Opening Day: PBATS Launches ‘Inside the Game’ Interview Series

Opening Day: PBATS Launches ‘Inside the Game’ Interview Series

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2016 opening day is here. And in 2016, all of us at PBATS plan to provide insight into different jobs in baseball for fans of the game, followers of athletic training and those interested in forging a career in the game in the years to come. We hope that our Inside the Game interview series gives you the insight you’re looking for.

Each week will feature a different person who currently plays an integral role in making the game of baseball as great as it is today. If you have an idea for a feature, feel free to comment below and let us know!

To kickoff the 2016 feature series, we take a look at a close friend to PBATS, and an integral piece of Major League Baseball’s Office of the Commissioner Freddie Seymour.

Mr. Seymour works in New York City at MLB’s Office of the Commissioner. Seymour attended Rollins College and began his career in baseball in 1993. Check out the interview below.

PBATS: Who encouraged you to work in baseball?

Freddie Seymour: I received encouragement from my college baseball coach and networked into the game through him and a former teammate.

PBATS: Tell us more about your current role in MLB?

FS: I am currently the Director of Minor League Operations. I serve our MLB Farm Directors and work closely with members of the National Association of Professional Baseball and Minor League Presidents. The role requires me to pay close attention to the business side of Minor League baseball in the review of all concessions, lease and naming rights agreements as well as club equity transactions and sales.

The other facet of my position focuses on the player development side of the game. My mission there is to make the game better for all players, managers, coaches, athletic trainers and the industry as a whole. This is accomplished through annual facility visits where clubhouse and field standards are expected to be adhered to. Another key element to this role is to listen to Farm Directors concerns and implement positive change through adjusting rules or policies.

PBATS: You do not take a typical approach to your job, why is that?

FS: My role also requires me to oversee the Minor League Tobacco Policy. I have to coordinate tobacco visits to various Minor League stadiums across the country through the use of MLB Resident Security Agents (RSAs). The use of tobacco products has been prohibited at Minor League ballparks since 1993. The policy now focuses on all violators to enter tobacco cessation programs. Since I have played a part in the cessation process for Minor League players and staff members, I have grown to develop a great passion for the education, health and well being of these individuals. Over time, I have learned that frequent spit tobacco usage can lead to addiction and unfortunately, this form of addiction can be destructive to one’s mouth/oral cavity and devastating for families.

PBATS: How do you feel you can make a difference for the players and staff in baseball?

FS: Through my contact and association with tobacco treatment clinicians, it has become quite apparent that we can make a significant difference in prolonging the lives of members inside and outside of the baseball industry through tobacco cessation and education. It is important that persons who regularly use spit tobacco products within our industry understand that we have the ability to recognize the triggers that lead baseball players and personnel to use spit tobacco.

We know that in most cases, these users have a full-blown addiction to spit tobacco. It is of great importance that we seize the moment to identify, educate and provide various cessation opportunities for these people.

PBATS: How is your program going to affect the future players in MLB and the kids that are currently in high school or junior high school?

 FS: It is extremely important to develop a good working rapport and trust of the individuals within the professional baseball industry. By educating and leading these professionals to excellent cessation clinicians, we will systematically decrease the number of spit tobacco users in the game. We are in the process of developing spit tobacco cessation and educational aides with the insurance company in which a majority of our Minor League personnel and Umpires are covered.

Minor League personnel have access to and are encouraged to call the insurance company’s tobacco quit line number. We disseminate these cessation and educational materials through our Minor League head athletic trainers, MLB EAP Directors or by simply calling me at the Baseball Office of the Commissioner. We also have done work with our MLB EAP. In doing so, we have developed a relationship with an excellent clinician who has created a spit tobacco cessation workbook that will be another available resource for our Major League Umpires and all Minor League Baseball personnel.

I mentioned all of this because in 2014 we conducted a survey of approximately 3,000 participants with the assistance of PBATS. The numbers showed that approximately half of the players used spit tobacco products prior to signing their first professional contract. There are many factors that contribute to such high usage rates amongst high school and college players including, parental/guardian usage in the home, socio-economic status, educational level, parental/guardian occupation and peer/coach/teammate influence. It should also be noted that the tobacco industry annually spends approximately $10 billion in advertising and promoting their products, including close to $450 million in smokeless tobacco.

Through the years, baseball has had a culture of spit tobacco usage. The time has come to highlight healthy athletes because a majority of professional baseball players do not use spit tobacco products. Our challenge is to change the perception of people. If players are coming to professional baseball with an existing spit tobacco addiction, then Major League Baseball can become a place where we grant people the power to live tobacco free through abstinence, cessation and education.

PBATS: What do you feel the impact on baseball will be now that tobacco, all forms, has been “outlawed” in stadiums at Boston, Anaheim, LA, Oakland by the local government? 

FS: There will most likely be a significant decrease in the amount of people using spit tobacco products on the field in those stadiums where it is now illegal. It will especially be difficult for those individuals that have an addition to spit tobacco not to use tobacco products. Their routines and usage patterns will have to drastically change while they are scheduled to play in those cities. In a perfect world, those individuals can quit using tobacco products for good and not just when they show up for pre-game practice and the game. Effective approaches to get them to stop are through education and good cessation programs. The more these individuals know about the perils of spit tobacco usage, the more inclined they may be to stop. A majority, if not everyone that regularly uses spit tobacco knows that the products are dangerous or “bad for you.”

Unfortunately, some may not realize that the practice of regularly using these products can turn into one of the fiercest battles against addiction they may ever face. A majority of these individuals do not realize that there are 28 known carcinogens in a tin of dip and that one tin has the nicotine equivalent to 4 packs of cigarettes. They also do not know that the mortality rate five years after an oral cancer diagnosis is 43%. If these users knew these facts, some may quit immediately and those that need the extra assistance would likely enter into a cessation program.

PBATS: What is the biggest hurdle in getting your message out?

FS: This cessation and education initiative has recently gained momentum. There have been and continue to be hurdles. A perspective that I am trying to bring to the forefront is that spit tobacco users have different triggers and usage patterns than cigarette smokers. There is also a need to continue increase methods, approaches and modalities to treat and assist spit tobacco users that want to enter a cessation program.

PBATS: What is your favorite memory from working in baseball?

FS: I’ve had great experiences in many stops, in particular in baseball operations roles and have been in cities where I have worked with some outstanding individuals that I deem to be family. I will say that the success of this movement will be the most satisfying and important role that I have been blessed to be a part of.

PBATS: What advice would you offer young people, college students or anyone looking to get their start in the game of baseball?

FS: I would tell anyone that is interested in working in professional baseball to go to the places where professional baseball personnel are, i.e. Winter Meetings or Minor League baseball games. Be willing to learn at any level and be as professional as possible with every person that you meet in the game because you never know who may provide a reference for you. An opportunity may come from someone that you had a brief encounter with.

PBATS owes a huge thanks to Freddie Seymour for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check back next week for another feature! And a big thanks to the Reds’ Richard Stark for organizing this interview with Freddie.

For more info on the MLB Tobacco Initiative, please follow the links below:

And please let us know if you have any specific questions that you’d like to see answered throughout this series. Feel free to tweet at us @PBATS using the hashtag #InsideTheGame.