“The reason I wanted to get back around sports was to get around baseball. And the reason I wanted to get back around baseball was to get back around the players. This was the perfect opportunity for those things to align."
Vice President, Strategy, Operations & Legal Affairs
Q & A with Robert Sanzillo
Vice President, Strategy, Operations and Legal Affairs
On his early education and college background
I grew up in Westchester, New York, and went down to John Hopkins for college with every intent of becoming a doctor. Parents’ wishes, not my wishes. Luckily, I was picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals organization in the 2007 draft, so I got a pass on taking the MCAT. After that I got to pave my own way a little bit more and came back to New York City after playing baseball. I worked in finance for a year, then found my way to law school and graduated from Fordham Law School in 2013.
On beginning his law career
I went to work at a law firm called Herrick Feinstein. I chose them because I went back to law school knowing that I wanted to get back into sports, and Herrick – while a smaller firm – has a robust sports practice.
I had the opportunity to do some really interesting work at Herrick before I jumped into the start-up world and joined the Premier Lacrosse League. I was one of the first five guys in the room trying to figure out the processes and procedures that would go on and build a league.
On getting involved with creating the Premier Lacrosse League
The founder of the Premier Lacrosse League was at Hopkins the same time I was. We knew each other through college. One of my best friends, also named Rob, works at that the Raine Group, which led the PLL’s seed round, and he reconnected me and the founder. I was trying to leave the firm and get back into sports more directly as an operator. Rob is the one that steered me in that direction.
On working on the Players’ behalf
The reason I wanted to get back around sports was to get around baseball. And the reason I wanted to get back around baseball was to get back around the players. This was the perfect opportunity for those things to align.
On his professional career with the St. Louis Cardinals organization
The coolest part about posting this new job has been how many of the guys from the Cardinals have reached out to me, congratulating me, saying hello.
For me, the best part about playing the game was always being around the people. The thing that I remember most fondly about the minor leagues was the time in the locker room. My time with those guys when we were all really just trying to figure it all out and make our playing careers work.
On his playing days as a catcher and his two stolen bases in Johnson City in 2007
I was actually pretty fast – especially for a catcher. I learned really early on that you can steal bases off the pitcher; you don’t have to steal bases off your speed. I was very much a student of the game. I think it served me well as a catcher because you are directing traffic on defense and that is something I took great pride in. Not only calling a game but making sure the defense is in place. When you’re on the base paths, there are things you can pick up from pitchers that you can take advantage of. For me, the few times I was actually on base, I was always looking for ways to make sure I scored.
On leaving his playing career behind him
Walking away from playing baseball was very difficult. … It’s kind of scary to think you made it to the minor leagues, but you’ve still got to make it to that top one percent of minor leaguers to make it to the big leagues. I always equated making to the big leagues to being a CEO of a Fortune 30 company. There are only 30 starting spots in the big leagues and there is a new crop of stud athletes every year coming for that spot. There’s a lot of factors that have to align.
I have tried to stay in touch with people that are trying to improve the quality of life for minor league players, and it is definitely something I hope I get to lean in on more here with the Players Trust.
On playing with Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols
One of the coolest parts of Spring Training was that Pujols and Molina came to the minor league locker room every day to talk to the players. I was in Yadi’s early work group, and that was just an unreal experience getting to do catching drills with one of the greatest of all time. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
Molina never missed an early work group, even though it was optional for him. And where there were catcher instructors that were more drill sergeant-y, Molina took the time to actually explain what they were trying to get across to us. He was a real person, and he knew the struggles that we were going through as young players, especially first-year players at our first spring training, and he leaned in.
On his recent marriage
I accepted this job, gave notice at my old job and my now-wife and I picked a wedding date all in the same day. That was a big day in early January for me.
We just got married on January 23, hosting an immediate family-only, COVID-friendly ceremony. We were able to pull it off on only 10 days of planning. We got everybody there safely and had a nice little ceremony. I went from being a single man at the Premier Lacrosse League to being a married man at the Players Association all within a month. It’s been a wonderfully overwhelming few weeks.
She [Dr. Alexandra Bourlas] went to Hopkins as well, so she followed through on her parents’ wishes when I didn’t. She’s an emergency room doctor, and she’s been in the thick of it here for the last year, dealing with a ton of COVID patients and your typical emergency room craziness. She’s a rockstar and the wedding was a great way to start off 2021 for sure.