Modesto Nuts season a winner for young employees

09/01/2014 8:06 PM

09/02/2014 1:58 AM

As the Modesto Nuts closed out their season with a Labor Day game at John Thurman Field, it was the last day of work for the club’s seasonal employees.

Not only does the minor-league franchise groom future stars for the big leagues, it provides valuable work experience for young people, who face the slimmest opportunities in the current job market.

Valentino Ortiz, an Enochs High School student, worked the 2014 season in the ticket booth. He said his first job helped him learn the value of customer service and inspired him to think about a career in business.

Kyle Brown saw a job posting at Modesto Junior College early this year and drove his friends to Thurman Field to apply. He landed a job with the Nuts, working as a cashier in the concession area.

Brown said he learned valuable lessons in teamwork and making the operation run smoothly, but also found it was fun to work at the ballpark. “I have worked six jobs, and this is my favorite,” said Brown, an MJC business major who wants to do an internship in the Nuts’ front office.

The Modesto Nuts have 150 seasonal employees who work home games during the April-to-September season. It’s a first job for many young people attending local high schools. The payroll includes college students and some adults, with most of the part-time jobs paying minimum wage, said Nuts general manager Tyler Richardson.

The employees work in parking, ticketing, concessions and game production, or serve as ushers.

“We have some employees who have been with us for five or seven years,” Richardson said. “We look for people who have great attitude.” Some of the students who apply earn straight A’s on their report cards, but the hiring process emphasizes that great attitude more than aptitude, he said.

The Nuts usually accept applications after Jan. 1. Job opportunities are displayed on the team’s website, and the employer notifies area schools when it’s getting ready to hire.

Richardson said the Nuts receive 300 to 400 applications every year. After interviews are conducted and the next crop of employees is hired, the new recruits undergo fairly sophisticated training in March to learn customer-service and team-building skills, Richardson said.

Brown, who is planning a career in human resources, said the new hires gathered at the stadium last spring for some memorable training exercises.

Richardson said that during his 10 years with the franchise, he has watched former employees move on to achieve success. “We have hired people who are now teachers or they own small businesses, and they are bringing their families back out to the park,” he said. “When you see these former employees, you know that what they learned here they can take with them.”

Aneesa Smith, 19, sang the national anthem at home games before the front office recruited her to work as master of ceremonies this summer. As an emcee, she led the contests and activities between innings that make Class A baseball charming for fans. She said the experience performing in front of a crowd should help her launch a career in marketing after she graduates from California State University, Stanislaus.

For two employees, minor-league baseball in Modesto has been a springboard for bigger opportunities in the professional sports industry.

Jeff Cox, a Nuts bat boy for nine years, will work in entertainment and social media for the San Francisco Giants next season.

Steve Ojeda, a veteran usher, was hired to help 49er ticket holders find their seats at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. He said he saw an advertisement that said hundreds of ushers were needed to work at the new stadium, which has capacity for 68,500 spectators – compared with 4,000 at John Thurman Field.

The former employee for Ford Motor Co. said he will work about 10 hours for every 49ers home game.

“I love to meet new people,” Ojeda said before Monday’s season finale in Modesto. “I’ve made some really good friends here. The management team here is awesome to work for. They always make it fun.”

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