Although there were many things more important than minor league baseball this past year, the impact of the Pandemic hit this industry particularly hard. Major League baseball stop-and-started its way to a televised 60-game season with empty stadiums and a World Series which allowed teams to recover some of their costs in 2020 through broadcast revenue.
That didn’t happen for the guys below; there were no games, there were no broadcast contracts; just a lot of nothing.
Although the narative of a minor league team owned by a local business owner is a rarity, many times these teams and people are what people associate with the community.
Not having fans at minor league games, selling concessions and souveneirs dropped all revenue to nearly nothing. Full and part-time employees were furloughed or lost their jobs and for many their dreams of careers in professional baseball came to an end.
The upcoming year holds some promise that there will be some type of season; maybe not starting out exactly as it has in past, but with the hope as the rate of vacinations increase, minor league baseball will retrun again to some type of normalcy.
With the football season over and Spring Training weeks away, we begin our four-part series with the presidents of the San Diego Padres’ full-season minor league affiliates on how they survived and their hopes for 2021.
Today we interview Mike Nutter, the President of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, who started 22 years ago with the previous incarnation, the Fort Wayne Wizards, and operates one of the more succesful organizations in minor league baseball.
Outside of not having a season, what was the biggest challenge that your organization faced in 2020?
Mike Nutter: There were so many things that were really important because so many people’s livelihoods depended on us. But once we were able to hang onto as many people as we could, it also just became a question of trying to keep everyone, myself included, engaged. By a lot of measures, we have played 11 full seasons in Parkview Field and I think we are one of the success stories in minor league baseball; both on and off the field. We had huge expectations for 2020, and then everything got shut down.
A big person who helped us out a lot was our boss Jason Freier [the Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Hardball Capital – the owners of the TinCaps and other clubs], because even though I am a really optimistic person, I just started to feel all the weight of the world on me and got down. Jason got our focus on trying to get where we were going to go, to control the things that we are capable of doing – and that really helped a great deal.
We had a number of people leave, all on good terms, to take opportunities elsewhere which we completely understood. Our biggest challenge last year was how do we do right by people who were, and are, such a big part of our success in our community.
In the end, I think we did the best we could and I’m proud of that.
Going forward, what is the plan for your organization in the coming year. Is minor league baseball viable with social distancing?
Mike Nutter: Last year we weren’t optimistic, but this year with a better idea of what is in front of us, we are. Do I think we are going to play 70 games in front of 9,000 people a night? No, but do I think we will have fans in the stands and hopefully more as the season goes on? Yes.
We are trying to develop a pod thing with Allen County [the county that Fort Wayne is located in] and we have a really good group in the medical office that is assisting us. The Komets [the local minor league hockey team] play in an arena with a capacity of 10,000 and have been approved for 2,600 people. We have an outdoor stadium and so in the end I think it could come out pretty well.
The interesting thing is there isn’t any anger or frustration, we want to work with the county to be a part of a safe solution and we think we can be part of the healing for the Tri-State area to draw upon.
Everyone on our staff wants to get back to doing what they love.
Personally, what did you miss most about baseball?
Mike Nutter: I always knew that I loved working in baseball, but maybe just not how much I enjoyed working in baseball. What I missed most was all of the day-to-day stuff; seeing everyone in the office, the fans, fixing problems and even pulling the tarp [laughs].
I tried to see things on a positive note; that I would get to see my son’s baseball games this season – and I did. Going to lunch with my daughter and taking long walks with my wife. All of those things I really enjoyed – and I am appreciative of all the time that I got with my family, but I really missed my “other family” as well.
I think when we come back all of our perspectives will have changed and we all are going to be so grateful for so many of the things that we had taken for granted.
Tomorrow we talk with Brad Taylor of the El Paso Chihuahuas.