2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target FieldPhoto courtesy of Minnesota Twins

Sustainability all-stars

Major League Baseball calls up a Green Team from the U

A vibrant presence has been moving through the stands at recent Major League Baseball All-Star games. Behind flashes of green hats and T-shirts are dedicated University of Minnesota students on the Green Team, armed with gloves and color-coded bags, helping fans accurately pitch their recyclable and compostable waste.

During All-Star Week in Cincinnati last summer, Green Teams helped to divert more than a ton of recyclables from landfills.

Now a third class is gearing up for a summer of All-Star Game experience. About 60 students will travel to San Diego in July.

“Every year the program grows,” says Tiffany Richardson, sport management lecturer in the School of Kinesiology. Richardson helped to develop the relationship that allowed U students to be part of the Green Team in 2014 when the All-Star Game came to Target Field in Minneapolis.

2014 U Green Team
The first U Green Team posed before the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Sports sustainability isn’t only about recycling and composting at games. The growing area also includes efforts in renewable energy, healthier food, water efficiency, safer chemical use, and species preservation. Minnesota’s Target Field has its own sustainability initiatives—such as water-efficient landscaping and recycling stations. But that can’t prevent all fan-generated trash.

“Whenever you’re bringing together mass amounts of people in a building, there’s going to be a lot of waste,” Richardson says.

Green initiatives aren’t confined to the world of baseball. MLB and its 30 clubs are part of the Green Sports Alliance, an organization that harnesses the cultural and market influence of sports to promote sustainability efforts in communities. The organization has made use of green teams in different forms for about 10 years. MLB has been encouraging fans to recycle as part of its annual All-Star Week since 2008.

Dave Horsman, senior director of ballpark operations for the Minnesota Twins, helped bring the U to MLB’s All-Star Green Team in 2014 after he saw Richardson and some of her students help out with Twinsfest in January that year. Horsman passed the word to Paul Hanlon, director of facility operations for MLB.

Six months before the big game, Richardson and Hanlon met for the first time over coffee to begin planning the student Green Team.

“We speak the same language,” says Richardson, who worked as ballpark operations coordinator for the Anaheim Angels before coming to Minnesota. “He values education; I value education. We’ve both worked for a sport that we love, and it comes together in our students, who are so passionate about working in the industry.”

Stepping up to the plate

In its inaugural year, U of M students interested in working on the Green Team signed up for a course in the School of Kinesiology called Soup to Nuts: MLB All-Star Game, which Richardson designed and taught. During the first two weeks of the summer course, students read articles about sustainability in sports and took part in online discussions about the material with their classmates.

After that, it was time for the group to meet face-to-face and begin their hands-on experience. In line with their commitment to the environment, the class opted to meet at the Metro Transit green line station on campus and take the light rail to Target Field instead of driving.

Hanlon and members of the Twins staff led the students on a tour of the stadium and went over game-day expectations. Hanlon often works with green teams and says Richardson’s students asked a lot of questions, which he appreciated.

“What’s great about the students in Tiffany’s class is that they really want to be there,” Hanlon says. “They aren’t afraid to ask questions and to learn.”

All-Star Week brought five days of events for fans, so the All-Star Green Team presence was felt before the big game. The class split into smaller groups to provide waste management help at the Color Run MLB All-Star 5K race at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds and the Target All-Star Concert headlined by Imagine Dragons at TCF Bank Stadium.

Access to all the All-Star Week events may have been a perk, say the students, but most meaningful was the chance to represent the University and the MLB and help make the All-Star events greener and cleaner.

The pre-game preparation equipped students, like sports management senior Nicole Petschow, with valuable information about sports sustainability that helped them interact with fans.

“When I got into conversations with people during the game,” Petschow says, “having background knowledge gave me really good talking points.”

“The fact that we were able to share what we learned and be that filter at the All-Star Game—that was a good cap for the class,” says strategic communications senior Tori Taubner. “I was learning as I was teaching.”

On the road

By the end of the 2014 All-Star Game, Richardson already knew she would like to take a new class of Green Team students to the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati, Ohio. But traveling with an entire class of students to another city would be a new challenge.

Then Richardson got a new resource: a student from the 2014 program was spending summer 2015 at the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office. Sarah Denn’s work on the All-Star Game in Minneapolis helped her land an internship alongside Hanlon in MLB’s facility operations and security department in New York.

“I’m very much a homebody,” says Denn. “I’d never lived anywhere else, so even being in New York City for three months was a big change for me.”

Building on her background knowledge and working relationship with Hanlon from the previous summer, Denn helped him coordinate the All-Star Green Team and other environmental efforts in Cincinnati, assisting with things like organizing student meals as well as gear like hats and shirts.

Seeing All-Star Week from another side, combined with living in New York, meant a summer full of challenges for Denn. That experience cemented her desire to work in sports operations after graduation.

“Learning the ins and outs of how a league works was a very cool opportunity,” says Denn. “Not too many people can say they’ve run a green team.”

For the students on location in Cincinnati, All-Star Week was a chance to partner with local university students while representing their own school on the road.

“People are always interested in how a group of kids from the University of Minnesota ended up in Cincinnati,” says Petschow.

2015 All-Star Green Team
The 2015 All-Star Green Team at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati included University of Minnesota students in partnership with local students.

Richardson says that representing the U of M and furthering sustainability efforts makes the All-Star Green Team experience meaningful and allows students to play a part in the bigger picture of sports sustainability.

“We just expect everybody to work hard and know why they’re there first,” she says, “and to have fun and advance the mission of the program.”

Home-field advantage

In 2014, Richardson thought her students’ participation in the All-Star Game might be a one-time deal, but each year has blossomed into a new opportunity.

Richardson and Hanlon now have two years of All-Star Green Team experience to bring to San Diego. This year’s class will again be training at Twins games before heading out to California for the All-Star Game on July 12. Having firm knowledge of what their local ballpark does to keep games green is important as students head to new places, Richardson says.

“People don’t realize how green the Twin Cities is,” says Richardson. “We are rooted in it. We are deep and dirty in what we believe in here in Minneapolis.”

The Twins partnership with the University of Minnesota is a chance to shape the next generation of industry professionals and get the message out about sports sustainability, according to Horsman at Target Field.

“Our involvement with the University’s sport management program provides us an opportunity to help guide the coming workforce,” he says. “We think we can help them as much as they can help us.”

For example, student Bradley Vogel had heard only vaguely about the field of sports sustainability before joining the 2014 class and All-Star Green Team. But over that summer, he grew more interested as the class was exposed to the ins and outs of the sustainability movement.

As Vogel was nearing graduation, Richardson encouraged him to seek out local sports sustainability professionals and talk to them about their work. Those conversations motivated him to enroll in graduate school and pursue a master’s degree in sustainability management.

“It’s given me a good opportunity to pursue something I can be intrinsically happy about and still work in the sports realm,” says Vogel.

Tiffany Richardson, right, with Amanda Rodriguez
Instructor Tiffany Richardson, right, worked with School of Kinesiology alumna Amanda Rodriguez, ’14, left, an intern for each of the All-Star Game host teams—the Twins in 2014 and the Reds in 2015. Rodriguez is now a media relations coordinator for MLB Network/NHL Network.

In Cincinnati, Hanlon helped to debut a student networking event with MLB professionals. He and Richardson plan to recreate that event in San Diego with this year’s even larger group of students.

“I’m really happy the All-Star Green Team has become a part of the fabric of what we do,” Hanlon says. “I look forward to witnessing that continual growth.”

“It’s a huge benefit to the sport management program and the University of Minnesota,” says Richardson. “I don’t think another program has a relationship with a professional sports league like we do.”

The part the All-Star Green Team plays in MLB’s overall operations may be small, but it feels enormous to Richardson and her students.

“We just feel blessed and lucky,” she says.

Learn more about the sport management program in the School of Kinesiology.

Story by Ellen Fee | Target Field photo courtesy of the Minnesota Twins | Green Team photos courtesy of Tiffany Richardson | Spring/Summer 2016