Inside Working in Sports: Omar Jufko (Part 1)
So, you want to be a Sports Management major? Are you in a quest to snag a job with a sports franchise? Well, TribeVibe chatted with Cleveland Indians Dockmaster Omar Jufko, a graduate of Cleveland State University with degrees in Sports Management and Public Relations, to get the inside track on how to break into the highly coveted sports industry. Jufko began working as a Visiting Clubhouse Intern under fellow TribeVibe star and Head Visiting Clubhouse Manager, Willie Jenks. Since 2009, Omar has worked in the Visiting and Home Clubhouses and the Indians Executive Office Front Desk. In 2012, Jufko was promoted to Dockmaster within the Ballpark Operations department. Jufko was kind enough to meet with TribeVibe to discuss his journey through the Indians Organization.
TribeVibe: What made you want to be a Sports Management Major?
Omar Jufko: Growing up I was always really active. I never excelled at any one sport but, I played everything. I played football, baseball, soccer, track, basketball. I was always actively involved in athletics. My Father was a Browns Season Ticket Holder for 30+ years and he was a Season Ticket Holder with [the Indians] from 1989 through 1999. [Sports] were always in my life growing up. There was never one point where I said “I’m going to do this as a career,” but I always knew I was going to be involved in athletics.
In school, I studied Public Relations and Sports Management while at Cleveland State. While I was at Cleveland State, I worked for the basketball team; first, as a student manager – where I was nothing more than a towel boy my freshman year. I made enough of an impression that by the time my sophomore year rolled around, [Cleveland State] said to me ‘Here’s X amount of dollars, hire a staff and we’ll pay you through work study.’ So I became the head manager. I handled all my staff, all the player course scheduling, connected them with tutors and any additional academic help they needed. Mostly, I handled all of the road trip logistics – all the busing, food, workout plans and itineraries for road trips. I t takes so much effort and man power to move a team from city to city. So, it got my gears going and made me think that this could be a legitimate career choice.
TV: What initially kept you motivated to take on that job while still going to school?
OJ: [Motivation] is something that had been instilled in me by – as cheesy as it sounds – by my parents. When I was 14 or 15, I played soccer the summer before I started High School and Reebok had come out with this cleat called the Sidewinder. I just wanted a pair of Sidewinders really bad. I think these Sidewinders were $100. Back then in 1997, that price was just insane for a pair of cleats. I remember approaching my parents about it and they said, ‘Ok, walk down the street to the supermarket, fill out an application, get a job, and once you get your first paycheck you’ll have enough to buy your own cleats.’ That was always the mindset of my household – if you want something, you work hard, you’ll be able to get it. And that’s probably the greatest lesson I’ve ever gotten from my parents. Humility and work ethic.
[My family], we’re working class. A lot of people in [Cleveland] are. I grew up 15 minutes from [Progressive Field]. I grew up in the concrete jungle and that’s always grounded me. I’ve always had the mindset that no one is going to give me anything. I’m not the world’s smartest man, but I know I can always rely on my work ethic, accountability, and quality of work.
TV: How did you start with the Indians?
OJ: Well, I spent a year and a half after I graduated college in Brazil working for a basketball team and expected that it would be easy for me to land a job in Professional Sports and it didn’t happen that way. So, I started working for the Gap as a merchandiser basically dressing mannequins overnight and doing new floor sets for the store. After a year, I decided I was either going to work in Public Relations or I was going to try one more time to get into sports.
I saw a Visiting Clubhouse Intern posted on Indians.com. It was an unpaid internship under Willie Jenks the current Visiting Clubhouse Manager. I had some exposure to this world because I had a friend in high school that worked in the Indians Clubhouse. So, I already knew the basics of the job – you show up, load the equipment and do whatever is necessary for the team. So I thought ‘What the hell I’ll apply for it.’ Willie had over 300 applicants for the job and only brought in three people for interviews and I was one of the lucky few and got the job, thankfully. I was the first intern in Cleveland Indians Clubhouse history.
TV: So was it just dumb luck and timing?
OJ: It’s really a little bit of everything. I like to believe that my experiences at Cleveland State and in Brazil played a role in getting me the job. I definitely felt that Willie and I always had a level of comfort with one another, and we still are very close. It’s special to have someone in your professional life that you can sit down with and be very candid with, vent when you need to vent but, also work through the issues of the daily grind.
TV: Do you find that relationships (like yours with Willie) are essential to your longevity with the organization?
OJ: Absolutely and it’s probably the same across all industries, but especially here. You give up so much of your time and your personal life for this industry. [People who work in baseball] give up sort of the prime time of the year. When the sun is out and people are having fun, you’re at work grinding away. It’s a lot of time commitment, a lot of stress, but then again, we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t enjoy doing it.
TV: Tell us about your experience working in the Visiting Clubhouse.
OJ: I worked with Willie and felt that the season went really well. I learned how to run off 4-5 hours of sleep in a 48 hour window. Just the inner workings of baseball. Many people think that we lay dormant 4-5 months out of the year in the off-season, but business continues 12 months out of the year – we never stop. After the 2009 season had ended, I saw an opening for a Clubhouse Manager for Lake County so, I spoke to Willie about it, got his recommendation, got the Home Clubhouse Manager’s recommendation. Then about a few days later, the Indians came to me and asked me to stay and I said ‘I’m in,’ and I became part of the Home Clubhouse staff for the 2010 season.
TV: What’s the most memorable moment from working in the clubhouse?
OJ: I always joke with people when I get that question. There are probably two answers to that question. One answer I probably will never be able to tell you (Sorry, TribeVibe Fans) because it’s one of those guarded secrets that could probably be exposed in a book one day. To nail down one experience or one memory might be too hard because you find yourself in so many different situations – one day it could be picking up a top player from the airport, another day it could be helping a player purchase a car. I truly think the camaraderie is what stands out to me most. You’re in the eye of the storm, if you will, you see the good, the bad and the ugly. [Guys in the Clubhouse] have more exposure to [the players] than [the players’] families do and you see that human side to professional athletes that a lot of people will never get the chance to see. I know how hard those [players] work and anytime something great happens to [the team] they deserve it. Just the Cleveland kid in me wants the team to do well. The friend and Indians personnel side of me wants them to do well because I truly think they deserve it.
-Erin Parker, TribeVibe Contributor