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Six-figure jobs for spring training
They can't hit a curveball, but a few folks manage to take their careers out to the ball game.
February 22, 2005: 1:02 PM EST
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) To some people, spring means one thing: baseball. To others, spring means many things, but mostly baseball.

Most fans of the sport have fantasized about a career on a major league diamond. But there are even diehards who'd be happy selling hot dogs if it meant being around baseball all day.

There are alternative fantasies, though, if you're no A-Rod but don't want to spend your days screaming, "Beer here!" Some other baseball jobs give you full-time access to the sport and -- sometimes -- pay six figures.

This week, in our continuing series on interesting six-figure jobs, we look at major league umpires, head groundskeepers, and team mascots.

As with other jobs profiled in this series, the naked truth is this: The big paychecks aren't easy to come by. Only those with the experience and talent -- not to mention luck and good timing -- get top dollar.

The privilege of screaming "Yer out!"

It's a long and unprofitable road to the major leagues for umpires. They generally spend between eight and 12 years officiating minor league games before being invited to the Show.

The competition is stiff just to get into the profession, let alone the majors.

Aspiring umpires must first attend a recognized umpire school for a 5-week training program. Top graduates then go to an evaluation course run by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. (PBUC), which will hire some of them and put the rest on reserve.

Those hired are assigned to the lowest of four levels in the minor league system, where starting salaries range from $1,800 to $2,000 a month during the season. The most you can make in the minors, officiating AAA ball, is $3,400 a month.

Umpires who aren't promoted to the next level every two years are usually expected to leave. If they make it to the AAA level, they have three years to impress the major league clubs. If they don't, they're out.

But even for great umps, the chances of making the majors is "slim," said Tom Lepperd, director of umpire administration for Major League Baseball.

There are 229 umpires in the minor leagues, but only 68 in the majors, and they can enjoy careers of 20 years or more. You do the math.

If you do snag a job in the big leagues, your salary would range from $90,000 to over $350,000, plus benefits and a pension.

The schedule during baseball season is grueling constant traveling, and games nearly every day with maybe a free day twice a month.

Between spring training and baseball season, umpires technically are on duty for 31 weeks. But they do have four 1-week vacations built into their schedules during the season, Lepperd said. Plus, they have the off-season free.

That, plus a love of the game, probably helps make up for all the times that burly men second-guess your decisions, scream in your face, and prompt entire stadiums to boo you.

Only perfectionists with green thumbs need apply

To fans, nothing says baseball like a beautifully manicured field.

To the sport's head groundskeepers, nothing says baseball like a field that's safe for players, consistently playable for every game and aesthetically pleasing, in that order. (The crowd going wild after a rain delay is nice, too.)

"You have to keep the field holding together right," said Luke Yoder, director of field and landscape maintenance for the San Diego Padres and formerly of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Otherwise, you're going to watch million-dollar players get injured.

The secret to a great field? Moisture management, Yoder said. He's not just talking grass, but dirt, where 70 percent of the game is played.

Most groundskeepers looking to advance have a two- to four-year degree in soils or turf-grass management, work for years managing fields in the minor leagues and demonstrate a willingness to "work hard and prove yourself," Yoder said.

The hours are long. "During the season, it's an average of 50 to 55 hours a week when the team's out of town," Yoder said. "When the team's in town, it's 80 to 90 hours."

The off-season is hardly off: 40 hours a week is normal.

As with any job in the majors, positions are few. Yoder estimates there may be a total of 26 jobs like his.

In terms of pay, a 2001 salary survey by the Sports Turf Managers Association found that across all sports, only 5.6 percent of turf managers make above $85,000.

But annual raises push that to six figures fairly quickly. And tenured turf managers, Yoder said, can negotiate for more time off during the off-season and take paid consulting jobs on field construction or design.

Clownin' around is no joke

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the mascot business. That's the advice of Pierre Deschenes, whose company, ProMascot, runs mascot training programs.

Deschenes suggests students stand in their costumes for awhile to see how hot it can get before they attempt any of the gymnastic tricks, prat falls or dance moves mascots perform.

The potential for injury or dehydration from such stunts is part of the job to say nothing of the fan or player who might come after you. (Remember the Milwaukee-sausage beater?)

But it's gratifying to keep a stadium of people entertained, or at least happily distracted.

"Sometimes if the team lost, fans would say, 'The best thing tonight was the mascot,'" said Deschenes, who once worked as Youppi for the Montreal Expos.

Most teams have mascots, but only about half employ them full-time, said Dave Raymond, who for 16 years was the Phillie Phanatic, one of the best-known and best-paid mascots. He now runs Raymond Entertainment, which trains mascots and helps sports teams develop characters.

Most baseball mascots don't make much. Starting salaries might be $25,000 plus benefits, and often entail a day job in the marketing office. Only the most exceptional entertainers, working for far-sighted teams, earn six figures.

The few teams that do pay well recognize the value of a mascot as a personality who can generate revenue by attracting sponsors and helping build the team brand. Outside appearances -- at community events and even sales calls with sponsors -- can be an important part of the job, said Raymond.

Still, mascots in the mood for money might have to abandon those sandlot dreams. According to Raymond, team mascots are paid much better in the NBA.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in March 2004 and has been updated.  Top of page


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