by DEB NAHRGANG, Saint Mary’s Senior Director of External Relations
Jake Mencacci (class of 2018) grew up with either a baseball glove or a hockey stick in his hand.
When he came to Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, he served as catcher on the Cardinal baseball team while studying business management and marketing — all while dreaming of a career in sports, preferably baseball or hockey.
That dream job? “I’m pretty much doing it now,” the assistant for coaching and player development for the Pittsburgh Pirates said. He owes his success to a love of baseball, persistence, leadership skills, and maybe a little luck. Those who know him say it’s also because of his dedication and hard work.
Mencacci was hired by the Pittsburgh Pirates in December of his senior year and has steadily worked his way up the organization.
“I didn’t really think I had a chance to work in baseball, so I just started to apply for regular jobs,” he said. “I saw the Pirates logo pop up and thought, ‘Why not?’ “ Mencacci said the application was arduously long, and it nearly deterred him right at the tip off, but he persevered.
“About a week or so later, I was studying for finals late at night and I got phone call from a Florida number,” he said. Thinking it was a telemarketer, Mencacci almost didn’t answer. Luckily, he did. Once he found out it was the Pirates, he said, “I started freaking out a little bit, put the phone on mute, and started screaming to my roommate.”.
After an interview and a followup call, a third call came while in a car with his parents on the way to New Mexico for Christmas. “We were in Amarillo, Texas, in the middle of nowhere, and I was scared I’d drop the call the whole time,” he said. But, luck was again on his side, and this phone call brought a job offer as a minor league operations assistant with the West Virginia Black Bears, a collegiate summer baseball team of the MLB Draft League.
He began working with team travel arrangements, player transactions, reimbursements, and scouting reports, as well as coordinating community service and serving as a conduit between leagues. He even coached first base.
In 2019, he was moved to the Greensboro Grasshoppers, a Minor League Baseball team based in North Carolina that is a member of the High-A East and the High-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. There, he added advanced video work to his other duties.
In 2020, he was stationed at the Pirates’ alternate training site in Altoona, Wis., where players on the cusp of the big leagues train and stay ready to fill in if a player becomes injured. There Mencacci once again suited up, serving as a bullpen catcher and catching during live games.
Next, Mencacci was promoted to fellow, player development, which he called a hybrid role. Based in Florida, he assisted the coaches with analytics, helped catchers and hitters, and also worked the administrative side by assisting with player contracts. Recently promoted yet again, Mencacci is now the assistant for coaching and player development for the Pirates, a similar role, but a bump in pay and responsibility.
Each day brings new challenges. Mencacci is in charge of the alternate training site, all travel, protocols, and assisting the players both on and off the field. “Everything is running through me, which is a lot of fun and a lot of work,” he said. “I just like that every day is different. I like the fact that we’re working toward a growth stage. We are investing in our development and our younger players. I like being around them and putting on my baseball pants and going out and messing around with them on the field but also helping them off the field. I get a lot of freedom to do what I think is right. Not a lot of 24-year-olds get that at a professional organization.”
Mencacci said being on the Cardinal baseball team was beneficial to his success. “Coaches Nick Winecke and TJ Oakes were a big part of my personal and professional development,” he said. “What also helped me the most was serving as the Student Activities Committee president my senior year and being part of the Saint Peter and Teresa Leadership Clubs. Being part of those allowed me to work with people in the real world and deal with real-world problems before I got into the real world. A lot of people miss that in college.”
The Business Department, he said, also put him into real-world situations, which prepared him for much of the work he is doing today. “Strategic management was the most beneficial because you have to think on your toes and you don’t always have the answers,” he said.
Mencacci advises students looking to get into sport management to challenge themselves as much as possible and to learn by doing. “An education is important abut it’s also really important to challenge yourself outside of the classroom, whether on a sports team or in a club,” he said. “I would say venture outside of the classroom and see what you’re capable of in a leadership setting. The more generalist skills you have, the more valuable you’ll become. In this COVID world, a lot of places are short staffed; it’s about how flexible can you be in a setting.”
Mencacci furthers that graduates should be prepared to start at the bottom. “You have to start somewhere and if you do the little tasks, those turn into bigger tasks, and if build trust, you’ll sky rocket,” Mencacci said. “I want to thank the Pirates for treating me so well. They have given me an abundance of opportunity, and they’ve taken care of me personally and professionally. I’m very fortunate to be where I am, and I’m appreciative of the opportunity I was given.”
“We knew from the first day Jake visited campus how special of a person he is,” Winecke said. “Jake’s work ethic and willingness to do all the little things that most don’t want to do is what separates himself from so many other people. He is always willing to do any job he is called to do, and no job is below him. He represents all that is good about our baseball program and Saint Mary’s University.”