Erik Neander: Intern to World Series GM
Whether you consider this season of major league baseball to be an asterisk year or not due to the shortened season; it is still an impressive feat to make it to the World Series. The Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers will be facing off in Game 1 of the World Series tonight in Arlington, Texas. While everyone can agree that the players have a major impact on the success of a team, another significant piece of the puzzle is the general manager. The general manager is responsible for controlling player transactions as well as discussing contracts with players. In the eyes of many fans, general managers are primarily responsible for wins and losses. While this effort can seem like a monumental task for some, one particular Hokie grad has been rising to the challenge since 2016.
New York native, Erik Neander, moved to Virginia to start classes at Virginia Tech. Despite coming in as an engineering student, he switched his major after three semesters to the science of food, nutrition, and exercise after realizing his true passion for working in the athletics world. While Neander had been a baseball player in high school, he suffered a shoulder injury that kept him from playing baseball in college. However, his passion for baseball and hard work would propel him towards many opportunities in MLB.
After Neander graduated in 2005, he found himself working a low-paying job that supplied statistics to major league baseball teams. After a few years of what some would call the grunt work of the industry, Neander landed himself a baseball operations internship with the Rays in 2007. From there, Neander only grew. After a successful internship, he was promoted to an entry-level operations job in 2008. In 2009, he became the baseball research and development manager. He then became the director of baseball operations before the 2012 season. Two years later, Neander became senior vice president of the Rays. Neander was promoted to general manager a few years later in November 2016.
Although the Rays have one of the lowest payrolls in MLB, since becoming the general manager in 2016, Neander and the Rays have been met with plenty of success. This has required Neander to develop connections with players quite early in their careers. In his first season as general manager in 2017, the team won 80 games compared to 68 wins in 2016. The Rays improved to 90 wins in 2018 and 96 wins in 2019. The team also made their first postseason appearance since 2013 in 2019 but fell short (3-2) to the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series.
Flash forward a year, the Astros and Rays met again; this time, with a different outcome. In the 2020 American League Championship Series, the Rays were out for blood after the disappointing end to their 2019 season. Despite winning the first three games, the Astros went on a hot streak and won games 4, 5, and 6. However, the Rays proved victorious and won Game 7 with a score of 4-2 and advanced to the World Series.
While the Rays have appeared in a few World Series, they have never won the championship. Neander, the 2019 MLB Executive of the Year, is hoping to be the first general manager to be a part of this accomplishment. The first game has been set to take place Tuesday night. So if you’re a Hokie fan and looking for a reason to follow the World Series, what better reason to watch than to support a fellow Hokie? Hokies for Hokies!