Whether it’s a touchdown, hole-in-one, ace or home run, a foundation in sports can lay the groundwork for new careers.
Springfield’s business scene is peppered with former athletes who say connections from their playing days helped them get where they are today.
Name recognition, connections within the sporting community and a competitive nature are among the attributes ex-players can bring to the business arena, said Scott Bailes, who credits his years of playing professional baseball with helping him attain his current role as manager of market development for the Springfield Cardinals.
“I would like to say it’s my business background or my bubbly personality, but I think my background as a ballplayer had a lot to do with it,” he said. “If I go to sell an outfield sign to somebody, we end up talking about the Cardinals, or they’ll ask did I ever pitch against Mark McGwire.”
Bailes did pitch against McGwire, who set a home run record with the St. Louis Cardinals, during his career as a major league player.
Bailes got his start in 1982, when he was drafted by the Pittsburg Pirates. When Bailes retired in 1998, after two seasons with the Texas Rangers, he had recorded 343 appearances and had a 4.95 career earned-run average.
Bailes isn’t alone in being able to use his athletic experience at work.
Name recognition Grant Wistrom, who earned a Super Bowl ring for his role as a defensive end on the 1999 St. Louis Rams team now owns two businesses, one of which is in the Ozarks.
Wistrom, a nine-year National Football League veteran, co-owns CrossFit Springfield, 1900 W. Sunset St., and Grove, Okla.-based real estate agency Prudential Grand Lake Wistrom. He’s also founder of The Grant Wistrom Family Foundation.
Wistrom, who lives in Springfield, said a recognizable name helps draw clients to the real estate company he owns with wife Melissa.
“It’s going to at least get people into the door, and allow them to see the tools you have at your fingertips to help them buy and sell their homes,” he said.
Wistrom noted that his athletic history also brings people to CrossFit.
“I think it’s just a natural fit, especially in this area. I haven’t been retired for that long, and (my pro experience) is still pretty relevant,” he added.
And when it comes to the Wistrom Foundation, the connections he made as an athlete are priceless. The foundation enables pediatric cancer patients to have fun camp experiences.
“The celebrities you get to meet, having connections in the NFL, getting auction items and donation items, and just my name becoming known through playing football, that obviously opens a lot of doors as far as potential donors,” he said.
On the home court Jodie Adams turned down a shot at Wimbledon to work in Springfield as community recreation supervisor of programs and facilities for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, but she said she’s never questioned her decision to leave professional tennis behind.
“I grew up in the parks here, I’m from here and I really wanted to work in this area,” said Adams, who played on the professional circuit for a year and a half and had the chance to get a wild card to play doubles at Wimbledon.
Adams, now director of parks, credits the skills she learned as an athlete with some of her successes during 36 years with the Park Board.
“Sports teach you sportsmanship, they teach you to play fair,” she said.
“Every day, when I’m looking toward planning what we’re going to do in the future – and we work with more than 200 groups – and we have so much impact on people … you want to make fair decisions,” she said.
From scoring to sales Tyler Thompson played professional golf for three years, including stints on the National Golf Association-sanctioned Hooters Tour, though he never qualified to play on the PGA Tour. He now works as general sales manager at Thompson Buick GMC Cadillac, where he said many of his sales began with connections made during his days on the green.
“We’ve sold cars to three major league baseball players, several PGA golfers, two NFL players and two NBA players,” Thompson said.
Those connections – and the fact that people know their names – have helped these former athletes grow professionally, they say.
Bailes noted that he probably wouldn’t have gotten a gig as an account executive at Conco Cos. – where he first landed after retiring from baseball – had it not been for his pro baseball experience.
“I learned what was needed for that job,” he said. “But if I were some other 39-year-old guy, I’m sure they could have found someone more qualified.”
Sarah Anderson, director of selection for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network’s Springfield office, said collegiate athletic experience is part of the reason her company recently hired Krystal Glessner and Justin Fuehrmeyer.
Glessner played volleyball at Drury University, and Fuehrmeyer was co-captain of the Missouri State University men’s basketball team.
Anderson said both new hires – who graduated in May – completed internships with Northwestern Mutual and now are building their portfolios as independent financial services representatives under the Northwestern banner.
Their athletic mindset helped make them “great candidates for the company,” Anderson said.
“With people who have the skills that it takes to be a competitive athlete, they already have a natural instinct of being motivated, having an entrepreneurial spirit,” Anderson said.
“They have independence to work by themselves, but they also have the dynamic of working with a team. I think that’s probably the biggest thing for us, because our business is entrepreneurial, and it is independent, but you do also have to work as a team,” she added.
Glessner and Fuehrmeyer were unavailable for comment, as they were attending Northwestern’s annual meeting in Milwaukee at press time.
While former athletes have myriad types of careers, in the end, it really is about how they play the game, Adams said.
“When you walk off from a game or a match, you want to know that you played your best,” she said. “That’s how every day, I want to close that day out, to make sure I know I’ve done the best I can do.”[[In-content Ad]]