While most students work all four years at Elon to get one step closer to their career, fifth-year senior John Lopez found himself with an incredible job offer before graduation.
But the job was a take-it-or-leave-it offer more than three months before Commencement, forcing Lopez to make a life-altering decision that now leaves him jetting back and forth between Miami and Elon twice a week.
The saga started around this time last year, when Lopez heard of a job fair hosted by the Miami Marlins. The MLB team’s job fair only happens once a year, and Lopez applied for a job in the baseball operations department.
“I didn’t know anyone there,” Lopez said. “I just knew I was passionate about baseball.”
Lopez had some interest from the Marlins, and after seven rounds of interviews, he got a call on Valentine’s Day 2016. He was offered a job in the analytics section of the baseball operations department.
“If you told me in high school or during my freshman year of college while I was still playing football here, that I’d be working for the Miami Marlins before I even graduated, I’d probably tell you to get out of the room,” Lopez said. “I wouldn’t even believe you.”
According to Lopez’s mentor, Assistant Professor of Sport and Event Management Mark Cryan, Lopez’s two years of experience as a Division I athlete helped him break into the industry.
“It gave him credibility as an athlete with the people in player development,” Cryan said. “Ultimately, it’s about athletics. It’s about a sport. It’s about competition and winning.”
Lopez had to leave Elon and move to Miami in March to start working. But taking the job in the middle of the semester did not come without consequences.
He was able to finish all but one of his classes online, but still needed the one remaining class — his senior capstone course in business policy — for graduation. Thus, Lopez was required to come back to Elon this semester to earn his diploma.
“Obviously not the most ideal situation, but I really value my degree. I really value my education,” Lopez said. “I was willing to do whatever I could to maintain my job and maintain my dream career — which I’m in — while also finishing up my degree.”
The decision to leave Elon early — forgoing the end of his senior year and requiring him to come back a semester later as a fifth-year senior for one class — was not easy, but one Lopez felt needed to be made.
“Everyone wants to soak up and cherish those last couple months of senior year, but this position is only offered for people who are already graduated college,” Lopez said. “If I were to turn this position down, I don’t really know when it would come again.”
In order to complete his degree this semester, Lopez has been flying back and forth between Miami and Elon multiple times a week.
“I’ll do a little bit of work early Tuesday morning. Then I’ll get on a flight in Miami to RDU, and I’ll rush to class, so it’s been pretty hectic,” Lopez said. “It’s a culture shock. It’s still the same country, but two very different worlds.”
Lopez quickly had to adjust to balancing a full-time job and his online coursework as a senior, which he continues to do with his travel. But he enjoys the game of baseball while being part of a demanding profession.
“I definitely lost quite a bit of sleep during that time,” Lopez said. “I think anything in life that’s worth doing takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and dedication. It’s a grind.”
The rarity of this position is not lost on Cryan, who previously worked as a minor-league general manager.
“He’s not hanging out picking fantasy rosters,” Cryan said. “There’s only 30 teams, and each of them only have a handful of people, and lots of people want to do this work, so the demand for these jobs is very high. For John to have gotten this job shows how hard he worked and what a good position he put himself in.”
During his time at Elon, Lopez built up his resume by joining the Elon baseball analytics team, interning with the Brooklyn Cyclones — a New York Mets minor league team — and interning as a data analyst for GoodNow Investment Group, LLC. He also studied abroad in the Dominican Republic with Cryan, visiting several baseball academies.
The depth of his experience combined with his youth relative to the industry makes Cryan believe his potential is sky-high.
“He’s got a foothold in the industry. He’s got contacts now and experience behind him, so there’s really no telling where he could go,” Cryan said. “He could go virtually any level of the industry at this point.”
Despite the strenuous travel, long nights and difficult decisions, the experience taught Lopez a thing or two about passion.
“You should just go after your biggest dreams. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Lopez said.