Greg Van Sickler ’11, always dreamed of being in the major leagues—as a kid, during his years as a pitcher for Shenandoah University and, in the few years that followed, while he joined the rosters of professional leagues abroad. While not exactly how he envisioned, he got into Major League Baseball (MLB) all the same after joining the Houston Astros as a sales executive in 2014. Three years later, he is a part of the thrilling journey that found the Astros winning their first World Series in franchise history. He couldn’t be happier.
“As cliché as it to say, it’s a dream come true,” said Van Sickler. “Every kid grows up wanting to become a professional baseball player, and I was no different. I wasn’t an Jose Altuve or Carlos Correa, but I wanted to keep playing after college. I was afforded the opportunity to play in Europe, then hooked up with a team in Australia for two years. I loved it. When my arm gave out, I realized I was done, even though my heart was still in it. So that dream ended
— but when I came home, I got the opportunity to be around baseball at the professional level by working for the Astros. Winning the World Series was thrilling, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Getting a World Series ring is also a fine accompaniment to Van Sickler’s long list of baseball accolades. While at Shenandoah, the three-time All-American advanced to the DIII World Series in Appleton, Wisconsin, in his sophomore and junior years (2009 and 2010). “Although we were unable to bring home a national championship for Shenandoah, it was an honor to play alongside so many talented teammates and coaches. That experience was unforgettable. I thought that was my last opportunity to be a part of a World Series run, but fast forward seven years and here we are bringing home the first World Series title in the history of the Houston Astros!”
Van Sickler said his Shenandoah team set a number of records during his tenure, and he was blessed to have earned several awards during his four years. “One that I am most proud of is winning the USA South pitcher and player of the year my senior season. It was a testament to Coach Anderson’s faith in my abilities as a pitcher and position player, allowing me to contribute from both sides of the game.” Van Sickler still holds many top 10 records for Hornets baseball.
One of his best memories is a new one, when Coach Anderson joined him in Houston for game three of the World Series. “He and I have always had a great relationship. To sit in a suite next to my college coach during the World Series and talk baseball is a memory I will never forget.” He credits Anderson with helping him become the man he is today.
The Shenandoah alum also treasured his mother joining him for a World Series game, as he said he can never truly repay her for all she has done for him, especially where baseball is concerned.
Van Sickler is also a big fan of his alma mater. He not only enjoyed his baseball experience, but also his academic one, and is already putting his Bachelor of Business Administration degree to good work in his position as premium sales account executive for the Astros (getting the job is something he credits to Shenandoah, saying Career Services was instrumental in helping him prepare for job interviews). His role with the organization is making sure high-end stadium suites are occupied during Astros games.
“This requires doing a lot of cold calls and facing adversity, just as I did on the Hornets baseball team and in my business classes,” he said. “It’s challenging to sell suites, but my education groomed me to face different scenarios head-on. Many of my classes directly correlate to what I do here. I spend a lot of time in the suites entertaining and building relationships with clients,” he said.
Van Sickler likened the Astros front office to the Shenandoah campus. “Everyone knows everybody. We’re a close-knit group, a family. When you have 83 home games in six months, and work 10- to 14-hour days during those months, you get to know everyone on an intimate level. Departments cross over and work together, and it’s one big interconnected circle,” he said.
They all take pride in their work. “Our job is to generate revenue for the organization, so they can bring in players. The goal is always to get to the playoffs. Our leadership team tells us, ‘We’ve spent all this money on players, go get it back.’ They spent $28 million this year for Justin Verlander, and it has to come from somewhere. A large chunk of that comes from ticket sales, so it’s fun but stressful.”
He said during his time at the university, he didn’t know what he wanted to do in the future. “I never thought about working in professional sports,” he said. “It came out of nowhere to get this job. I saw it online and applied and was amazed to get a call, a phone interview and then an in-person interview. I knew within the first 10 minutes this is where I was meant to end up. It was a perfect fit.” He plans to advance to the senior level as he grows, with aspirations to eventually become president of an MLB franchise someday.
Because he believes in giving back, Van Sickler has become a mentor through Shenandoah’s Leadership and Mentoring Program, known as LAMP, a collaborative partnership initiated in 2015 between the Harry. F. Byrd Jr., School of Business, community, corporations, companies, industries, faculty and students.
“I tell students it’s okay if they don’t know what they want to do to with their careers,” he said. “I encourage them to find something they love and someone who is successful at doing it and glean all the information they can. Eventually, they’ll find a way to blend the two. I love baseball, been around it my entire life, and was fortunate to get a job involving the sport.”
His mentorship has taken different forms, but recently he has worked with Shenandoah business student and baseball player Luke Nussman ’19, who joined him in Houston for a visit this past summer along with Fritz Polite, Ph.D., associate dean for student affairs and associate professor in sports management at the Byrd School.
Nussman said, “Dr. Polite pushes his students to become successful, principled leaders with a global perspective. In traveling to Houston to meet Mr. Van Sickler and experience a couple days in his life, we had the opportunity to put theory into practice. Mr. Van Sickler took us on a tour of the stadium and his office, shared his insights on the profession and possible routes for me to explore, and we were fortunate to watch two games while there.
“What I took away most was to enjoy my job because if I do, I won’t have to work a day in my life,” said Nussman. “I know that was a genuine statement because of how Mr. Van Sickler attacks every workday, and how successful he has been. Another piece of advice he shared was ‘it’s not always about who you know but rather who knows you.’ Both he and Dr. Polite stressed the importance of building your personal brand and selling that brand in every aspect of life.”
Upon graduation, Nussman plans to seek a job in sales for a professional baseball team, like Van Sickler, and build his network as he works his way up the ranks.
As for Van Sickler, he is poised for easier months ahead for ticket sales after watching his Astros take the grand prize. “This team is not a fluke,” he said. “We have a young core. We’ve set the tone for the next decade of Houston baseball. It’s been fun and special and exciting to be there for this.”