BUSLEAGUES HAS A NEW HOME

Hey, everybody. We finally got off our butts and got our own domain so we can post naked pictures and cigarette ads if we want to.

We don’t want to, but we could.

Anyway, we now live at BusLeaguesBaseball.com, and we love it. Come on over for the beginning of the 2010 season!

Bus Leagues Q&A: Elizabeth Martin, Assistant GM of the Visalia Rawhide

When our little cabal of writers gets on gmail and starts talking about what each of us will contribute each week, lots of ideas get thrown out. When the idea of interviewing Elizabeth Martin came up, there was serious concern that none of us was smart enough to hold our own during a Q&A. I’ve never let the possibility of sounding stupid come between me and a good interview before, so I happily took the assignment.

Good choice. Liz Martin is the Assistant GM and Legal Counsel for the Visalia Rawhide, the A+ California League affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. During our phone interview, she was engaging and funny, and used small words to explain why she chose to use her DePaul law degree in baseball instead of some swanky glass skyscraper. Clearly, she knew what caliber of website she was dealing with.

Liz MartinTell me a little about how you ended up working for the Visalia Rawhide.

I actually interned with the team in 2006 when they were the Oaks. It was one of my first internships while I was in law school. I got to be pretty good friends with the owner and stayed in touch with him while I was in school, and he offered me the position when I graduated.

You traveled from Chicago to California for the internship?

I did. I spent every summer that I was in law school away from Chicago, which is the wrong time to leave town. So the first summer I was in St. Petersburg, second summer I came here and third summer I went to Berkley and worked for the Raiders. Then I came back here permanently.

So, while you were in law school, you were targeting a job in sports?

Well, when I first went to law school, I wanted to be an agent. It took me about six weeks to figure out that I didn’t want to be an agent any more. Really, what sealed the deal for me was getting the internship with Minor League Baseball and working in their headquarters in St. Petersburg.  Working in that kind of organization, I realized that was much more to my taste. I really felt at home. So I shifted directions and went the corporate law route with a sports focus.

You are the legal counsel for the Visalia Rawhide. What are some of the legal issues that come up that we might not be aware of?

Other than contracts, which is what I do a lot of – sponsorship contracts – I helped with the lease negotiations with the new stadium being built – well, it’s mostly renovations, but it feels like it’s new.

One thing that we had happen recently is that an East Coast independent league team tried to take our Mudville logo, which our team also owns. They tried to modify it, but they had clearly taken it and barely changed it and tried to use it themselves. So, logo protection, trademark protection… you’d be surprised how often someone tries to take a trademark and run with it.

Minor league teams often change affiliations. Would you have a role in that process if it happens?

That’s usually handled by our owner, though I’d definitely help out with that. Minor League Baseball standardizes most of those agreements. Our relationship with the Diamondbacks has been pretty solid, so I don’t foresee anything like that happening.

How does sports law practice differ from, say, corporate law?

It’s really just the subjects you touch on. I tell people I could work the same crazy hours I work for baseball, but be forced to wear a suit in some underground dungeon, but I get to come to work at a baseball stadium every day. That’s the first bonus.

Do you get a chance to join the crowd and enjoy the game from time to time?

Definitely, during the games I try and get out of the office and interact. I don’t think many minor league baseball people stay in an office on gameday. There’s always something breaking or a lost child or something that needs attention. For me, it’s a more fun environment. I get to interact with the fans and help younger people coming into baseball. I’m about five to seven years older than anyone else in the office other than our owner, so helping them get their careers off the ground, shape their futures and figure out where they want to go in baseball or in life. Some people come here for six months and say “OK, I never want to do that again,” but I think that’s a great learning process that I didn’t get to go through at 20 years old.

As assistant GM, do you have other duties outside the legal realm?

I do. I’m also the sales manager because I came from a sales background before I went back to law school. I handle all the HR functions because there are a few legal aspects in that. Fortunately, or unfortunately for the crowd here, I also manage the concession stand. I’m a vegetarian.

That would be tough in that environment.

It’s a perfect fit! (laughs)

Were you involved with baseball as a kid?

Not other than just loving the sport. My dad was a baseball player and he got me to fall in love with the sport. I tried to play softball, but I had no talent for that at all. So I became the official scorekeeper, so I learned a different aspect of the sport from an early age.

You said your dad was a ballplayer. Did he play professionally?

He played in college for a couple of years, at Kent State in Ohio. He played in high school. He didn’t have any sons, and I was the oldest of three girls, so I was the one he would play catch with in the backyard. That’s how we bonded.

What is the major focus of your job during the offseason?

Preparing for the next season. We get the question a lot. People think in the offseason we take six months off. We’re meeting with sponsors and getting our sales cycle going. It’s basically an event-planning job. But we’re essentially planning 70 separate events. I like to look at them as separate events because each game might have a different sponsor or promotion tied to it. And some people in town only come to one game a year, so we try to make each experience as memorable and special for that person, as for somebody who comes to all 70 games.

We kept track of Collin Cowgill from afar when he played for Visalia. Is he a fan favorite there?

He was, but unfortunately he got hurt pretty early on and they took him away for rehab. But his name was definitely a tie-in for us being in the cow capital of the universe.

I actually didn’t know where the Rawhide name came from.

We are in the dairy capital of the world here. The Happy California Cows commercials are basically about this area. We wanted to pay homage to that, and the fact that baseball has been in this town for over 60 years. But we didn’t want to be too cheeky about it, either. We threw around some childish names, but we wanted to be a bit more serious. We gave the players a bunch of suggestions we had received and kind of left it up to them to decide.

Rawhide sounds a bit more dangerous than something cow related.

Yeah. Like the Moo or the Tippers.

Is there some personal pride when someone who passed through Visalia moves up the ladder?

We definitely love it. That can be front office or on the field. It’s great to see people who are now in the big leagues who were nice guys when they were here. When I was here in ’06 we were a Tampa Bay affiliate, so I got to spend some time with Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac, so that was fun. That’s just a great story to tell your kids some day. But in the front office, we have a ops manager who is now with the Durham Bulls and one that went to Tacoma. So that’s fun for us to see them move on and have other opportunities, too.

How do you know somebody has the right makeup to succeed in a minor league baseball front office?

My boss at the Raiders told me if you want to work in sports you have to be just a little bit insane. I believe that. You have to be willing to lose yourself in it; to give everything you have. It’s not a 9-to-5 job by any stretch. At this point we’re working seven days a week. I was here until 9:00 last night and started before 9:00 this morning. You really have to be willing to go above and beyond what most people just coming out of school have ever done.

The Z-Meter: Your Votes are In!

oaklandchriscarterI recently asked readers to help fill in the last few slots on the Z-Meter, and you obliged. I carry 25 minor-leaguers on the meter at any given time, and keep track of their movements throughout the system, until they finally hit the majors. I kept nineteen names from last year, so I needed six more. Here are the results of your ballot-stuffing:

1. 18% Chris Carter, IF/OF, Athletics
2. 16% Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Indians
3. 13% Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
4. 12% Jennry Mejia, RHP, Mets
5. 12% Kentrail Davis, OF, Brewers
6. 6% Jurickson Profar, SS, Rangers

And the rest:

4%: Brian Matusz, LHP, Orioles; Eric Young, Jr., OF, Rockies
3%: Dustin Ackley, 1B, Mariners; Aaron Hicks, OF, Twins; Tyler Flowers, C, White Sox
1%: Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs; Michael Ynoa, RHP, Athletics; Jarrod Parker, RHP, Diamondbacks; Ryan Kalish, OF, Red Sox

Eight other players received no votes, so let’s not call them out and embarrass them.

We’ll add them to the list of players I felt had potential to continue growing from last season:

AAA
Austin Jackson, Detroit
Justin Smoak, Oklahoma City Redhawks
Travis Wood, Louisville Bats

AA
Lars Anderson, Portland SeaDogs
Madison Bumgarner, Richmond Flying Squirrels
Carlos Santana, Akron Aeros
Andrew Locke, Corpus Christi Hooks
Kyle Drabek, Reading Phillies
Pedro Alvarez, Altoona Curve

A
Ian Gac, Bakersfield
Mike Moustakas, Wilmington
Che-Hsuan Lin, Salem Red Sox
Collin Cowgill, Visalia Rawhide
Tim Beckham, Bowling Green Hot Rods
Zeke Spruill, Rome Braves
Brad Brach, Ft. Wayne TinCaps
Jamie Owen, High Desert Mavericks
Stephen Strasburgh, Nats

It’s been suggested that I keep the non-roster spot for a college player we admire, like we did with Strasburg last season, but I’m starting to feel like that might make for a separate post each week, rather than an addendum to the Meter.

Thanks for voting!

Danny Duffy Calls It Quits

Danny Duffy’s bio in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook speaks glowingly of the 21-year-old pitcher’s excellence on the mound: his ability to throw off a hitter’s timing, his fearlessness on the inside part of the plate, his willingness to work at improving various aspects of his game.  It ended by noting that despite his youth, “Duffy isn’t that far away from the majors.”

Amidst all the praise, however, were a few cautionary words.  “He sometimes struggles to put bad starts behind him…one of the last remaining tests for the potential No. 3 starter is finding out how he handles adversity – because he hasn’t encountered any.”

Prophetic, perhaps?

Duffy, the eighth-rated prospect in the Royals organization, suffered a minor elbow injury this spring and wasn’t expected to pitch until mid-May.  On Tuesday, he told Royals officials he was done, finished, quits with the game of baseball.

The Kansas City Star’s Bob Dutton didn’t seem to think the injury was connected with Duffy’s decision to step away from the game, but it should probably at least be considered.  If a kid is known to have a hard time dealing with bad outings and people question how he will deal with adversity, it makes sense to draw a connection to elbow problems, especially if that was his first career injury.  If I’m a 21-year-old kid and my elbow starts to hurt, I don’t care if the doctors say it’s just a strain – I’m probably freaking out.

There is good news, though: stuff like this isn’t all that uncommon.  A couple years ago, Jose Tabata (a 19-year-old in Double-A) left the Trenton Thunder during a game and was suspended for three games.  In the 1950s, Hall of Famer Billy Williams left his team and went home, requiring the intervention of Buck O’Neil.  And in 2006, Zack Greinke took a couple months off to deal with some personal issues.

My guess is that Duffy goes home, gets some support and encouragement, and gives his elbow time to heal…then, in a couple months, gets the itch, realizes he misses the game, and picks up where he left off.

Movie Trailer for “The Perfect Game”

Help us fill the Z-Meter!

Spring is here, and it’s time to fire up the Z-Meter again. In case you don’t know what that means, check out the final post from last season. I’ve brought back most of the players from that list, but I have six spots still open. I’ve allowed you to vote as often as you like, and I’ll take the half-dozen who come out on top. Vote and share!

Bus Leagues Q&A: Northwest Arkansas Naturals GM Eric Edelstein

You may not know this, but Bus Leagues has a twitter account: @busleagues. We’ve started a list called Team Tweets where we are gathering all of the official accounts from the hundreds of affiliated and independent teams we cover. One of the cool things about that is that we can get in touch with the people who bring us our local baseball from time to time.

Last week, we found the twitter account of Eric Edelstein, GM of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The Naturals have only existed for a couple of years as the AA affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, but Eric has been with the franchise since it was called the Wranglers, and was located in Wichita, Kansas. He kindly told us a little about what it’s like to oversee a double-A team.

Your twitter bio says you’re living the dream. How did you arrive at this point?

I can give you the short story, which is that I’m very lucky.

If someone out there has the same dream, is there a standard way to become a GM?

I would say I certainly wasn’t standard, but I don’t think anyone would say there’s a standard way. I did get lucky and caught a few breaks.

I grew up in  Cleveland and did a high school internship with the Cleveland Indians. While I was still in high school, I worked in the PR department and got my foot in the door there. I ended up working for Four Seasons in various ballpark operations. I went to school at Bowling Green for Sport Management and worked for the SID’s office while I was there. I worked for the fieldhouse facilities where the varsity teams practiced, so I did that all through college.

Then I got an internship in Buffalo, NY after college and did that for three months. Then I got hired on by the Bisons, and I’ve been with that company ever since. I had three seasons in Buffalo, then they moved me to their affiliate in Jamestown, NY where there was an opportunity to be a GM when I had just turned 24, to run a three-man office on a short-season team. I jumped at that opportunity, then a year later there was a change at the top in Wichita. They came to me and asked, and admitted that maybe I was a little young and not quite ready for it, but they said “If you’d want to move to Wichita and be the GM, we’ll let you do that.”

So, I went and did that. I was there for three years and I got the call that asked if I’d ever heard of Springdale, Arkansas. They said “we’ve got one more move for you here, so if you’d like to go and start a team and be part of building a stadium and a new team, it’s you.”

So I jumped at it, and here I am. Luck and timing played a big role in it. Knock on wood, I haven’t screwed anything up yet.

I grew up in Wichita. Are you talking about the Wranglers?

Yes.

So the Naturals took that AA spot in the Royals organization, right?

Exactly. It really is the same team with the same owners and many of the same administrators, including myself. We moved the team from Wichita to here.

If you weren’t able to work in baseball, what would you be doing instead?

(Long pause) I honestly don’t even know. (pause) It would have to be in some sport or event.  I think even without baseball, I’d become an event person; planning, hosting and marketing events. Just in general, the most exciting thing, what gets me going is when you walk out into the ballpark on Friday night and the place is just packed. Everyone’s having a good time. The rush of the event is what I get the most joy and excitement out of.

Each minor league team is different. What are some of the things you do in Springdale that make the Naturals feel unique?

The biggest thing we try to do is we try to be a part of the community. What we do inside the ballpark – I don’t want to say it’s standard, because every team is different – but it feels more unique for people who live here because this is their team. We do the fireworks, dollar hotdogs, dollar beers and other things that are fairly standard across minor-league baseball. But what’s different than even Wichita or anywhere else I’ve been is that we try to be a bigger part of the community. We have a summertime street team that goes out, we have an inflatable speed pitch and a second mascot suit that is always out mingling throughout the community. We do free appearances and speaking engagements at rotaries and other civic clubs. We’ve really worked hard – though we have room to grow – but day-to-day we try to be a big part of the community.

You mentioned your mascot. Your team has a nickname that doesn’t easily lend itself to a mascot image. What did you end up using?

Strike the Sasquatch. We came up with the story that Strike has been living in the Ozark mountains for many years – everyone has heard of spying a Sasquatch in the mountains – and he never had a good enough reason to come out of those mountains. When he heard we were building a stadium down here, he came to check it out and decided he wanted to make it home.

I imagine you hire some of the organization’s top employees. How do you know when you have the right person?

We do a lot of hiring from within. Obviously, that’s how I was brought through, being an intern and working my way up. We continue to do that. We have a pretty extensive intern program that we run during the season that brings new talent in. We try to hire that new talent.

If we somehow don’t have the right talent here, we do try to look outside for the right person. There are often people with other teams that have the right experience but haven’t had the chance to catch on.

But we do try very hard to promote from within. My assistant GM here was an intern for me when I worked in Buffalo who came to Wichita as an account rep. When an opportunity arose, he became sales manager, and when we moved here, we made him assistant GM. My business manager started out running our team store here in Northwest Arkansas, and when an opening came up, we hired her. We have a lot of people on staff that I’ve known or worked with in some capacity at some point, and we’ve brought them through the ranks to the current jobs they’re holding.

So, sticking it out with the organization is rewarded.

Absolutely. I promote from within whenever possible.

I grew up a Royals fan, so I know the team has fewer resources to lure MLB free agents with. Double-A is where the top prospects usually end up. Does that make you feel like your job is really important to the future of the franchise?

Yeah, I think it does. The Royals are a tremendous group to work with. Dayton Moore and his entire baseball operations crew are really good people, and they reinforce that when they see you. I think a lot of times in baseball, we get trapped in what we see on Sportscenter; that’s what we know about a given team. The Royals do a good job of not just paying lip service to it, but appreciating their minor-league teams. When they come in, they’re very respectful and grateful for the job we do. It definitely makes it very rewarding.

I do feel a small piece of pride when a guy who comes through here goes up to the big leagues and has real success.

If the Naturals are doing their job right, the best players get better and leave. How do you get fans to buy in when the roster is constantly changing?

It does bring its challenges, there are definitely some people who struggle with that. The key for us – which hasn’t quite happened yet – is for one of those players to make the big leagues and become a regular. I think that’ll make it more palatable and understandable.

Being a college town here, they’re used to players going on to the professional ranks, be it football, basketball or baseball. But they’re used to it happening after the season is over. So there’s a little bit of a challenge in getting people to understand that, but we also have tried to really stress that if the organization is doing its job, the person coming up behind the guy who leaves should be able to perform just as well, or may even be an improvement.

What do you do during the offseason?

It’s all about getting ready for the next season coming up. A large portion of what we accomplish during the season is set up before we throw a pitch. All the sponsors come on board for all those signs in the outfield, and the advertisers that show up in the program and your radio broadcasts… 95% of those are booked by opening day.

Season tickets are a major determinant of how successful we are before anything on the field is decided; getting all those people back on board, setting the schedule and being ready to go. Then my job during the season becomes more about the subtle tweaks that need to be made. If we do a good job making decisions in the offseason, then it’s more about maintenance and running each event as well as we can.

In the minors, employees often have to wear many hats to get the job done. Is that true of the GM as well?

Yeah, pretty much! There’s certainly no ivory tower management here. If there’s a box that needs moved, the tarp needs pulled or phone needs answered, whoever’s available does it. You definitely have to be all in. I don’t think there’s a GM out there who would do it any differently. I definitely have a hand in just about everything going on here. There’s nothing that I’m “too good” to help out with. If a trash can needs emptied, it gets emptied.

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