UI alumnus Joe Dellwo is the director of ticket sales for Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals—it is his job to make sure every game runs smoothly, whether it be as the host of an All-Star Game or during a World Series–winning run.

Joe Dellwo’s baseball career peaked early—on the Early, Iowa, Little League team—but he plays an important role when baseball’s best players convene at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., or when the Nationals win the World Series, as they did in 2019.

Dellwo, a 2001 University of Iowa graduate, has been senior director overseeing ticket sales for the Washington Nationals since 2015. When the Nationals hosted the 2018 All-Star Game, he worked closely with Major League Baseball to make sure ticketing goes smoothly and every fan had a place to sit. Or stand, if they had a standing room only ticket.

“We’ve been working on this for three years. We’ve planned for every situation, and it’s going well so far,” Dellwo said.

Scheduling the postseason, Dellwo says, is a completely different animal than the regular season or even the All-Star Game. For those, he says schedules are set months or years in advance and teams have time to prepare. In 2019, the Nationals didn’t know they’d be hosting the Oct. 1 Wild Card Game until late in the evening on Sept. 28, giving them only two days to get ready.

“The MLB playoffs are a sprint, since everything happens in one month,” he says. “Your ability to plan is shortened and everyone from all departments must be completely flexible and ready to react quickly as items arise. Everything comes down the pike fast and furious.”

He points out that even when the team is on the road, they’re busy. For instance, the team sponsored a watch party at Nationals Park while Game 5 of the National League Division Series was being played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, bringing fans together and rooting for the city’s first postseason series win since 1924.

But for the business side, he says the hectic pace is worth it.

“The postseason offers a tremendous opportunity to engage with your current clients, prospects, and brand-new clients,” he says. “Knowing that the postseason is a highly emotional time and that the stadium is full provides countless opportunities for season ticket sales conversations for the upcoming season.”

His Early days
Dellwo grew up in Early, a small town in Sac County in northwest Iowa. With a population of about 600, it was small enough that most every student needed to play at least one sport if Schaller-Crestland High School was going to field teams. Dellwo played basketball, football, track, and baseball.

Though baseball was not his best sport.

“I could hit the ball a long way when I was a kid, but I couldn’t hit the curveball, so I didn’t do very well in high school,” says Dellwo, who says he struck out swinging as a pinch hitter to end the final game of his baseball career.

“Swinging,” he says again, to emphasize that he didn’t go down without a fight.

He still plays in the occasional office slow-pitch softball game. “I don’t embarrass myself,” he says.

Why UI?
Dellwo chose UI because he wanted a different experience than the small town and small school where he grew up. He remembers lecture hall classes that had as many students as the entire population of Early.

But the size didn’t intimidate him.

“It was eye-opening. It showed me what else was out there,” he says. “I wasn’t afraid to try something new, and that’s really what my life has been like since.”

He’s also been a huge Hawkeye fan since his earliest days.

“I bought season tickets to football and men’s basketball games as soon as I set foot on campus my freshman year,” he says. “Those are some great memories.”

Last-minute change of plans
Dellwo came to UI with plans to become a physical therapist. He majored in exercise science and worked as a student trainer in the athletic department for three years. He spent his senior year on the training staff of the men’s basketball team and was along for the ride as they won the Big 10 Conference tournament championship and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2001.

The opportunity provided valuable experience, friends for life, and some great road trips. It also showed him he didn’t want to be a physical therapist. Instead, he wanted to work in sports marketing.

He visited the Pomerantz Career Center and a counselor there gave him the mailing addresses of every team in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB. Starting down a new career path just weeks before graduation, he wrote letters to every team on the list saying he would do whatever they asked him to do, as long as he could learn the ropes of sports management.

“Their letters started coming back,” he says. “They said, ‘We don’t want you.’”

Until finally a call came from the then–Tampa Bay Devil Rays, offering a five-month internship giving him valuable experience in the back room and front office, everything from selling tickets to corporate sponsorships to gameday operations. It didn’t pay much (in fact, it paid nothing at all, so he worked a second job as a busboy at a Tampa Bay yacht club), but he jumped at the chance and quickly knew he had found his niche.

After that, he spent 10 years working for the Detroit Pistons in ticket sales—picking up an NBA championship ring to go with his Big 10 basketball championship ring—followed by stints with the Florida Panthers hockey team and the Penn State University athletic department.

Then, in 2015, he joined the Nationals as the team’s director of ticket sales.

Love sports? Then a career in sports may not be for you.
People who love sports think working for a sports team is all glitz and glamour, hanging out with sports heroes, and getting paid to watch games. Dellwo says it isn’t. The irony of working for a sports team is that you’re so busy on game day, you hardly get a chance to watch the game.

“When I’m interviewing people for jobs and they tell me they love to watch sports, I ask them, ‘When do you watch sports?’” he says. “They say, ‘Evenings, weekends, and holidays.’ I tell them, ‘There’s your work schedule.’”

Still, he always makes a point to stop and watch at least one inning of every Nats game, “just to remind myself where I am and why I do what I do.”

John Streif is his Hawkeye Hero
The UI Department of Athletics’ legendary longtime head trainer John Streif was Dellwo’s supervisor, teacher, mentor, friend, role model, second father, and even innkeeper. Dellwo lived with Streif for three months during the summer of 2001, between graduation in May and the start of his Devil Rays internship that August.

“John is the most caring, most genuine individual I’ve ever met,” Dellwo says. “He didn’t have children of his own, so every athlete and trainer he encountered was by extension a child of his and he cared for them as such. He gave me the support and encouragement I needed to find my career.”

Today, he remembers Streif’s kindness and compassion as he manages the people on his own staff.

Way back, way back…
While Dellwo is excited about the All-Star Game on July 17, what he’s really looking forward to is the Home Run Derby the night before. He has his seats picked out in the second deck of right field at Nationals Park, a prime parking spot for left-handed sluggers.

“I’m bringing my wife and daughter with me,” he says. And his glove.

Baseball pays the bills, but Hawkeye football has his heart
While he loves his job with the Nationals, Dellwo confesses college football is still his favorite sport and that the Hawkeyes are his favorite team. He and his wife, fellow 2001 graduate Sherae Muller, have “effectively brainwashed” their daughter, Hannah, into rooting for the Hawkeyes.

He watches every game on TV and if he has to work that day, he DVRs the game and forbids his co-workers from giving him updates. He watches the games at home, declining to watch with the DC I-Club because he tends to be a “vocal observer.” He returns to Kinnick Stadium for at least one home game every fall, takes road trips to bowl games, and attends road games at nearby Penn State, Rutgers, and Maryland, where College Park is just a DC Metro ride from his home in Arlington, Virginia.

His office in Nationals Park is decorated with plenty of black and gold.

“When I see someone wearing a Tigerhawk, ‘Go Hawks!’ instinctively comes out of my mouth,” he says. “I wait for a ‘Go Hawks’ to come back and, 99 percent of the time, it does. Living so far from Iowa, there is something about the Tigerhawk that brings back the feeling of home. Iowa and the University of Iowa are special places that have made me who I am and I am proud to show my Hawkeye pride.”

Produced by the University of Iowa Office of Strategic Communication
Tom Snee
Maggie Barbush