- SHOW ME THE MONEY | Q2 2010
Show Me The Money
"I have a drink maybe three times a year, and even then I'll nurse that beer for an hour," says Michael Bonanno
, a handsome, olive-skinned 23-year-old who has two cell phones to keep his
clients in check and probably two sets of adrenal glands to supply his
Sporting a neatly trimmed week-old beard, Bonanno
is charismatic and engaging as he
spills the truth about the world of sports agents and their much-sought-after clients over lunch in Waterdown, a short drive from his
parents' farm in Kilbride.
still lives at home, but, as with his
tender age, that's irrelevant.
A co-founder and vice-president of athlete representation of Oakville-based Oak Sports Management, which opened for business a year ago, Bonanno was the youngest agent at the 2009 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, although he was sort of there by default.
first dream was to play Major League ball.
Light years ahead of his
teammates by the age of seven, the Oakville
native eventually garnered a two-year ride at Brevard College
in Florida, where he
competed with and against blue-chip stock, with 22 players within his
conference being drafted into the Majors during his
two years there.
But when Bonanno came to accept that his number wasn't going to be called, he looked to his roots in making the jump to professional ball, signing with Fortitudo of Bologna, Italy.
"My parents weren't the biggest fans of the decision.
They support me no matter what, but they wanted me to stay in school," he
"But I wanted to chase the dream.
It seemed like a perfect fit-going to the country where my parents were born and getting paid to play baseball.
It doesn't get much better than that."
Actually, it got worse.
"Italy just wasn't a good fit," admits Bonanno
, who was fleeced by local merchants (who took advantage of his
lack of Italian) and later sidelined by a torn UCL in his
right elbow (the rehab of which would likely have seen him lose his
starting shortstop position on Fortitudo).
"We're big on the team approach," Bonanno
says of the two other co-founders and the seven-man firm-not including his
sister Tasha, who takes care of the administration work and acts as a background scout-when both of his
cell phones go off almost simultaneously.
"It never stops," he
smiles, muffling both ringers.
"But now that our client list has grown, my job has gotten easier, because you're dealing with higher-end players who are lower maintenance," Bonanno
"I said to him, 'I know you don't have an agent, but could you do me a favour and let me represent you and we'll see how it goes?'" Bonanno
"At that point in his
was still a few years from needing an agent, but it would be a win-win for both of us."
inside knowledge has quickly positioned him as a serious prospect in his
profession, even if he
looks a tad baby-faced for the job.
"At the Winter Meetings, people thought I was at the job fair that takes place every day that week.
They kept wondering, 'Why is the kid at the job fair coming to all these prestigious dinners-Scout of the Year, Executive of the Year?' That's a part that I don't like-don't judge me by my age; judge me by what I do."
Many already have.
Former Major League Baseball scout Jim Devine believes Bonanno
is destined for stardom.
is a young, brilliant baseball mind that will be in this game for a long time.
"Michael has everything that it takes to be one of the top agents in this industry," adds an American League executive and former member of the New York Yankees organization under condition of anonymity.
It's a cutthroat world, Bonanno concedes, relating a story of a National League executive who expects to be released, and the agency that has secretly hired him to try to push every player on that team toward their agency.
and company also play their part.
When Palmetto merged with Oak Sports, Bonanno
secured a deal a month later with Easton Baseball for Ben Swaggerty, a AA Pitcher of the Year for the Kansas City Royals who'd been three years without an endorsement contract.
So the only time I can make money is through cash endorsement deals, or when they get drafted," Bonanno
If I say I need $5,000 for spring training, it's there," says Bonanno
"But I don't take advantage of it.
And at the same time, I've put in a decent chunk of change myself-every dime I have, I try to contribute to the company.
I believe in what we're doing, and I know our clients do too, otherwise they wouldn't be with us.
"It's an investment for us," Bonanno
says, crossing his
fingers that the prime prospects they now cling to are still their clients when seven- and eight-figure contracts are signed down the road.
There are no assurances.
Oak Sports allows its players to walk if they choose.
believes they're building bonds that will survive both the test of time and the temptations of greed.
"Most agents are like protective boyfriends," he
"They sit and watch their players at spring training and make sure that nobody ever talks to their guy.
I'm like, 'Talk to my guy!' If you can service him better than me, go for it, because there's no way you can.'"
Bonanno walks and talks with the swagger of someone who's been in those players' shoes, but also of a man who has probably gleaned more information off of young pros and veteran agents than any man alive over the past 12 months-research that has helped him determine what other agents do that their players love and hate.
It also helps that Bonanno
was weaned among professional athletes thanks to his
father Augie's car dealership and sports memorabilia connections.
"I think that affected me a lot," Michael
It makes for an effective combination-confidence bred from personal experience among the elite, coupled with a business savvy that suggests Bonanno
is as quick on his
feet at the negotiating table as he
was at middle infield.
Together, they're opening the doors of a previously closed shop.
"Baseball is like a fraternity," Bonanno
So did Bonanno
say the blonde or the brunette?