Zane Heinselman’s first job in sports came when he was a student at Saint John’s University taking part in a study-abroad program in Coventry, England.
It was a marketing internship with the Birmingham Knights, a franchise playing its first (and it turned out only) season in the British Basketball League.
“The team went 0-32, and after one year in existence, it went defunct,” the 2015 SJU graduate recalls. “So whatever I did as an intern probably didn’t have the biggest impact. But nevertheless, it was a great experience just to see how it was possible to translate my interest in sports and business analytics into a job I was really passionate about.”
The experience led to another internship with Minor League Baseball’s St. Paul Saints in the summer before his senior year at SJU. That, in turn, led to a full-time job with the team after his graduation in the spring of 2015.
And he’s been there ever since, working his way up through the ranks of the front office.
As Director of Sales and Corporate Partnerships, he played a key role in strengthening existing corporate sponsorships and developing new ones.
He also took the lead in creating additional opportunities to utilize CHS Field when the Saints’ attendance was limited at the downtown St. Paul stadium in the summer of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. That included holding a Senior Class Salute tournament there, providing the opportunity for graduated high school seniors who lost their senior season due to the pandemic to play three games with their teammates before they went off to college.
Those efforts did not go unnoticed, and earlier this month, the 29-year-old was promoted to the team’s Vice President/Assistant General Manager.
“A lot of my duties will still revolve around overseeing corporate sponsorships and ticket sales initiatives,” he said. “But when you work for a minor league team, there are often other duties as assigned. So there will definitely be some baseball-related focus as well. But a lot of the day-to-day responsibilities and leadership will be focused on sales and managing staff.”
Heinselman was a standout soccer player at SJU, ranking among the team’s leading scorers in all four of his seasons in Collegeville. As a senior in the fall of 2014, he led the Johnnies with six goals and four assists (14 points), earning All-MIAC first-team honors.
“He’s a hard-working guy who sets goals and goes after them,” SJU head coach John Haws said. “That’s how he was here. So it doesn’t surprise me that he brought that same energy and verve into his career and that it’s helped make him so successful.”
He’s found that success with the Saints, a franchise that made the transition from being a member of the unaffiliated American Association of Independent Professional Baseball (and prior to that the Northern League) to becoming the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins starting with the 2021 season.
“Our focus as a franchise has always been on having fun, and that’s what it continues to be,” Heinselman said. “What the Twins’ affiliation has done is just raise the level of exposure we have. It provides Saints’ fans the chance to see rising Twins stars – and rising stars on other Major League teams – up close and in person. It’s a unique situation. Where else can you buy a ticket for $5 and maybe see (Twins star) Byron Buxton on a rehab assignment, or top MLB draft picks play all season long.
“We’re hoping what we’re doing with the Twins will continue to help grow the game of baseball in Minnesota.”
Heinselman said another perk of working for the team has been getting the chance to meet the legendary Bill Murray. The acclaimed actor and Saturday Night Live alum is one of the team’s co-owners and periodically makes appearances at the ballpark.
“He usually comes around once a year or so, if not more,” Heinselman said. “Not as much the past couple of years because of the pandemic. But I’ve gotten the chance to meet him. And he’s exactly who you’d think he’d be. He’s a bit off-the-wall and hilarious to be around.”
Heinselman still keeps in touch with a number of the people he knew at SJU and credits his time at the school with helping him discover the career path he wanted to pursue.
“A lot of the people I played soccer with, or who were on my study-abroad program, are still my friends now,” he said. “They were at my wedding and we stay in touch all the time. There’s definitely a Johnnie network that you tap into – people who are available if you need to pick their brains about something or they need to pick yours.
“Coming into SJU, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to study. And the liberal arts education allowed me the chance to take a lot of different classes and see where my passions lie.
“Ultimately, that let led me to working in sports.”