Sam Hansen is the creative brain behind the Fresno Grizzlies’ many unique and trendsetting promotions. As the Grizzlies’ director of marketing, Hansen has developed promotions ranging from the celebration of pop-culture hit movies like “Good Burger” and “Coming to America,” to creating the popular local Taco Truck Throwdown, to converting the team’s furry mascot Parker into an ordained minister.
What follows is the second part of my conversation with Hansen about how the team comes up with so many popular promotions and how he got involved in minor league baseball. Part One of our conversation can be found here. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
The Fresno Grizzlies rank among minor league baseball’s most creative and trend-setting teams. The fad of teams transforming their names into a favorite concession item? That began with the Fresno Tacos, which grew out of the team’s often-replicated Taco Truck Throwdown promotion.
Sam Hansen is the person behind the concept and creation of these promotions and a long list of others that has helped the Grizzlies make local and national headlines each season. As the Grizzlies’ director of marketing, Hansen has developed promotions ranging from the celebration of pop-culture hit movies like “Good Burger” and “Coming to America” to converting the team’s furry mascot Parker into an ordained minister.
What follows is Part One of my conversation with Hansen about the art of minor league promotions, how Fresno has turned into one of the premier marketing franchises in professional sports and how he got his start. Part Two of our conversation will follow in this space next week. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
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.
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.
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.
Mike Birling has been running arguably the most iconic franchise in minor league baseball for nearly the past two decades, the Durham Bulls, which was made famous by the classic movie “Bull Durham” 30 years ago and helped lead a revitalization of the sport 30 years ago. The team also helped kick start a ballpark building boom in the early 1990s, when they moved out of their quaint-yet-iconic home of Durham Athletic Park for the brand-new, downtown Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
What follows is my conversation with Birling, the Bulls’ vice president, about his path through the minors, the challenges and rewards of running a team as famous as the Bulls and the close relationship between the team and city. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity
How did a Wisconsin kid like yourself come to Durham? How did you break into the game and end up with the Bulls?
My story is probably like a billion others. You thought you could play sports and then you realized that you couldn’t play sports. I went to college at [the University of] Wisconsin-La Crosse. We had a CBA [the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association] team at the time. It was in La Crosse and it was one of the most successful basketball teams in that league at that time. I knew I wanted to be in sports. This was the mid- early 90s . . . So I did the old sports management and had a business admin minor. I knew I needed to get some experience so I went to work for this CBA team. And really it just got me hooked on sports.
Mike Nutter loves his job. That he is passionate about coming to the ballpark everyday, working with the staff and fans, and putting on a game night after night becomes clear during a 45-minute conversation with the president of the Fort Wayne TinCaps. He loved it when he was a college intern with the Kane County Cougars 27 years ago, he loved it when was a young staffer with the Brevard County Manatees and Nashville Sounds a few years later, and he still loves it today.
Nutter has used that passion to help turn the Fort Wayne TinCaps into one of the most consistent and successful franchises in the Midwest League and all of minor league baseball. Since leaving aging Memorial Stadium for the new, downtown Parkview Field in 2009, Fort Wayne has drawn no fewer than 378,000 fans in a season and has topped the 400,000 mark in each of the past five. Along the way, Nutter has won the Midwest League Executive of the Year Award three times—most recently in 2015.
What follows is my conversation with Nutter about his experiences in the game, his beliefs on how to be successful, why he loves minor league baseball so much and more. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
How did your path through minor league baseball lead to Fort Wayne? How long have you been there?
This is 19 seasons here. Nine at the old ballpark when we were the Wizards over at Memorial Stadium. And this is the 10th year here. And prior to that there were stops in Nashville, Tennessee for three, in ’97, ’98, ’99. Brevard County, Florida, in ’96. I joked with someone the other day that I am finally old enough where I worked for a team that went under. Then in ‘92, ‘93, ‘94, ‘95, working the summers out there with the Kane County Cougars. That’s where I fell in love with the game and thought that this might be a career. And here we are 27 years into it, and I am still having a blast, man.