SU grad finds new passion in sales job with Astros
WINCHESTER – Baseball has taken Greg Van Sickler to various parts of the world.
It’s sent the Winchester native and former Shenandoah University standout to Belgium, where he played professionally for a year after graduating college in 2011. From there the sport landed him in Australia, where he played for another two years before ending his playing career in 2014.
Once back in the United States that year, Van Sickler filled his time traveling the country and teaching young children the fundamentals of the sport while searching for the next stop in his baseball journey. He found it four months later in an entry-level sales position with the Houston Astros.
What began then as a possible segue into a career in player development – Van Sickler, who returned home this week for the Fourth of July holiday, said Wednesday he’d long harbored a dream of becoming a Major League Baseball general manager – has blossomed into a passion for the business side of an MLB franchise.
“I can see myself there permanently and just working myself up the chain eventually,” said the 27-year-old Van Sickler, who hopes his new pursuit will one day end with the title of team president.
It will be three years to the day on July 14 that Van Sickler joined the Astros’ front office. He now holds the title of premium sales account executive, which he said is a fancy way of saying he’s in charge of “putting butts in seats.”
Specifically, he’s tasked with filling the suites at Houston’s Minute Maid Park on a nightly basis. That means long hours when the Astros are playing at home, though he said he can get away with working a schedule that more closely resembles a standard 9-to-5 during team road trips.
A typical day, he said, includes a brief window early in the morning when he is free from the barrage of phone calls and emails that soon await him. Van Sickler uses that time to work out, usually from 6 a.m. – 7:30 a.m., in an employee gym at the stadium. He’s also free to run the stadium steps during that time, offering the two-time D3baseball.com All-American his “30 minutes to actually feel like a ballplayer.”
From around 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Van Sickler conducts his job from his office in a building adjacent to Minute Maid Park, fielding phone calls and coordinating things for the 7 p.m. home game that evening.
By 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m., he said, things begin to pick up as he works to get clients into the stadium. Come game time, a chunk of his time is dedicated to checking in on the suite-buyers.
The goal, Van Sickler said, is to turn a nightly suite into 10 next season, 20 the next and eventually into a season-long purchase.
“It’s not something that’s done overnight and a lot of my job is relationship building, so a lot of that is going into the suite,” Van Sickler said. “You sold the suite to 25 people, you’ve never met a single one of them, you walk in and just start shaking hands and kissing babies pretty much. You feel like a politician kind of but it’s just a lot of fun because for me I get paid to sit at the ballpark, sit in a suite, talk to these people, chat baseball, learn more about them. It’s a lot of fun.”
The best part of the job, Van Sickler said, is simply having the chance to continue making a living through baseball, and the sense of purpose he feels when making contributions to running the Astros franchise.
Sales revenue, he said, makes up a bulk of the funding MLB teams use to sign players.
“It’s really cool to be a part of that,” Van Sickler said. “You see like Carlos Beltran was signed for $16 million, you’re like, ‘I had a hand in getting him there.’ It’s really fun to be a part of that because quite frankly, I know there’s jobs out there where people don’t feel like they have a purpose. For me, I feel like I have a purpose, a very influential part of this team. No, I’m not playing shortstop and hitting five home runs, but you still feel like an intricate part of the organization, and they certainly treat you that way because they value you a ton over there.”
Van Sickler, who graduated from Shenandoah University with a degree in business administration, has made it a point to help influence future SU graduates over the last few years. Most recently, he agreed to take on a mentorship role with rising Shenandoah junior Luke Nussman – also a member of the Hornets’ baseball team – through the school’s Leadership and Mentoring Program (LAMP) within the business school.
Last week, Van Sickler hosted Nussman in Houston and offered him a look at the inner workings of an MLB organization.
Van Sickler said he’s also spoken to groups of SU students in the past, and often conveys the messages that include placing an emphasis on building professional connections, becoming a marketable asset, and discovering a passion and finding a way to make money pursuing that passion.
Perhaps most importantly, Van Sickler said, he encourages college students to travel, to become “comfortable being uncomfortable.” He did that when he left for Belgium in 2012, a step he said set in motion the path that led him to Houston.
“The business school preaches giving students kind of a global perspective on things and a lot of it is not taken to heart, I don’t think, until you actually do it. And once you do it opens your eyes to a whole new ballgame,” Van Sickler said. “And for me that’s what it did because quite honestly it was probably 30 percent baseball and 70 percent more about the experience and getting to know a different culture. It just prepares you for a career like I have where I’m talking to different people from different walks of life every day – 100 of them a day. It’s been a lot fun.”