The following interview is a special provided for BlackFive readers by Elise Cooper.
Nick Francona has returned from the war torn battlefield of Afghanistan to become the Los Angeles Angels’ coordinator of major league player information. If the last name sounds familiar it should, since his father is the famous baseball manager Terry Francona. Blackfive.net had the privilege of interviewing Nick.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business he decided to become a Marine. He cherishes the fact that the military allows people to accept a lot of responsibility just out of college, something he points out does not happen with many other careers. He told blackfive.net that he decided to volunteer because of the affect 9/11 had on him when he was a sophomore in high school. “I think that was very much a defining moment with my generation. A couple of kids at my school lost parents. It made it a little more personal. Each generation has a defining event, and that happened at a very formative time in my life. It changes your outlook on things. In the military I was in charge of a sniper platoon. I learned the basics of leadership including infantry officers course, ground intelligence officers course, and a scout’s commander course. I went on a broad array of missions from establishing a presence to reconnaissance.”
After retiring he sent his resume to the Angel GM Jerry Dipoto, and was offered a job. The reason he decided to take it, “I was thinking it is probably not a good idea to work for a team where my dad is a manager. I think it might open a can of worms as far as nepotism which would definitely create for awkward moments.”
Will he be able to use the skills learned in the military in baseball? Absolutely said Nick. “What I learned as an officer I will carry with me for the rest of my life, which is how to take charge whether its just concerning myself or leading others.” He will most certainly have to do that considering one of his duties is to be the Angel point person for reviewing instant replays. He will be the person to call the dugout and say “appeal. As on the battlefield, instincts and making decisions with very little time available will come into play in his new position.
The other part of his job will be to find trends with the use of statistics. He is looking to see how the other team approaches the Angels and how they can approach the other team, basically identifying strengths and weaknesses to find an advantage. He cited the example, “To identify where one pitcher might be better suited to face a certain hitter. We have a lot of new resources available and need to utilize all of them. That is similar to what happens in the military where you get a ton of information from hundreds of sources, whether it's satellites, drones, guys on the ground. I had to go through that and determine what I could turn into actionable intelligence. The challenge in baseball and in Afghanistan was to combine the human element with technology. There is the need to put everyone in a position to succeed. I learned from being a Marine how to take all these inputs and synthesize them to make useful information which I will use in this new baseball job.”
The other aspect of Nick’s job is to sit down with the coaching staff before every series and analyze the data available. “In the military I became very innovative, bringing different approaches to certain problems. In this baseball job I will need to filter out information to find what is important and what is not. How can we take the information on a piece of paper and usefully apply it on the field?”
General Manager Jerry Dipoto is described as someone who is into new-aged statistics while Manager Mike Scioscia is of the old-school mentality, literally a “field” manager. How do you think you will be able to merge the two philosophies? “My task in the military was to lead experienced guys. I took suggestions and ideas. I can use that experience here with the Angels. Mike and I are building a good relationship. He is the one with all the experience and successes so he tends to do things he has in the past, which is justifiable. But I think he is receptive to discuss how the organization can be better. There will be a lot of give and take as well as open discussions.”
Nick wants to have a career in baseball, maybe some day becoming a General Manager. Looking back at his life it is obvious his dad influenced him to be a part of baseball and he has influenced his parents to be involved with the military. His mom works with Massachusetts General Hospital and the Boston Red Sox to help veterans with TBI. Nick feels he is one of the lucky ones since he was honored to serve his country and can now serve in a job with America’s pastime, baseball.