The sellouts have come so fast and furious at Nat Bailey Stadium in recent years that the Vancouver Canadians have stopped announcing when they happen. Falling under the category of a nice problem to have, the team has been staying mum about crowd size so fans on the outside looking in don’t get discouraged.
“We were selling out so much that the community started thinking that you can’t get in,” Canadians President Andy Dunn said. “We had to take a different approach and tell the community that you can get in, but you have to plan accordingly. You can’t show up at 6:30 on a game night thinking that you are going to get a ticket.”
Eric Edelstein has enjoyed a steady climb up the minor league ranks. He was just two years removed from Bowling Green State University when he landed his first general manager job in 2002 with the Jamestown Jammers, the now-defunct New York-Penn League that was one of the smallest markets in the minors. The following season brought him to Wichita, where he ran the Double-A Wranglers for three years before bringing it to a new ballpark and launching the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Edelstein helped establish that franchise’s footing in a new market, earning Baseball America’s Freitas Award for overall excellence following the 2012 season.
Each of those experiences, Edelstein said, shaped his approach to the game and influences how he operates the Triple-A Reno Aces, where he now serves as president. Edelstein oversees operations of the Aces and Reno 1868 FC, which made its United Soccer League debut at Greater Nevada Field in 2017.
What follows is my conversation with Edelstein about how to succeed in minor league baseball, the different—and similar—approach to running teams in various-sized markets and the changing dynamic of the game. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
Baseball traditionalists beware. Protect thy eyes for this post will surely burn them with the power of a thousand Brandiose winged-devil-sun-dogs.
At least six minor league teams will field new nicknames over the next two seasons, with four of those teams having already revealed their finalists. As expected, there isn’t a Chief, Bear, Hawk, Sox, Brave or any other name that teams used to roll out. Instead, the future names of these four teams are bound to be bizarre and illicit a furious response from their supporters, as well as local headline writers and national bloggers. This, we know, is all part of the grand name-the-team plan.
Hudson Valley Renegades Vice President Rick Zolzer has been entertaining crowds from the PA booth at Dutchess Stadium for 22 of the New York Penn League team’s 25 years. He brings a unique perspective on minor league baseball—not only because of his poking-fun, party-first approach to the game—but also because he doubles as a team executive and public-address announcer.
A Bronx native who moved to the Hudson Valley as a child, Zolzer is a household name in the region, where he has worked as a sports-talk radio host, served as the public-address announcer for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets and Army West Point’s football team, and runs his own party entertainment company. However, he says, his first and true love is baseball, in particular the Renegades. That’s what led him to be an early advocate for the team before it relocated from Erie, Pa., in 1994 and why he continues to strive to find new ways to entertain fans who come to the ballpark.
What follows is my conversation with Zolzer about his career in minor league baseball and advice for others in the gameday entertainment side of the business. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
Last week, Mike Birling discussed the importance and reach of the Durham Bulls brand. As if on cue, Minor League Baseball backed up his point yesterday by releasing the top 25 teams in licensed merchandise sales during the 2017 season.
The Bulls are the senior statesmen on that list, having made the cut in the 25 seasons since Minor League Baseball’s licensing program began in 1993. That puts Durham one year ahead of the Trenton Thunder, which debuted in 1994 and have ranked among the top 25 sellers in each years since. The four other teams to make the top 25 every year of their existence include: Columbia Fireflies (two years), El Paso Chihuahuas (four years), Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (11 years) and Sacramento River Cats (18 years).
“We’re fortunate that we get attention because of who we are,” Birling, the Bulls’ vice president, said in our conversation while referencing the team’s connection to the movie “Bull Durham.” “But with that I think there is a certain standard that we are expected to uphold, or at least we kind of force that upon ourselves. You know, we like doing crazy promotions just like all of the other minor league teams, but we’re not going to push it over a certain level. We just don’t feel like that is what this team is about. This team is an iconic brand. It’s a brand that, like I said, everybody is looking towards. We’re not going to be the ones that step out and do some of the things that minor league teams do to get attention.
“Now on the other side, we’re fortunate that we don’t have to do that, because we do get attention because of who we are. But I think there is a standard. We kind of look at ourselves as the 31st major league team. And we have a responsibility with that. That’s kind of how we guide things.”
Amy Venuto has been selling minor league baseball, and helping others around the game do the same, for 25 years. A native of Portland, Ore., Venuto spent the bulk of her career with Ripken Baseball in Maryland—where she did everything from ticket sales in Aberdeen to hosting the Cal Ripken World Series to serving as a general manager—before branching out on her own and launching Amy Venuto Team Services in 2013. She now has over 50 teams as clients that she trains on the ABC’s of selling to fan bases and customer experience development and consults on how to manage a sales staff and be a better leader.
What follows is my conversation with Venuto about her career in minor league baseball, why she is so passionate about the sport and the challenges of succeeding in a profession that has traditionally been dominated by men. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
Relocating minor league teams is a complicated matter, especially when it involves the construction of a new ballpark. So no move can be considered official until shovels hit the dirt and the moving trucks arrive.
The latest example of this truth might be playing out in Pueblo, Colo., whose status as the future home of the Orem Owlz appears to be in jeopardy. Just a little over a month ago, Pueblo officials were celebrating the news that Orem owner Jeff Katofsky had decided to move his team to Pueblo in 2020 and build a new ballpark and three hotels. Last night, however, local media began reporting that the deal might be off.
Depending on who you believe, Katofsky either has gotten cold feet or Pueblo officials have changed the terms of the deal. On Wednesday evening, the Pueblo Chieftian reported that the Owlz will not be coming to town after obtaining an email from a local housing director announcing that Katofsky had changed his mind.