Minnesota Twins executive Kate Townley mines the minors for future fortunes
By Thomas Wrede, University of St. Thomas
The sun setting behind Target Field is a majestic scene on a balmy July evening.
An umpire swiftly dusts off home plate after a half-inning of play. The visiting pitcher hones in for a signal from the catcher as one of the Minnesota Twins’ highly acclaimed prospects steps into the batter’s box for his first crack in “the show.”
Forty-thousand ecstatic fans rise from their seats, each secretly hoping they might be witnessing the next Kirby Puckett or Joe Mauer.
To Kate Townley, it’s one name of several hundred to keep track of on a regular basis.
Townley is the senior manager of minor league administration for the Minnesota Twins — one of only a few women in Major League Baseball to hold an operations position.
“Obviously, it’s a male dominated industry, but I tend to thrive in situations where I think there’s not many of us doing what we are doing. I kind of like doing things people say I can’t do — or expect me not to do,” said Townley, a former Division I basketball player at Binghamton University in New York.
The Cretin-Derham Hall graduate is responsible for all aspects of the Twins’ minor league system, including contract preparation, travel management, expenses and budgeting for the six minor league affiliates of the club. She also handles payroll, immigration processes, purchasing and dispositions — when a team puts a player on the disabled list or moves them from one club to another — along with other account-related MLB duties.
While she’s become comfortable standing in front of a room of 200 young guys, it can still be challenging as a woman making her mark in a locker room atmosphere.
“Not to sound cliche, but there’s a few more hoops a woman may have to jump through than a man would (in this profession),” Townley said. “For me, since I deal with players so much, it’s a little bit harder to earn their respect — not that they’re so disrespectful — but they’re not used to seeing women in those types of roles. Still, the challenges make it more enjoyable.”
What’s your favorite sports memory?
I have to say high school wise, at CDH, we won the state championship for women’s basketball my junior year. Which was the first time a women’s team had ever won state at CDH. That, for me, was a personal highlight in my own career.
What was your athletic career like at CDH?
What was awesome for me was that I had a variety of different experiences. I was able to play soccer, basketball and softball. We were successful in all of those sports. I was able to be on varsity for all four years in three sports — except softball when I was injured my senior year.
Did you have specific athletic goals in high school?
I wanted to get an athletic scholarship so I could pay for (college). My parents put a lot of time, money and effort into me with countless hours spent on fields or in gyms; driving me places or buying me equipment or even flights. My goal going through high school was to get noticed enough to get a full ride scholarship to pay for school.
My mom was a school teacher and academics were big. I kept my grades up for my parents to continue to be proud. If I didn’t have the grades, I wouldn’t be playing sports. It was kind of two-fold — stay academically eligible and also earn myself a scholarship for basketball.
What careers did you have in mind upon leaving high school?
I kind of wanted to follow my mom’s footsteps and become a teacher. I actually had two opposite-end-of-the-spectrum goals. I had gotten hurt going into my senior year, so at that point I kind of wanted to focus on sports medicine and being a doctor. When I first entered college, I had actually entered with the plan to become a pre-med major. Unfortunately, when I quickly realized the workload of Division I basketball, I just knew I couldn’t personally handle it. My sophomore year, I changed degrees into education.
How did you become interested in baseball?
I played Little League baseball from age 10 or so down at Highland Little League, so I was always interested. But, I came to point where I physically couldn’t keep up with boys, so I had to switch over to softball. Working in baseball, I enjoy the nostalgia of it — America’s pastime. It’s a cool sport, different than any other in sense that you have a whole minor league system and a ton of players you deal with.
What intrigues you about baseball?
For me, it’s the entire process of getting to the majors. Baseball is unlike any other sport because it has the (expansive) minor leagues. We have 250 players in the system and have to field a 25-man roster. All of the players dream to make it to the major leagues one day, and that intrigues me the most. Only four percent of minor league players make the major leagues. It’s crazy statistics. But it’s a cool process to give an opportunity to a lot of young guys to try and fulfill their dream.
How did you land a job with the Twins?
It was really by luck. After college, I was kind of just floundering around trying to figure out where I could get a job. My dad had run into a family friend of ours whose son-in-law works with the Twins in the sales department, and this person recommended I send a resume over. So I did, and he was nice enough to take me in and help me apply for an internship. I got the internship in the sales department where my friend had a connection, so I kind of fell into it and I’m extremely grateful.
How will a woman’s role in baseball or sports, in your opinion, change over time?
It’s never going to be a completely equal playing field between men and women, but I’d like to think that the roles of women are going to become a little bit more integral. You’re starting to see women on the cusp of getting bigger roles in the baseball side of things. Many females hold vice president (VP) and senior VP statuses on the business side of sports. Kim Ng is the VP of baseball operations for MLB and the only female that has ever held an assistant general manager position. In baseball operations you don’t see it, but I think you are starting to see a few more peek through.
Is there any intimidation factor — when you started out and still to this day — with a male-dominated industry? How does a woman overcome that to rise to the top of her profession?
There was definitely intimidation when I started, partially because I was 22, 23 years old and a lot of the players I was working with were the same age or a little younger. I wasn’t their boss, but they had to do things for me. And trying to gain respect for someone your age or a player that’s older than you — and being a woman on top of that — is definitely intimidating. For awhile, I was the only female in our department and I kind of enjoyed that. The intimidation was more so in the earlier part of my career — that has pretty much gone out the window except in certain situations. At MLB meetings (for instance), you are in a room with seven women and 150 men. That can sometimes get intimidating.
Overcoming it — the biggest thing I tell females that ask me about being in a male dominated industry is that you got to stop looking at yourself as female. I know that sounds weird, but there’s nothing we can’t do that men can do.
What’s your favorite experience while with the Twins?
Game 163 (of 2009) against the Detroit Tigers at the Metrodome. That was seriously unbelievable. I had the opportunity to sit in the scouts seats about three rows from home plate. After that, going into the bowels of the stadium to celebrate with players and staff and pop champagne is an experience I will never forget.
What is the best part about the career you have chosen for yourself?
I would have to say working with players and being on the baseball side of things. I give all credit to people on business side of things, but for me, being a former athlete, working with players and seeing it from close up is the best part of it. Watching minor league players we sign contracts to at 18 years old make their debuts — I like working with players and being part of the actual sport of it. Coming to a baseball stadium every day and going to the office is great because the baseball field is where (the action) is at.
What’s there to look forward to for Twins fans?
I think the future is very bright for us. Having such rough records the last couple of years has put us in a position to draft higher and get some better players. Our minor league system has always been revered as one of the best — I believe over the last couple years we have developed ourselves into the best in the game. Obviously we are dealing with injuries from top prospects, but they will overcome them. My hope is that you (the fans) hold on for a few more years and we start getting minor leaguers up that we have drafted over the last few years. I think you’ll see a turnaround.
This is the fourth installment of “The Way I Work,” a regular ThreeSixty feature aimed at providing insight into unique and interesting career fields. Intrigued by this career path? Kate Townley, senior manager of minor league administration for the Minnesota Twins, offers the following advice to teenagers:
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and try something that you didn’t know you would like. There is not just one path to any job. Working hard, putting in extra hours, going above and beyond, and being able to get along with other people will get you to your desired career.”