Minnesota Twins President Derek Falvey '01 says the biggest wins come by creating a team of leaders
Derek Falvey '01 had his playing days end during his college baseball career at Trinity. But he wasn’t quite ready to give up the game. So after a year away working in the real world, he headed to the Cape Cod Baseball League games to film players, scout, and do statistical analysis to hand out (free) to MLB scouts and executives.
“Having my career end after college and working away from the game was the first time in my whole life that I felt disconnected from baseball, and I figured this was how I could get a better understanding of the industry,” he recalls of his summer pursuit. “My whole goal was to learn how to scout and build a rapport with people in order to find a path into the industry.”
It worked. Falvey, who enjoyed math and economics, provided impressive player analysis that included key traits and metrics that might lead to solid long-term performance. By the end of the summer season, he had met dozens of scouts and landed a few leads, including an internship in the front office of the Cleveland Indians. At 23, he packed a U-Haul and drove to Ohio. He was back in the game.
“It was the best experience ever, walking into the ballpark for the first time,” he says. But he had to earn his keep as an intern. “The first week I was told by our GM, ‘You’re going to have 40 hours of work you need to get done. What you do with the next 40 hours will determine how successful your internship is.’ And that’s pretty much how it went.”
Some days Falvey was scanning, copying, and filing. Other days he was learning the ins-and-outs of the scouting department and baseball operations crew. The long hours paid off with an offer to join Cleveland full time — the beginning of a long ride with the club. After assisting the amateur and international scouting departments for three years, Falvey was promoted to assistant director of baseball operations during the 2011 season and then to director. The latter brought the Lynn, Massachusetts native back to his roots as he worked closely with Cleveland’s new hire, Terry (Tito) Francona, former Boston Red Sox Manager.
After a strong 2016 season, when Falvey was the Twins assistant general manager, he got an offer to interview for a GM position with the Minnesota Twins. “I was 32 at the time with an opportunity to lead a baseball operation. I thought, let’s see what happens.”
What happened — after two separate flights to Minnesota and multiple days of 10-hour interviews — is that Falvey landed the job as the leader of the Minnesota Twins baseball operation, and in 2019 he became president of the club, but remains humble about it.
“I technically oversee the entirety of our baseball group,” he says. That includes the Major League team, coaches, and support staff; contract negotiations; player development; scouting; research and development; medical; and communications. “But sometimes I need to pinch myself because I feel like I’m still an intern. I have to remind myself of the role I need to play because of my title. There are times when I say, ‘We need to go in this direction.’ But more often it’s a collaborative decision-making process that leads us to the outcome.”
Falvey’s success might leave some people wondering what it takes to live out a dream.
“I was 23 and super naive,” he jokes. Then he gets serious and nostalgic. “Growing up, I had this incredible support system of people telling me that if I wanted to pursue something, to do it. I wasn’t afraid of failure and never have been. I actually view failure as a means for growth, and I link this back to my parents and time at Govs.”
Falvey’s parents encouraged him to explore high school at Govs, which was very different from the urban life he was used to. But that encouragement, coupled with financial aid support from the Academy, got him there. Falvey took to his new school.
“You start your first year and realize that your teachers are living with you,” he recalls. “You get to know their children and over time you start building relationships and you become an extension of each other’s families. It’s an environment that supports growth.”
The impact of knowing teachers on “a more human level,” Falvey continues, is something he will never forget. “It creates this immediate environment where you feel protected to some degree.”
Faculty pushed him to challenge himself and try new things — like serving as class president and then student body president. Associate Director of Athletics Jeff Wotton P'14, '17, a proctor in Falvey’s dorm (Cottage) his senior year, was someone Falvey “could always talk to.” Marty Doggett P'04, '07, '08, '08, Headmaster Emeritus, who was head of school at the time, was “a tremendous influence” on Falvey as a leader, as was History Teacher Bill Quigley P'04, '10 among so many other staff who are still at the school.
“Bill is the kind of educator who finds the perfect blend of being supportive of you but also challenging you to work harder,” Falvey says of his AP History class teacher. “He didn’t want me to just do my homework to check off a box; he wanted me to be better and challenged me to get there. He created that environment. He was that kind of leader.”
And now, so is Falvey. “It’s about creating a group of leaders,” he says of his management style. “If everyone in our organization is doing their job to the best of their ability and I’ve created an environment that allows them to do that, we’re going to be better. Because an organization’s success isn’t about one person; it never is.”
And Falvey doesn't lose sight of that. Even among some incredible moments — being the Assistant General Manager of Cleveland when they went to the World Series in 2016 and president of the Minnesota Twins after 101 wins in 2019, for example — Falvey ties everything back to a team of people on and off the field.
“Those are big wins and memories, but if we only focus on the outcomes and not the process, then we won’t sustain success,” Falvey explains. “It’s really about the everyday moments: watching people grow and recognizing all of the work that goes into these milestones that fuels me.”
Creating that culture — encouraging people to “break a few windows as they stretch themselves to take risks and sometimes fail” — reminds Falvey of his early days in the business.
“I learned as an intern the value of supporting others,” Falvey says. “Some people think that when you become the leader of an organization, you should change. But if you ever shift into, ‘now I’m sitting up high,’ then you won’t do the job the way that you should — which is to invest in every person who walks through the door every day. My job as a leader is to serve others and equip them with the tools to excel. That’s the kind of culture I want to be a part of fostering.”
And, he adds, he will never stop learning. “I’ve accomplished only what I’ve accomplished up to this point. I still only know 10 percent of what I want to learn in this game; hopefully, it will be 11 percent next year. I’m never going to get to 100 percent because the finish line just keeps pushing out.”
Cover image photo credit: Getty Images