In October, Danielle Dockx ’18 sat in the stands of Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, as her employer — the Tampa Bay Rays — competed for the World Series. It was not always the path she envisioned for herself during her time studying and playing softball at Princeton.
“After my sophomore year, I had the opportunity to shadow with an orthopedic surgeon,” she remembers. “One thing that he said to me that kind of clicked with me was if you want to do medicine, medicine has to be your number-one priority, and you have to try to fit your love of sports into that … for me, it was like the opposite … sports was my number-one priority.”
During her time at the University, Dockx majored in ecology and evolutionary biology while playing shortstop for Princeton’s softball team.
“Having to balance softball and being a student at Princeton … really made me see why I have such a passion for athletics, and baseball and softball in particular,” she said. “I loved the idea of keeping that competitive nature [even] when you’re not an athlete.”
However, at the beginning of her senior year, she recalls quite a bit of pressure that was directing her away from pursuing a career in sports.
“It can be hard to not feel like you’re behind the eight ball when you see a lot of your classmates come in senior year with consulting and finance jobs … you're kind of sitting waiting for your timeline and realizing that it might be different,” she revealed. It was at this point that Dockx went to Kathleen Mannheimer in the University’s Career Services office, who pointed her towards the MLB’s Diversity Fellowship program.
“Kathleen got the flyer … it was the first year that the MLB was doing this fellowship. There were two different versions of it … the club fellowship, which is where you’d be placed with the team for 18 months, or there was the Office of the Commissioner fellowship, where you’d be working in New York at the office of the commissioner,” Dockx said. “The Rays were the first [to] reach out, and definitely the most proactive.”
After three or so rounds of interviews, the Rays hired Dockx for the 18-month internship in the team’s front office. “I got to work on projects in a bunch of different areas of baseball operations, research, development, performance, science … as the fellowship went on … I filter[ed] out … some areas where I think I’d fit and some areas that maybe I don’t like as much.”
During this internship, Dockx discovered that she most enjoyed being involved with on-field operations.
“I do like a lot of the office work — for me, I also like not being stuck behind my computer,” she said. “I like being able to kind of be a hybrid … and be able to have relationships with people in the front office and people on the field.”
After Dockx completed her internship, the Rays decided to hire her as a full-time employee. Her new role centers on performance science and player development, two interests she discovered during her time as an intern.
“In a normal year, I would get the chance to travel to all of our minor league affiliates … and serve as a bridge between our minor league affiliates and the front office that’s in St. Petersburg, Fla.,” she said. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dockx was not able to travel to the team’s minor league affiliates this year. “I'm definitely crossing my fingers, and looking forward to getting to get out there to all of our locations next year.”
Dockx was not the only front office employee who saw her role severely impacted by the pandemic.
“We were all remote. We were actually down at spring training when the world shut down … back in March.” Most of the front office staff was not able to attend another game until the team played in game one of the World Series this year, after eliminating the New York Yankees and Houston Astros earlier on in the MLB’s postseason tournament. “I’m just grateful that we played a season.”
Despite having only recently entered a full-time role with the Rays, and having had that role greatly diminished during the pandemic season, Dockx said she has learned a wealth of new knowledge about the inner workings of a baseball front office.
“You obviously have a system of hierarchy within a front office, but it doesn’t always feel that way with the Rays’ culture. Everyone is engaging with everyone, and everyone has their hands in whatever they need to.”
A big part of all of the learning Dockx has been able to accomplish in her short stint with the team has been the welcoming nature of the Rays staff.
“The Rays have been nothing but supportive … I’m super lucky to be here … and just grateful to be a part of it,” she said. “Whether [my role] turns into something coaching on-field … or a more advanced hybrid role, I’ll be happy with whatever it is.”
Dockx recognizes that she didn’t always envision herself working for a baseball team.
“I certainly did not think I would be where I am when I came in as a freshman,” she affirmed. Yet, she has a lot of advice that she wishes she received while she was at Princeton. “Get involved as early as you can, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people in the industry. I wish I would have known that, for sure,” she said.
Dockx found that she is not alone when it comes to being a Princeton alumnus in baseball. “We have two [Princeton grads] at the Rays … Jonathan Erlichman ’12 … and Barry Newell ’09,” she said.
Erlichman became the MLB’s first process and analytics coach when the Rays promoted him to the role in 2018, and Newell is the team’s VP of baseball development and analytics.
“We have some incredible people that have graduated from [Princeton] … and we’re lucky enough to share experiences with them … everyone is kind of behind each other, so don’t be afraid to reach out,” Dockx said.
Beyond industry-specific advice, Dockx shared that she also understands the unique circumstances University students who may be interested in her field are now facing.
“Don’t feel like you have to get stuck on a certain path because you're a Princeton student,“ she said. “Don't feel like you have to go into consulting or go to grad school … don't be afraid to pursue your passion and something that you love, even if it looks a little different than what you thought.”