Damon Oppenheimer is a confessed baseball junkie. At the age of 16, in addition to playing the game, Oppenheimer took a job selling peanuts at the San Diego Padres games at Jack Murphy Stadium. The key was he could spend the final three innings sitting in the stands watching the game.
Oppenheimer is not selling peanuts anymore, but 40 years later, he’s still getting paid to hang around ballparks. And, now he gets to watch every pitch, from the first to the last, having built a career in scouting that began on a part-time basis with those Padres while he finished up his college degree at USC.
And his efforts in a 32-year career that saw him become a full-time scout with the Padres in 1987, earned him recognition as the West Coast Scout of the Year.
Oppenheimer came by his passion for scouting and player development honestly. His mother, Priscilla, spent more than two decades with the Padres, serving initially as an assistant to the scouting director and later the organization’s director of minor league operations.
A catcher, Oppenheimer was on the receiving end of Randy Johnson’s deliveries during their days at USC, hitting .364 and earing Pac-10 All-Conference honorable mention in 1985, when he signed with the Brewers as an 18th-round draft choice.
He was assigned to Single-A Beloit that summer only to have his playing career cut short by an injury the following spring. He appeared in only 12 games at Beloit, failing to get a hit in 17 at-bats, but drawing three walks, and scoring three runs, and caught in six games, playing first base in a seventh.
That’s what led Oppenheimer to the world of player evaluation.
After spending time with the Padres and the Rangers, he joined the Yankees as a professional scout in 2003, and has held various Vice President titles, including Professional Scouting (2003), Player Development and Scouting (2004), Scouting (2005-06) and Amateur Scouting (2007-14) before assuming his current role of Vice President of Domestic Amateur Scouting in 2015.
In his role of scouting director, he has been a key factor in the Yankees in recent years becoming more focused on strengthening their big-league roster through a farm system which has produced 70 Major-League players under his leadership, including All-Stars Dellin Betances, Phil Hughes, Mark Melancon, David Robertson, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge.
And the success of the scouting department was a key factor in the Yankees ownership and upper management making the decision in recent years to become more player-development focused, and less reliant on trying to build around free agents.
Last October, the Yankees AL Division Series roster included 10 home-grown players, second among the post-season teams to the Rockies, who had 12. And that does not take into account Greg Bird, who was injured, and the players signed by the scouting department used in packages to acquire the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Aroldis Chapman, Didi Gregorious, and Zach Britton.
While the Yankees were eliminated by the eventual world champion Red Sox in that ALDS, Oppenheimer’s tenure with the Yankees has allowed him to be part of building a team that advanced to six World Series, winning five World Championships.