By Meaghan Kelly
Dana Schmitt, ’95, has had a passion for baseball ever since she and her father were invited to a Detroit Tigers game by a family friend. “I was hooked,” says Schmitt. From then on, she “always had a ballcap on.”
Thirty years later, she’s still wearing her baseball cap—but now she wears it as the president of the United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) powered by United Wholesale Mortgage, the first professional developmental baseball league in Metro Detroit. Schmitt was named president of the USPBL in 2022 after serving as the league’s chief operating officer since it was created in 2015. While the title of president is new to Schmitt, the daily tasks of running the league are not. As COO, she worked alongside USPBL’s chief executive officer and played an integral role in getting the league up and running.
Becoming president of the USPBL was the product of years of experience in the law, sports management, and league operations. After graduating from the Law School, Schmitt worked briefly in litigation and corporate law to gain some practical experience, but making partner at a firm wasn’t among her goals.
Schmitt left private practice in 1999 to become general counsel for General Sports and Entertainment (GSE), a sports management and marketing company based in Rochester, Michigan. She eventually ascended to the role of COO and general counsel of GSE and oversaw the daily operations for GSE’s various sports-related operating divisions, including a minor league baseball team in Fort Wayne, Indiana. After leaving sports for five years—working as a general counsel in the areas of technology services and software development—she rejoined GSE when it launched the USPBL in 2015.
Despite being the league’s first female president, Schmitt doesn’t see herself as a role model for women who work in historically male-dominated spaces, though she admits that others might see her in this way. “I never felt like I had to break through some glass ceiling,” she says. “I just outworked the other guys.”
Schmitt expects to see more women in leadership positions in the coming years because “the numbers are there.” Half of the USPBL’s summer interns are female, and the league typically hires interns for full-time positions. With the success of the internship program, Schmitt notes there is a growing alumni network of former USPBL employees, many of them women, working across the sports industry.
Getting the league up and running was an ambitious undertaking, but despite some skepticism about the league’s viability, she always knew the league would succeed. “I absolutely knew it was going to be a success because I knew the magic of minor league baseball from our experience in Fort Wayne.”
The four USPBL teams currently operate out of one ballpark in Utica, Michigan, where the Utica Unicorns, the Eastside Diamond Hoppers, the Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, and the Westside Woolly Mammoths play each other from May through September. The league gives players from small colleges or those who just missed being drafted the opportunity to hone their game while being marketed to major league teams. Since the league was established, 46 players have signed MLB contracts, and two have made it onto the rosters of the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles.
In her new role as president, Schmitt aims to expand the league’s network of teams and to build another ballpark. She’d also like to put more resources into making USPBL games an affordable, Disney-like experience for families. Community experience is at the heart of the USPBL, and Schmitt and her team work hard to deliver exciting family entertainment, including fireworks displays and charity and fundraising events. Schmitt’s dog, J.J., has even been trained to carry baseball bats and bottles of water to umpires and players.
Schmitt says she is fortunate to have turned her passion for baseball into a meaningful and fulfilling career, and she knows it was never a sure thing: “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t go to Michigan Law.”