Program sends SU student on ‘unbelievable’ MLB experience

Shenandoah University student Luke Nussman stands outside Minute Maid Park where the Houston Astros play. Nussman spent a week shadowing SU grad Greg Van Sickler, who works in the front office for the Astros. ourtesy photo by Luke Nussman

WINCHESTER – On one of the first days of class this past school year, Fritz Polite, assistant dean of student affairs at Shenandoah University, addressed his room full of Introduction to Sport Management students and asked them what their future goals were.

Luke Nussman, the starting first baseman on Shenandoah’s baseball team, told Polite he hoped to one day be a general manager in Major League Baseball. What followed was a series of steps that gained Nussman a sneak peek of the inner workings of an MLB organization.

Polite informed Nussman that he knew of someone who works in the front office for the Houston Astros by the name of Greg Van Sickler, a former Hornet baseball standout who graduated in 2011, and put the onus on Nussman to pursue the chance to get in touch with Van Sickler. Nussman did, and it began a dialogue that eventually landed him in Houston last week to shadow Van Sickler for a few days.

“It was probably one of the most unbelievable experiences of my life,” said Nussman, who flew with Polite to Houston on June 26 and returned on the 29th. “I couldn’t believe it happened. We were so honored and blessed that (Van Sickler) invited us down. He opened my eyes to things I didn’t even realize come with the industry, you could say. He took us on a tour of the stadium. It’s a beautiful park. He told us what he did. He showed us everything. It really was unbelievable.”

The budding connection between Nussman and the 27-year-old Van Sickler, a premium sales account executive with the Astros, is the latest product of Shenandoah University’s Leadership and Mentoring Program (LAMP), an initiative started within the Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business that has garnered increasing support from the SU Alumni Association and the Office of Advancement, Polite said.

The purpose of LAMP is to pair students with established professionals who work in fields of interest to the student in an effort to cultivate a lasting partnership between mentor and mentee that can be maintained well after graduation.

Polite said LAMP is now two years old and listed a handful of local bankers, financial investors and professionals in the sports marketing field, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Defense as some examples of the individuals who have embraced mentorship roles with his students. But Polite added that he’s hoping Nussman’s most recent interaction with Van Sickler will be the “spark” for the program as Polite aims to build the Shenandoah University brand on a broader scale.

“Shenandoah University is a smaller school that can use the national exposure,” Polite said. “We can use that to build our brand and show folks that this is a great school that has produced great people. That’s what I’m about. That’s what I’m trying to drive.”

Van Sickler harbors a similar passion for helping students set the stones for their own professional foundations and eagerly seized on the chance to establish a relationship with Nussman.

On June 27 and 28 during Nussman’s trip to Houston, he spent a portion of both days shadowing Van Sickler and received a tour of Minute Maid Park as well as the office building adjacent to the stadium that houses front office personnel.

Nussman also was treated to baseball games both nights as the Astros hosted the Oakland Athletics. During the games Van Sickler gave his mentee a glimpse of the ballpark from the various levels of the stadium, including the suites that Van Sickler is tasked with selling on a nightly basis.

Van Sickler said he enjoyed the chance to “pull the curtain back” and show Nussman some of the inner workings of a professional baseball franchise, which include the sales, marketing, retail and concessions personnel that generally go unnoticed.

“As a fan you only see nine guys on the field but you don’t see the 5,000 people that it takes in the stadium to make those nine guys happen,” Van Sickler said. “… And that’s one of the things I wanted to show him is that in terms of showing him opportunities, like be open to new things because a lot of people are set on getting into the baseball side of baseball.”

Nussman, who has been interested in the player development aspect of Major League Baseball, said he left Houston with a new appreciation for the business side of the sport.

“I didn’t realize that there were so many options down the sales side in baseball,” Nussman said. “I didn’t know there were so many categories and so many ranks, and you have a goal for this and a goal for that. I had no idea it was like that and for him to open my eyes up to that has almost geared me toward wanting to get more into sales and work my way up because that’s where more money is, the more opportunities for yourself are.”

Polite, who took in the Houston experience alongside Nussman, said his pupil’s interactions with Van Sickler helped reinforce the messages Polite conveyed to his students during class, lending even more credence to the potential of the LAMP experience.

“(Van Sickler) was talking about opportunity, recognizing opportunities. He started talking about networking and building networks and how important that was. He started talking about work ethic and what that means. I’m just sitting back and going, ‘Yeah,’ said Polite, who called the LAMP program an effort to put “theory to practice.”

“Teaching these kids what they need to do, I can tell them, but it’s better to show it,” he continued. “And I think by engaging practitioners, you take theory and put it to practical application.”