Scouting director quietly helped shape Phillies

Mike Ondo, 34, director of professional scouting, started in ticket sales and later worked the radar gun.
Mike Ondo, 34, director of professional scouting, started in ticket sales and later worked the radar gun.
Posted: March 30, 2010

CLEARWATER, Fla. - As a young man coming out of the University of Scranton in the late 1990s, Mike Ondo had tunnel vision in terms of how a major-league baseball organization operated.

That's why the Phillies' director of professional scouting set his ultimate goal of becoming a general manager.

"I was naive when I started, thinking you had to be the GM," Ondo said before a spring-training game earlier this month. "The longer I've been here, I've seen how things work and how everything fits together. There are a lot of other jobs that are very important that go on behind the scenes."

Ondo, 34, has one of those jobs that quietly can help influence the construction of the team that takes the field each summer at Citizens Bank Park. A dozen years after starting as an intern in the Phillies' ticket office, he was promoted last month to his current position.

"He's been very attentive," said former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick. "I think he has picked up a lot of ideas and a lot of different ways to go about scouting."

He now has a nice executive office and the ear of Gillick's successor, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., two things he earned through hard work and by listening to the experienced baseball men around whom he has spent his adult life.

"When I first started, I spent a lot of time with Paul Owens and Lee Elia," Ondo said. "Dallas [Green] had just come back to the organization, and Del Unser was in the office."

All of the above had played a part in the Phillies' 1980 run to the team's first World Series title.

"I remember sitting around after games, and you'd hear Dallas talking about the game and the things that happened on the field," Ondo said. "I'd sit there and say, 'Wow, I didn't see that.' So the next time you watched a game, you looked for those things."

Ondo, a catcher on Scranton's team, knew he wanted to be involved in sports after earning his degree, and baseball was his preferred sport. His first job, however, was as a media-relations intern with the Eagles in 1997.

"At the end of that season, the Eagles didn't have anything available, and I had wanted to get into baseball," Ondo said. "The Eagles asked me to stay on for a little while and help with the media guide, but there was nothing concrete in terms of an offer."

Ondo and the other intern with the Eagles were invited to the Philadelphia Sports Writers banquet, and it turned into a serendipitous outing because he had his first face-to-face meeting with former Phillies general manager Ed Wade.

"It was kind of like a thank-you for helping them for the year," Ondo said. "Walking out of the banquet, I looked over and I saw the Phillies' table . . . and then I walked out. Something made me turn around and walk back in, and I introduced myself to Ed. He gave me his card and said to call him the next week."

The phone call led to a meeting and an offer.

"At the time, I didn't think it was an interview - but, at the end, Ed said something about doing an internship," Ondo said. "I already had spent one year doing an internship [with the Eagles], but I decided to do another one."

Good decision.

"I sold tickets for three months at the phone center, which is where almost all the interns start," Ondo said. "Right around May, they brought me upstairs to work on some draft stuff. It was mostly filing . . . and putting reports together."

By mid-June, Ondo was told to start reporting upstairs full time, and at the end of the 1998 season, he was offered a permanent job in the player-development department. It wasn't a glamorous role.

"I was the guy typing the scouting reports," Ondo said. "The reports had to be manually entered, and that was my job. It was a good way for me to start to see the terminology they used when filing reports."

Independent of that job, Ondo was offered an opportunity to work the radar gun behind home plate, a job that required posting the velocity and type of pitch on the scoreboard at Veterans Stadium. At first, he was a replacement, but eventually he took over the role for five seasons.

"It takes a little while to get used to the speed of the game," Ondo said. "The first game I ever did by myself was a mess. I didn't know it at the time, but the gun was giving me funny readings. It needed to be recalibrated. I struggled that day."

Between typing in reports and watching big-league games from behind home plate, Ondo started to learn more and more about baseball at its highest level.

"My role just seemed to slowly start evolving as things went on," Ondo said. "I started working with [former assistant GM] Mike Arbuckle and [minor-league director] Steve Noworyta on the player-development side, and I just kept asking questions."

Wade said Ondo's work led to the Phillies' selecting all-star centerfielder Shane Victorino in the Rule 5 draft at the 2004 winter meetings.

"It was due exclusively to the legwork that Mike did preparing for that Rule 5 draft," Wade said. "He really played up Victorino and profiled him very well. Sometimes it's about nudging things along a little, and Mike did a real good job of that."

Ondo said former Phillies scout Miguel Machado and Ruben Amaro Sr. deserved more credit.

"That was the first year I was involved with the Rule 5 draft," Ondo said. "We had good reports on [Victorino] during the year, and just from what Miguel and Ruben Sr. saw in winter ball, we just felt like we should roll the dice and take the guy."

Victorino's selection probably didn't hurt Ondo's ascent on the organizational ladder, which continued in 2008 when he became a pro scouting coordinator. He worked closely with assistant GM Chuck LaMar, who joined the Phillies in 2007 with the same title now held by Ondo.

"When Chuck came, he was out [scouting] a lot, so I had a lot of responsibility," Ondo said. "He had a lot of experience, so it was good to listen to his logic for doing things. In 2009, when Chuck moved up to assistant GM, he took over a lot more of the player-development responsibilities."

Perhaps Ondo has taken another step toward becoming a GM. If not, that's OK.

"I hope to be in Philadelphia for a long time, and I hope to be helping Ruben and the Phillies for a long time trying to handle the pro scouting department," Ondo said. "This is the team I grew up rooting for, and that has made all this so much more special."


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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