It’s hard to imagine losing every game as a young baseball player but still dreaming of one day making a career out of the sport.
Midview graduate Jay Klein — Class of 1992 — is living his dream as he starts his new job as general manager of the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League. The league schedule started Nov. 1 and runs through February.
As a youth playing in the LaPorte Hot Stove League, Klein remembers “the last year I played, we lost every game.” Klein played soccer at Midview but always regretted “not following my heart.”
His parents — Nancy and Jerry Klein — always encouraged him to follow his dreams but for most of his adult life, Klein was a successful attorney in Oregon. His dream of being involved in baseball was always in the back of his mind and he was familiar with Australia because of an extensive and creative education.
Klein first attended Ohio University but spent time in Mexico and Australia to further his education. He graduated from the University of Oregon’s School of Law in 2003 and left his law practice to intern at Reynolds Sports Management in 2006.
“I had attended the University of Yucatan (Australia) in 1996 and enjoyed it so much, I returned to the University of Newcastle for an Environmental Geography degree — one of three I now possess,” Klein said. “After two and a half miserable years practicing law, I decided to get back into sales. But I wanted to sell something I was passionate about.”
Klein submitted resumes and cover letters to all 30 major league baseball teams with no response. A chance meeting with a sports agent while working out in a gym led him to an internship where he worked for a sports management group for free.
Within three weeks, he received calls from the Rays and Angels advising him that if something opened, they’d contact him, but when Gus Sampras — brother of tennis pro Pete Sampras — called to tell him about an opportunity with the Long Beach Armada, a team in the Golden Baseball League, his career took a sharp turn.
“I took a six-figure pay cut to do it,” Klein said. “It was the best decision I ever made.”
Three weeks later, Sampras quit, leaving Klein and three others to run the minor league team. Jose Canseco joined the team hoping for one last-gasp chance to return to the major leagues and ESPN was all over the story, giving the Armada some great publicity.
“We had to be creative,” Klein said. “We had promotions like ‘Mother-in-Law Night’, ‘Worst Music of All-Time Night,’ and it kept us in the media all year.”
Klein was named general manager after the season but returned to the University of Oregon when the school announced it was getting a baseball team. He worked at Oregon in alumni relations and fundraising for five years. He left for a job in sales for a medical company.
When he saw the posting for the job in Australia, he jumped at the chance.
“Quite literally, it was my dream job,” Klein said. “The biggest challenge is trying to sell baseball to a country in which baseball isn’t even in the top 10 most popular sports. Baseball is a niche sport in Australia. Australians know what it is, but I’d wager that 90 percent of the Brisbane population doesn’t realize there is a pro team in their backyard.”
Brisbane’s roster is 60 percent Australian players with 40 percent foreigners — mostly Americans. Four are affiliated with Tampa Bay or Cleveland. Two of the Rays players are No. 1 draft picks — infielder Tyler Goeddel and catcher Justin O’Connor.
The Indians players are catchers Ryan “Boof” Battaglia and Mitch Nilsson, nephew of former Milwaukee Brewers’ all-star Dave Nilsson.
“Jason’s always had a passion for baseball ever since he played in the LaPorte Hot Stove League,” said Jerry Klein, a longtime building inspector for Elyria and now Grafton. “We’re happy for him and glad he’s able to chase his dreams, but we just wish he could have found something on this half of the world.”
“We’re just so ecstatic for our son,” said Nancy Klein, who owns That’s Skincredible on Broad Street in Elyria. “He has worked so very hard and deserves the best for his efforts. I think it’s great that one can pursue their dream.”