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Mark Melancon runs a turf installation company as a side gig

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It’s not uncommon for pitchers to meet up with their opposition before games and swap trade secrets: pitch grips, deliveries and ballplayer wisdom are all part of the secret language that hurlers share amongst themselves. But a pitcher swapping tips with the opposition’s groundskeeper?

That’s a little less usual, but simply par for the course (excuse the pun) for one of the Padres’ many offseason acquisitions and new closer, Mark Melancon.

That’s because Melancon — a three-time All-Star and one-time MLB saves leader — moonlights with his very own turf installation company, Diamond Turf.

“Arizona’s grounds crew was great,” Melancon told me in a phone call recently. “I’ve spent a lot of time with them. Toronto last year, spent a lot of time in Texas. You know, every field’s done a little bit different. You can learn from each of those grounds crews that deal with that type of field.

“Obviously, they’re trying to replicate something for 81 games that’s perfect to a natural product,” Melancon added. “And so they’re very picky on the ball bounce and stuff like that. Depending on the infill that you use, yeah, it will bounce differently.”

It’s a strange confluence of events that led to this moment for the Padres’ stopper. Landscaping wasn’t a family business, and he didn’t grow up with a deep obsession for turf and turf supplies. No, Melancon’s mid-career extracurriculars came about because of two things.

First, Melancon asked his sister, Michelle, and brother-in-law, Gerardo, to move closer to his family on the west coast of Florida from their home in Colorado. While Gerardo could transfer his job, it would have involved an extremely long commute and employers that paid his previous rate were also scarce in the nearby area. Melancon wanted to help out since he was the reason for them picking up and moving their lives in the first place.

Second, Melancon had a putting green installed in his backyard and he wasn’t happy with the results. So, with the kind of gusto that leads to garage bands and plans to remodel basements into swanky hangout areas, the two leapt into it. The only difference: They followed through on their dream.

“[Gerardo] and I just said, ‘Let’s do this,'” Melancon said. “This is something we’re attracted to and we’ll figure it out. And fortunately, he was on board and excited about it. So was I. We dove right in and started learning and went from there.”

They quickly got to work, first learning with on-the-job training on Melancon’s putting green — which Melancon points out is about as hard as any turf job gets. Just like pitching, nailing it involves a close attention to detail.

“Putting greens, there’s simply nuances to it,” Melancon said. “It’s an art, it’s a skill. And believe me, we’ve trained a lot of people and it’s like any other major profession — you can’t just get anybody off the street. You have to really show them the way and they have to show you that they want to do it.”

With help from Celebrity Greens, who have helped train the people in Diamond Turf’s employ, the company quickly grew to about 20 members strong. Along with roughly 15 laborers, the main office features Mark, Michelle, Gerardo, an office administrator named Debbie Hertenstein and, oh yeah, another Major Leaguer in J.B. Shuck, who now runs sales. Shuck, who’s married to Melancon’s wife’s sister — making this a giant big league family — had signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals last year. But when COVID-19 ended the Minor League season, Shuck joined up with Diamond Turf full-time.

“Those two guys,” Melancon said about his two brothers by marriage, “work ethic off the charts and just quality people.”

Since then, they’ve installed lawns — some complete with trampolines in them — intricate design and logo work and, of course, putting greens.

And then there’s the really fun stuff. That includes a large, lumpy piece of turf in the shape of a turtle that Melancon’s children love called “Turtle Hill,” and backyard mini golf courses.

“Clients just love it,” Melancon said. “Every hole is different. It’s a legit putt-putt course on the back of your yard. We put trinkets out there, a skull, a pirate ship, bridges, different color turf. It’s been phenomenal. It’s really well done. And that’s my brother-in-law, Gerardo. His artistic ability just comes into play really well there.”

It’s not a new thing for ballplayers to have side jobs. In fact, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon for players not to work in the offseason. Nolan Ryan was a gas station attendant as a young player, Richie Hebner dug graves and plenty of players through history have used their fame to help open up a side business. Lou Brock opened a florist’s shop and Curt Flood owned a portrait studio.

But that’s the opposite of what Melancon wants. He made it clear over and over throughout our time chatting that he’s just happy to be a part of this company and has no desire to use his big leaguer status to boost sales — even if he has been recognized a few times on the job. If you went to the website and didn’t know it, you’d have no idea that Melancon ever played baseball.

And Melancon truly loves the job. Even during the season, he is constantly working, using Diamond Turf business as a nice release from the non-stop stress of baseball. Though he’s mostly involved in an admin role, working on payroll and material orders, he’s perhaps working more than even his co-workers enjoy.

“I’m heavily involved, but I’m involved in places that I don’t have to be,” Melancon jokes. “But I want to be and I enjoy being [involved, even though] things could still get done without me. It’s the times when I’m in the hotel on the road that I can spend a lot of time on it. Fortunately, I have a good team in place that can take care of those things.”

Still, even for someone who loves turf and works in turf and even espouses the environmental benefits that turf can provide, he still prefers to play on natural grass.

“From a professional standpoint, I think natural grass is always better,” Melancon said. “I don’t really care. It’s more the infielders and outfielders — I’ll go with whatever they want. Playing in Texas in the playoffs last year was great. I thought that surface was awesome. To be honest, you didn’t even really know it was artificial.”

In the end, even though Melancon is a pitcher, you wouldn’t know it from the way he talks about his side gig. He sounds perfectly at home running a turf installation company.

“Wanting the best for people — that’s been our motto,” Melancon said. “We want to do the best job that we can do for people. We’re there to make money, obviously, but we want to leave the customer with great customer service and quality, longevity. We specialize in putting greens because that’s what’s enjoyable, that’s what gets us excited. And we feel like, if we can master the putting green side, we can really do anything because those are the hardest things. And we really feel like we produce one of the best putting greens out there.”

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PRO Act would harm gig economy workers

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It’s a model that fits these challenging economic times well. It gives students a chance to pursue a college degree with extra income they can make on the side. It gives retirees the freedom to add some much-needed cushion to their Social Security checks. These types of jobs can help bridge income when between jobs, or they can help people earn extra money when times get tight or there’s a specific financial goal. That’s the beauty—they’re flexible.

Essentially, independent app-based work has increased something that’s cherished in the United States: freedom.

This has been a particularly important source of income for people in underserved communities in Chicago—those who have been disproportionately impacted by skyrocketing unemployment.

But despite this, Congress is considering a move that could eliminate this source of income for thousands of Illinois drivers and deny them the flexibility on which they depend.

In many cases, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act—or PRO Act—would force independent workers for Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart and the like to be recategorized as employees, limiting the accommodating schedules that make these jobs so valuable in the first place. It would also take away flexible work options and limit workers’ ability to earn extra income.

If you talk to drivers, they’ll tell you this isn’t what they want. Almost 90 percent of Illinois app-based workers work less than 15 hours per week. Nearly three-quarters of drivers nationally want to remain independent, according to an independent poll from the blog Rideshare Guy. In another survey, 82 percent of respondents said that they would rather be considered an independent contractor than an employee, and 90 percent said their employment classification is a “good arrangement” for them.

Instead of trying to force old rules on a new economy, Congress should create rules for this new economy that protect the independence and flexibility on which drivers depend, while providing access to benefits and protections all workers deserve.

Illinois lawmakers have wisely protected access to jobs and flexibility that gig workers in badly need. Congress should follow suit.

Larry Ivory is president and CEO of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce. Jaime di Paulo is CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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Pandemic Side Gig Skills Useful After COVID | Pennyhoarder

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Did you make money contact tracing for a government agency in the last year? If so, the pandemic side gig skills you learned there might morph into another job, post-pandemic. Data entry, for one.

COVID-19 has changed a lot of things about the way we live, and the way we work is one of them. Whether you held a steady job throughout the pandemic, took some time off, or even joined the 55 million people working the gig economy, you’ve probably witnessed many of these changes first hand.

Because side hustles have become such an integral part of life as we know it, we thought we’d ask the career experts to tell us which gigs they think will survive the pandemic, and provide some advice for people looking to transition out of their side hustles and into full-time jobs. Here’s everything you need to know about these eight major pandemic gigs — and how you can use that side hustle experience in your next venture.

Grocery & Food Delivery

Whether it was takeout from Dumpling, groceries for Instacart, or something else entirely — food delivery services were huge during the pandemic, and author and career educator Dr. Steven Greene thinks they’re here to stay. “This is all about convenience first and safety second,” says Greene. “Families are always strapped for time and they want simplicity— and the time saved going to the market, shopping, and bringing the food home is precious.”

Not only has grocery and food delivery become a staple in our post-COVID lives, but it’s also a great way to rack up some seriously helpful transferable skills. Just like many other service jobs, delivering food provides valuable experiences you can take with you on your next career moves. Here are some ideas.

What To Do Next

If you spent part of the pandemic delivering food, Greene says you probably developed the ability to expertly manage your time and keep things organized, all of which lends itself well to any sort of administrative office job.

Contact Tracing

While this particular gig might not be around again for a while (we hope), that doesn’t mean you can’t take that skillset with you into your next endeavor. Founder and hiring manager Rick Hoskins of Filter King says that contact tracers likely developed an impressive array of skills when it came to research, handling customer data, and discretion.

What To Do Next

Given this type of experience, obvious next stepping stones seem to include data entry or analysis positions as well as any sort of medical receptionist position.

Homeschool Assistance

Parents couldn’t have done it without you, and fortunately this side gig is another important one that seems like it might stick around for a while. “This will be critical for parents who wish to continue to homeschool their children,” says Hoskins. “They might have discovered that their children thrive with a more personalized approach to their studies.” As the country continues the transition back into in-person learning and parents resume their normal day-to-day roles, their kids might still need your support with their schoolwork. Just remember, this won’t be the only thing you can do with your new hard-earned skills.

What To Do Next

Having acquired experience working with children in an educational environment, you might consider becoming a teacher’s assistant or even a childcare professional at a daycare facility. There are many types of daycare facilities including private and public school programs and those associated with large employers such as hospitals and universities.

Poll Work

Poll work is cyclical in nature, meaning it won’t always be so readily available. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take that experience into your next gig. “Poll workers had to have the ability to keep things extremely organized,” says Greene. “They also developed data collection and analysis, as well as people skills.” You could also lump U.S. Census work into this category.

What To Do Next

Don’t wait for another election or census to flaunt your new work experience. Consider applying for an administrative role in one of your local government offices.

Elder Assistance

Much like homeschool assistance, elder assistance was and is another critical role, even in our post-pandemic world. “Isolation in the senior community has been prevalent well before Covid,” says Hoskins. “Now the benefits have been seen and reaped, so the service will continue, and it will be such a relief for their children or neighbors who are unable to give the full assistance that’s needed.”

What To Do Next

If you want to continue developing the helping skills you obtained during the pandemic, you might consider working in a senior center, senior living facility, or even in an administrative role in a doctor’s office.

Online Tutoring

Online tutoring is another essential pandemic side gig that we really can’t imagine disappearing anytime soon. “Online tutoring is a huge and growing need,” says Greene. “Many parents (and students) remain wary of returning to conventional school due to concern over Covid exposure and safety concerns. Now that the door for online education has been ‘kicked open’ it won’t be closing— there will always be an online academic option going forward.”

What To Do Next

If you want to take your tutoring to the next level, consider expanding your offerings with online group classes or even approaching local school systems to become their recommended online tutor of choice. There are many companies looking for tutors though you might need certification. Teaching English online could get you $25 an hour.

Driving for Rideshare Companies

If you were one of the many drivers braving the pandemic to help people get around, we see you — and the good news is, your gig isn’t going anywhere. “Rideshare, and other services such as food delivery, will continue to expand and the number of drivers needed to perform these deliveries will continue to grow as well,” predicts Greene. “Driving is something almost anyone can do part-time to make extra, or in many cases, full-time money.” But the other great thing about being a rideshare driver? You’ve got people skills like no one else.

What To Do Next

If you want to move past the driver’s seat, consider finding a job in customer service, sales, or even public relations. And be sure to bring that 5-star rating mentality with you.

Pet-Sitting or House-Sitting

Enjoyed watching Spot and his pad during the pandemic? As things open back up and more people venture out into the world for work and vacation, this side gig seems like an obvious one to stick around. “As people return to their workplaces, the need for someone to watch their pets, walk their dogs, take in the mail, and water their plants will increase, as will the demand for people to perform these tasks,” says Greene.

What To Do Next

This side gig is a great one to continue, but don’t forget you have other options as well. If animals are your thing, consider finding work in a local animal rescue organization or pet store. If you enjoyed watching the houses more than their inhabitants, consider upping your game and becoming a luxury house sitter.

The Final Word

It’s easy to feel like time spent during the pandemic was wasted, but don’t. However you got through these past few months should be seen as an accomplishment, and as we head into a season of the “new normal” — remember to take your hard-earned experiences with you and wear them proudly in whatever venture you choose to embark on next.

Colorado writer Larissa Runkle specializes in finance, real estate and lifestyle topics. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder. 

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.

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Review: The Gig Is Up – Cineuropa

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