fascinated with space!  I went to Space Camp in sixth grade in Huntsville, Alabama, and had a blast during the week-long program.  It’s still a hobby of mine -- reading up on NASA missions and companies like Blue Origin and Space X.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get to take a ride up there at some point.