The month of March is International Women’s Month where we reflect on past accomplishments within Women’s History and celebrate the new achievements of all women. This year the organization, International Women’s Day (IWD), is challenging us to #BreaktheBias which imagines a gender-equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. At Rich Products Corporation and Rich Entertainment Group (REG), we are excited to take part in this initiative and showcase the incredible talents of all our female associates here at World Headquarters and across the globe. As the owners of three minor league baseball teams, REG is proud to support America’s pastime, and combine sports with bringing friends and families together.
It is with great excitement that Rich Baseball Operations announced that Leighann Sainato has been named General Manager of the West Virginia Black Bears. In her sixth year with the Black Bears organization, Sainato becomes just the second GM in Black Bears history, the first woman general manager in the MLB Draft League, and the first woman general manager in the history of Rich Baseball Operations (comprising of the Black Bears, the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, and the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals)!
First joining the team in 2017 as a community relations assistant, Sainato was promoted to Ticket Operations and Public Relations Manager before the 2019 season. Under Sainato’s leadership, the team has seen a sharp increase in group and hospitality sales, while also expanding the club’s season ticket holder benefits program. She also oversaw the club’s merchandise and marketing efforts, with significant growth across the club’s social media outreach, and assisted in the club’s transition to the MLB Draft League prior to the 2021 season.
With a historic promotion and a list of accomplishments that stretches long and far, I had the privilege of interviewing Leighann Sainato. We talked about her time with the Black Bears, what inspires her, and advice she could share. Here’s what she had to say.
What woman inspires you and why?
My mother, Jackie Sainato inspires. She worked for forty years as a public-school educator. I could go on for a long time about how wonderful she was as a teacher and principal, but really, as a mother she has the kind of patience that I can only dream of having. If I can be half as good a person as my mom, I’ve accomplished something.
What is a typical day like for you?
This is a hard question. Every day is different, which is part of the allure. I typically spend a few hours checking emails and catching up on what I didn’t finish the day before. Then I’m contacting sponsors, season ticket holders, and vendors. I’m writing press releases or working on graphics. We’re planning for our upcoming season right now, so there’s a lot of office meetings about promotions and budgets. Every day is different, and there’s never enough time.
What is your favorite part of the job?
As hectic as it can be, I really love how dynamic it is working in the sports industry. I hate being bored, and there’s always something to do here. Plus, I get to be around my favorite sport all day, every day.
How did you get into the baseball industry?
I actually started my career in law. I graduated from law school in 2015 and worked in contract law for a few years. I enjoyed it, but it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. I realized that my favorite classes were sports law or sports-related, and I thought it might be something to try. I went back to school to get my masters in Sport Management at WVU and ended up working as an assistant to former Assistant GM Jackie Riggleman. Working with Jackie (also a wonderful woman) was a great experience, and I realized working in baseball was what I was passionate about.
As a female in the industry, what has been the most significant challenge in your career?
It’s difficult to be taken seriously, sometimes, but it truly depends on the person and situation. I will say that the overwhelming majority of male colleagues have a lot of respect for me and all the women who work in our field. Things are changing for the better. You have more women, more minorities and generally, more diversity in the sports industry. It’s a slow process, but I’m proud to be part of it.
Tell me, what do you love about the Black Bears – You’ve been with them since 2017?
I love that it’s a small organization – there’s only five full-time employees. We’re a small, but very tight-knit group of people, and we’re all working toward the same goal. If it weren’t for the people around me, I wouldn’t be nearly as successful.
What advice would you give to a young female interested in working in a predominately male dominated industry such as baseball?
The same advice I give everyone: be prepared to work hard. It’s a lot of work, but if it’s something you enjoy, you’ll want to work harder. Also, it’s going to be difficult, as a woman, but don’t get discouraged. Stay focused.
When you began your career with the Black Bears in 2017, did you ever imagine that you would become the General Manager?
It was a goal to become a General Manager, not necessarily just with our team. I’m thrilled it happened here, though. I always want to put myself in a position to have the most impact, not only in my career, but in the community as well.
How have you seen yourself grown professionally over the years?
I’ve figured out what I want. I think that’s harder to define when you’re young, and there’s a lot of power in simply understanding what your goals are. Once you can define a goal, you can figure out the steps needed to achieve it. Sometimes it started with knowing what I didn’t want, but once I knew what I wanted out of my career, it seemed to get a little easier.
What lessons have you learned from your years of experience?
Stay focused, and don’t dwell too much on small setbacks. I fail a lot, but I try to find value in my failures because they ultimately make me wiser. Also, show up on time. It’s trite, but there is a lot to be said for showing up when you’re supposed to.
How does it feel to be the first female general manager in the MLB Draft League and in the history of Rich Baseball Operations (comprising of the Black Bears, the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, and the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals)?
It’s an honor. I work so closely with other members of Rich Baseball Operations, especially the Bisons’ office, that it’s just flattering to be part of the organization. I try not to think about the implications of being the first woman to do something because you always wonder why there haven’t been more. But if being the first means I’m not the last, then I’m always thankful to be part of that history.
In celebration of International Women’s Month (IWM) – We would love to celebrate women in real and non-stereotyped ways. The organization, International Women’s Day (IWD), is challenging us to #BreaktheBias which imagines a gender-equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. A world that’s diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. What does #BreakTheBias mean to you?
It means valuing people for what they bring to the table – experience, knowledge, etc., without first looking to see what boxes they fit in on a form. I’m an Asian-American woman, but that’s only part of who I am as a person. All of our different experiences help define who we are as people, and as challenging as it can be, I’d never change those experiences because they helped make me the person I am today. Without the challenges, I’d never find ways to overcome them, and that’s definitely made me a stronger person.