A lot of fans missed baseball in 1994. Perhaps none more than Jeff Idelson ’86.
That summer, as Major League Baseball veered toward a devastating strike that would cut the season short and cancel the World Series for the first time in 90 years, the West Newton, Mass., native was busy working in public relations for soccer’s World Cup matches being staged in the U.S. Alone in Dallas and away from the Boston Red Sox and the game he’s loved since the age of 5, Idelson realized that baseball’s allure was too strong for him to resist. Offered a job as director of public relations for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Idelson accepted the position on the day he turned 30.
“I decided to accept it on my birthday as a present to myself,” he says.
It’s been the gift that keeps on giving.
Now in his 21st year with the Hall, Idelson still gets goose bumps walking through the museum.
“It never gets old. There isn’t a day that I’ve woken up and said, ‘Oh, no, I have to go to work,’” he says.
“I’m a classic example of a kid following his dream and making the most of it.”
Aside from his 15-month stint working on the World Cup, Idelson’s entire working life has revolved around baseball. He worked as a vendor at Fenway Park in junior high, and joined the Red Sox public relations team five days after graduating from Connecticut College in 1986. Idelson later switched sides in the famous rivalry, taking on media relations duties and publicity for the New York Yankees from 1989-93.
After joining the Hall, Idelson worked in public relations and promotions before being named vice president of communications and education in 1999. He took over as Hall president on April 15, 2008, but even as leader of a nonprofit with nearly 90 full-time employees, Idelson has retained an interest in the Hall’s internship program, meeting with each of the nearly two dozen interns hired per year.
One of those interns was Sara DeGaetano ’07. She was selected from more than 300 applicants in the summer of 2006, and her duties included planning activities for the museum’s sixth annual All-Star Game party. After graduation, she returned to the Hall for a nine-month internship, during which she developed skills in artifact handling and care and exhibit development.
“Over those nine months, I grew tremendously as a professional,” says DeGaetano. “Jeff recognized the value of what I brought to the Hall of Fame and was instrumental in creating a permanent position that was a great fit for me and the institution.”
DeGaetano was hired fulltime as a collections assistant and worked at the Hall until 2014, when she left to pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy. She and Idelson still stay in touch.
As he did with DeGaetano, Idelson makes it a point to get to know all the Hall’s interns, usually over lunch.
“Invariably I give them all the same advice: If you can graduate college knowing how to think, problem-solve and be a good communicator, it really doesn’t matter what you major in,” Idelson says. “Those are the skills I look for when I’m hiring.”
An economics major, Idelson credits his Conn liberal arts education with instilling those skills in him. But just as meaningful was his participation in activities outside the classroom. He helped found the College’s club baseball team, worked as news director and disc jockey for WCNI, and also worked in the sports information office. He built strong relationships with former Sports Information Director Mary Taylor and Athletic Director Charles Luce, who encouraged him to explore his passions. It was Luce who made the fateful phone call to the Red Sox, opening the door for Idelson to land an interview with the club.
"My experience at Connecticut College clearly provided me with a path for success," Idelson says. "The four years you spend in college are about more than getting an education in the classroom. They're about education in life. Conn offers the perfect environment to have that experience.
"Without that experience at Conn, I don’t know that I’d be where I am today."