For almost 20 years, Dustin Morse has worked in public relations, mostly in his home state with the Minnesota Twins. Morse, who was recently promoted to vice president of communications and content at the Twins, is the man on the inside with all the information, the bridge between the team, the media and the fans.
And on March 8, over Zoom, he appeared in front of 25 Oak Park and River Forest High School students, lifting the veil on what may seem a glamorous job in the sports industry, revealed the ups and downs of his career journey.
“I’ve been around the game a long time,” said Morse, who was invited to speak to the students in a Sports and Literature class by his friend, OPRF teacher James Bell. “I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I still feel like I’m learning up until today.”
Morse opened his story telling students he always knew he wanted to work in sports. Attending the University of Wisconsin Madison with Bell in the late 1990s, he said he loved baseball but was fascinated by the business side of things, including stadium operations, marketing and more. He went to class, talked to professors and began to map out the steps to making his dream a reality. Having good friends like Bell helped, too.
“The group of guys I surrounded myself with kind of pushed me into chasing my dreams, chasing my goals and what I thought was possible,” he said.
Morse told students career success didn’t happen overnight and recalled striking out several times before finally landing his first internship at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, an opportunity that later opened other doors for him.
“I’ll be honest. I was a little cocky. I thought I’ll just write a letter, and I’ll pick which team I want to work for, but I was 0-for-8 with the teams I wrote to,” he recalled, adding that was the first of many career snags.
During the Zoom session, students asked Morse questions about breaking into the sports industry, working with professional athletes, and navigating the challenges that come with his position. One student, Jimmy Lynch, was curious how Morse dealt with athletes who were not fond of media interviews.
“It’s probably the hardest part of the job because not everybody, not every player is comfortable with the spotlight,” Morse told the class, joking about the times he’s asked players to do media appearances and ended up in a headlock, the laundry basket or told to get lost.
“Wait — you mean a literal headlock? A literal laundry basket?” Bell asked Morse to clarify.
“Yeah, over the years in a playful way,” Morse said, smiling. “I’m the guy who comes asking these guys to do things.”
Morse explained that a large part of his role is to build relationships with the players and to understand who they are as people on and off the field.
“Whether you’re a basketball player, a baseball player, a football player, not everybody signs up to be a role model. Not everybody signs up to be a spokesperson,” he reiterated. “Not everybody’s comfortable with being in the spotlight. I’ve had players come to me confidentially and talk about social anxiety and being in front of the camera or fear of speaking to groups, and you start learning what makes each guy tick.”
Morse also shed light on those early days in his journey, working for other Major League Baseball teams and stepping into what felt like a brand new world. Back in 2002, Morse was a new college graduate, interning for the Chicago Cubs. That year, he said, the team’s manager was fired and the general manager stepped down.
“And I was a 21-year-old intern trying to figure out what this all meant,” he told students. “I remember when they stripped the team down and started trading off players that I really liked and I grew to know and call friends. … I was told pretty quickly that this is a business, and it wasn’t in the cards that year for the company to win and compete for division.
That wasn’t the only hard lesson he learned. Morse scored a full-time job with the Texas Rangers soon after his stint with the Cubs. That, he said, was a dream job.
“I’m living life like everything was incredible until it wasn’t. About 11 months into that job, I lost my job. They let me go due to budget cuts,” he said. That hitch led him to California with the San Diego Padres for a couple of seasons and then to his current post, back in his home state of Minnesota with the Twins.
As Morse reflected on his career, other students such as Autumn Murphy, Drew Kunkel and Jake Beaver joined Lynch and said they were drawn to this, taking in all the information. After the presentation, the three told Wednesday Journal they appreciated Morse’s insight on his profession, a career they knew existed, but thought was out of reach.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Lynch said. “That’s definitely something I want to go and do.”
Echoing Lynch, Murphy said Morse helped reinforce the power of self-belief.
“In the world of sports, there are people out there willing to give you an in and actually help out in your journey and getting to whatever you want to pursue,” Murphy said, adding that she knows pursuing a career as an athlete or in the sports industry comes with uncertainties, but it’s about “willing to take the risk.”