From watching games to shaping teams in Major League Baseball

Samantha Bireley

By Caleb McDairmant

Missouri journalism alumna Samantha Bireley’s open-minded approach guided her from unexpected roles to a key position with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Samantha Bireley
Samantha Bireley

The story of Samantha Bireley’s first World Series appearance goes like this: She was a junior in high school. A friend of Bireley’s father offered them tickets. The girl who grew up watching Major League Baseball in Texas now found herself sitting behind the plate at the 2008 World Series. While the Tampa Bay Rays battled the Philadelphia Phillies, she’s thinking, “Gosh, I’m envious of anyone who gets to come work at a ballpark.” This was the moment that officially launched her dream to work in sports management.

“I was in awe,” Bireley said. “We got a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium and everything. I thought that it would be so cool to work here and be a part of this every day. It’s more fun when you’re winning, obviously. Every day you are part of a baseball team. That feeling didn’t really go away.”

In 2009, Bireley began her studies at the Missouri School of Journalism. She appreciated the time to be on her own, manage her own time and be responsible for herself.

During her summers, she worked for Mizzou’s admissions department. She also explored Paris through a spring study abroad program. There, she reported on French culture and studied differences in French and American journalism.

The rigorous and hands-on program at the School presented her with opportunities to work on many projects simultaneously, a skill she found helpful when transitioning into various roles with the Tampa Bay Rays, where she has worked for over a decade since her graduation.

“I got very lucky. I don’t think it’s too often the first job you find right out of college is a great place to be,” Bireley said. “The Rays are a smaller market team where everyone is so nice, friendly and works hard. I felt like they cared about me as a person, my personal development and growth from the very beginning. I always felt like they wanted women in the department and recognized they needed the female perspective. I always felt encouraged and [that] my perspective is valued and needed in the department, which is great.”

Bireley’s first position with the Rays was in ticket sales where she stayed six months before moving up to ticket services. After two years in the Rays’ ticket office, she transitioned into a role in amateur scouting. This marked a defining moment in her career.

Any experience within a sports organization is good experience. In sports, you really can’t come into the situation thinking you know everything. I’ve learned through working in baseball that having humility is the best way to go about being a part of this group.

Samantha Bireley

“Something that is different in sports is you may not be doing a job that’s exactly what you wanted. Be open to anything,” Bireley said.

In amateur scouting, she coordinated information about prospective players and prepared for the MLB draft. In this role her desire to work in baseball was reinforced. Bireley worked autonomously and remained on-task. She coordinated 30 scouts across the country. But all efforts culminated in the draft. 

“The draft was such a huge undertaking. The draft is kind of like the Super Bowl of amateur scouting life,” Bireley said. “We have roughly 30 scouts all across the country, scouting their individual territories. Getting to see a high school player have his dream come true and seeing all his family and how excited everyone is … that was just a good moment of, ‘Okay, I want to stay in this department, and I want to keep being a part of the baseball side of things,’ which I didn’t really think would be an option for me.”

After a handful of years in amateur scouting, Bireley was called up to baseball operations. As assistant director, she reviews roster moves, drafts contracts and navigates the rules and regulations set by MLB and others. She’s helping make decisions that shape the team: Who’s going to be brought up from the minors? What’s the best move if someone gets hurt?

“I didn’t know my job existed before I got into baseball operations,” she said. “It’s a lot of moving pieces just to get a player to the big leagues,” she said.

Bireley knows she must stay on top of her game to avoid costly mistakes. Sometimes that means having the confidence to slow things down and take another look at transactions and roster moves.

“I used to be intimated. It can be hard to tell your general manager or president that,” Bireley said. “If things are going fast. I want to make sure I know what I’m talking about before I put something out there. There are repercussions if I make a mistake, and they can be pretty public.”

Although the stakes are high, it’s full of meaningful experiences. The 2020 World Series was a “huge deal for players, coaching staff, the affiliate and minor league coaches and staff,” Bireley said. “It’s not always fun. Sometimes it can be hard and frustrating. But seeing how meaningful that experience is … you always want that. You hope for the best going into everyone’s season.”

Looking to the future, Bireley is working toward a law degree in hopes it will expand her position with the team. This is just one example of something she’s learned after all these years – keep an open mind.

“If you only have one thing you want to do and that’s all, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door,” said Bireley. “Any experience within a sports organization is good experience. In sports, you really can’t come into the situation thinking you know everything. I’ve learned through working in baseball that having humility is the best way to go about being a part of this group.”

Updated: July 9, 2024