When the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the final out of Game 6 to win the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays two weeks ago, former Sagehen baseball athletes and MLB fanatics James Kang PZ ’10 and Simon Rosenbaum PO ’16 were at work, each hoping for the other’s team to lose.
TSL touched base with the alumni and talked through what their behind-the-scenes MLB experiences have been like from opposite dugouts.
Dodger fan to Dodger employee is a ‘double-edged sword,’ says James Kang PZ ’10
Watching the Dodgers go for glory this year was nothing new for Kang — a diehard fan, he’s watched the Dodgers his whole life.
His job with the team was new, though.
This year’s World Series marked Kang’s 11th month as a professional crosschecker for the Dodgers. He spent the season eyeing past crosscheckers’ recruits now making it big, hoping to impact the team similarly down the line.
As an international crosschecker, Kang scouts for particularly early-round talent in Latin America, keeping tabs on potential players for MLB’s reigning champs.
When Kang played for Pomona-Pitzer, his experience as a Claremont student exposed him to the diversity reflected in the larger world that he would later be working in.
“[The Claremont Colleges] just exposed me to different cultures and different things in the world,” he said. This proved useful later, when Kang would leave the West Coast to play baseball across the country, and then across the world.
After graduating from Pitzer College, Kang was scouted to play under a three-year professional contract with the Boston Red Sox minor leagues. He then played for the Heidenheim Heideköpfe, a first-division team in Germany’s elite Baseball-Bundesliga, in 2013.
A seasoned ballplayer by then, living and playing abroad in Germany made Kang realize his love for travel as well as baseball. Coming out of professional play, he looked for a job that would combine both interests.
“International scouting is perfect, because I want to get to travel a lot and I get to interact with a lot of people from different countries,” he said. “And I get to just experience a lot of different, cool things that are also involved with baseball.
“It’s a blessing that this type of position exists,” he added.
Kang’s position is one among many, but he stays in close contact with the team’s network of scouts.
“Typically, the Dominican Republic is the hub of international scouting, so I’ll [be making] a trip down to the Dominican at least twice a month when there’s no [COVID-19 concerns],” he said. “From there, I’ll do my evaluations and figure out what the best players are for that specific period.”
Although he’s a lifelong Dodgers fan, Kang watches games through a completely different lens now, he said. As a scout, he’s constantly weighing the team’s strengths and weaknesses — and how he can replicate strengths or fill weaknesses through his recruiting.
“It’s still surreal for me that I get to work for a team that I grew up watching.” — James Kang PZ ’10
“As a fan, it’s tough. For me, it’s a double-edged sword, because I work in a game that I love. I stopped watching the game more as a fan and I always perceive it from a scout’s perspective, so it’s really tough to turn [that] off.”
When the Dodgers won the World Series, “It felt good,” Kang said. “You know, throughout this shortened season, we knew that the Dodgers are probably the best team in baseball. But because baseball is such a random game, it doesn’t mean that the best team always wins.”
Watching the recent tournament, many of Kang’s coworkers were jaded, having been defeated in the World Series so many times prior. The Dodgers’ World Series drought came from 32 years of tantalizingly close victories that fell just a little short.
But for Kang, since it’s his first year working for the Dodgers, he “was just trying to keep a positive attitude to help bring the group up.”
Because of the pandemic, Kang wasn’t able to be in attendance at the World Series this year. However, he was still on the phone “nonstop texting” and celebrating with his friends and coworkers.
This long-sought victory is particularly meaningful to Kang, bringing a sweet close to a chaotic year nonetheless filled with his all-time passion — baseball.
“I’ve always been a Dodgers fan my whole life. So it’s still surreal for me that I get to work for a team that I grew up watching. [It’s] a very strange experience, especially with the World Series. They haven’t won a World Series since I was one year old. So it’s very, very cool to be a part of something that big.”
Simon Rosenbaum PO ’16 on being part of ‘something bigger than yourself’
Rosenbaum grew up rooting for the San Francisco Giants. This meant, of course, that he grew up rooting against the Dodgers.
And, working for the Tampa Bay Rays, never was he rooting against the Dodgers more than in the 2020 World Series.
“Then it didn’t work out,” he said. “But some things never change.”
But much has changed for Rosenbaum, less than four years after leaving the Sagehen team he captained. He was a player-coach in Belgium for the Brussels Kangaroos before getting picked up for the Israeli national baseball team where he, along with his teammates, qualified for the 2020 Olympics last summer.
When the Olympics were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rosenbaum was able to dive back into the work he started with the Rays in 2017 as an intern and then as an employee in baseball development. Today, he’s a baseball development coordinator and often works with the Rays minor league team.
On a typical workday, Rosenbaum calls himself “a bridge” between all the team’s departments, on the field and off.
“I can be a sounding board to listen, to talk to people, bounce ideas off each other and hopefully… be someone who can facilitate a two-way street of information between people on the field and people in the office, because they are both really good at what they do,” he said.
Rosenbaum’s favorite parts about working for the Rays are the people and the supportive culture: “I can’t imagine an organization being more supportive of its people and treating them as humans and not just their employees.”
On the day of the World Series, Rosenbaum said he was with the instructional league at the minor league training complex. He watched the game with the Rays’ development coaches, several of whom coached many of the Rays’ World Series lineup.
The Rays take pride in their unorthodox plays and methods that challenge conventional baseball norms, Rosenbaum said. Oftentimes this ethos works out in their favor, but when the Rays’ manager Kevin Cash pulled starter Blake Snell from Game 6 of the World Series, this gave the Dodgers the lead they needed to win.
“If there’s one thing that makes the Rays who we are, it’s that we are not afraid to do things unconventionally that go against common conventional wisdom,” Rosenbaum mused. “Removing a starter who would pitch well with a low pitch count is not something that happened only in Game 6 in the World Series with Snell; it happened to Charlie Morton in Game 7 against the Astros. And it was happening throughout the course of the season.”
“I think that’s what I’m gonna remember most: those moments that made me jump off the couch and high five people around me.” — Simon Rosenbaum PO ’16
Ultimately, former math major Rosenbaum knows that baseball is a game of odds — and sometimes those odds aren’t in your team’s favor.
“There aren’t any decisions in baseball that you can be sure about — there’s a lot of uncertainty, there’s a lot of randomness. So the best thing that you can do is just try and give yourself consistently the best odds that you can get,” Rosenbaum said. “Unfortunately, that means that it’s not going to work out every time. Game 6 was one of those times.”
Despite losing the season, Rosenbaum said the Rays are moving forward. Equally critical to a team’s success on the field is often the focus on their development. This offseason, the Rays are reflecting on this season’s plays just as they would even if they hadn’t made it to the World Series, Rosenbaum said.
“Like we would after every offseason, like we would after any decision that gets made — whether it works out or doesn’t — it’s an opportunity to review our process and hopefully improve it going forward. But that’s not because of the result of the World Series. That’s just because … You can learn from your decisions, regardless of how they work out.”
Still, Rosenbaum remains happy and satisfied with how successful this season has already been. As with any sport, there’s more to games than winning.
“It’ll be really easy to look back at the season and how incredible the season was for all the effort that our players put in playing … and I think that’s what I’m gonna remember most: those moments that made me jump off the couch and high five people around me.
“So it would have been great to win,” he said. “But it doesn’t take away from the excitement of the chase.”
And at the end of the day, Rosenbaum is humble, but he can’t help but smile when talking of how he helped get his team to the “grandest stage.”
“Anytime a team makes it to the World Series, it’s a huge accomplishment. So, you know, how much of a role did I play in that? Very small, but it still feels good to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”