What is your official title?
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
It’s split into two seasons, in season and offseason. We’re in offseason now, which is nine months of the year. I’m in meetings, working with our ticket sales department, sponsorship department. I used to be more involved in day to day sponsorships, and now I’m overseeing a lot of it. We have some really good people, and hire staff from all across the country. I’m answering questions, giving advice based on the experiences that I’ve had – I’ve worked in tickets and sponsorships, merchandise, a little bit of everything.
What is your background?
I went to Ohio University and I played baseball – shortstop and third base. I was the typical baseball jock trying to make it to the major leagues. And then I realized I was 5’9″, and knew it wasn’t going to happen. I did the baseball thing for awhile, and went and played minor league ball for two years. I was lucky to play minor league ball, and while I was playing I was coaching as well.
After minors, I thought I was going to get into coaching or scouting, and I was lucky enough to get into OU’s Sports Management program. I got a two year degree in sports and business management, and that got me more interested in the business side of sports. I saw how rewarding it could be to be in a management role, and could still be involved in the athletic side of things. I did that for two and a half years, and then got hired by Ripken Baseball.
Funny story, when I got hired by Ripken Baseball, I was in Las Vegas for the baseball winter meetings. There was a big OU social hour with alums going on, and my director at the time came up to me and said ‘hey I’ve got someone who wants to talk to you. So, he pulls me into the room next to ours, and there’s Cal Ripken Jr. and the vice president of Ripken Baseball. I went through this interview process, and it was just this amazing, crazy 15 minutes of my life that got me into Ripken, and it’s what got me started into my official sports career. I worked at Ripken Baseball in Baltimore for a minor league team for a year, and then got promoted to Augusta, GA to another one of their minor league teams.
I was doing well there, and around that time, I got connected to my current mentor, Dick Radatz Jr., and stayed in touch with him throughout the years. He gave me a call out of the blue and told me about this team in Battle Creek, MI. I’m in Augusta, it’s 90 degrees, it’s beautiful, and I told him, you better take care of me if I’m giving this up!
I got up to Battle Creek and have been overseeing that team for four years, which has now lead to the Kalamazoo Growlers. For the past two years, we’ve been trying to just get a team going; the last team has been gone for a few years now. We’ve had our eye on it, and we did a lot of digging, went through a whole RFP process, where we were selected from six groups to take over the lease, which was very nerve wracking. But, we got it, and I now get to oversee both programs.
Tell us about the Growlers. What level of baseball will Kalamazoo be watching?
This is the Summer Collegiate League. It’s minor league ball. It’s a wood bat league, and we do everything just like the Lansing Lugnuts or the White Caps, but we have college players. They’re good college players; I had to turn down 1,000 guys last year. These college coaches are trying to send their players to us for the summer. We’ll have 15-20 MLB scouts at every game – these guys are the next Max Scherzer, the next Andy Dirks. We get the best of the best.
What kind of projects are you currently working on?
I get the question all the time, ‘What do you do during offseason?’ Oh you know, I deliver pizzas and Jimmy Johns – just kidding. But seriously, most of our work is done during the offseason. We are currently doing some stadium renovations. We are building a promotion schedule, which our philosophy for both teams is to get people to the park first, and then we can work on sponsorships and advertising while people are there. We are building unique, creative nights for our fans. It’s not the typical baseball beer and peanuts, it’s a lot of out of the box events. Our team calls them ‘events’, not games. It’s this idea that there are all sorts of things going on, oh and by the way, there’s a baseball game happening too.
We are selling season tickets, and a big focus for us there is group outings. Most people aren’t coming to all 36 games; you can make it to a few here and there, so if we can schedule a few fun nights during the summer where we can get big groups to come out, it really helps fill the seats. We understand that, and are trying to get groups to come to one or two games for a good time.
We are also working on creating unique sponsorship platforms that aren’t just your typical sign or banner on the wall. We want there to be exclusivity, so there isn’t something like 10 bank sponsors. Bell’s is our craft beer sponsor – if you come to the game and want to drink craft beer, that’s what you get.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
I love Battle Creek, but there’s a lot more to do in Kalamazoo. There’s a lot more going on. It’s an up and coming city, there are people here that are active, even in their winter months, there are still people that are out and about. It’s a younger market, there’s just a lot to do. It’s a cool city.
What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?
I’m a 30 year old guy who still thinks he’s 25, so I like whatever’s new. I like a little bit of country, but if you go through my iPod you’ll see it’s a little bit of everything. It’s a mix of old school and new school stuff. And the ballpark will reflect that too – I promise there will be good music there.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
I do drink coffee. My first coach when I got out of baseball said ‘do you like coffee’, and I said absolutely not. I will never ever drink coffee. So, about a week into my first job I started loving coffee. I take it with milk on my little Keurig. And if you come to our office you’ll get to see my Darth Vader coffee mug.
What is your favorite app to use?
Bleacher Report. It’s awesome. ESPN gives you the typical stuff that everyone sees. With this, you can add all of your teams, and it alerts me that something happens with one of your teams. There’s a cool thing called ‘Swagger’, and it’s anything that’s random in sports – like Tom Izzo dancing, and it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s hilarious. It’s very entertaining. That’s my go-to.
I did just add Instagram. Quick story behind that, we were in a meeting, and the team just added Instagram a few weeks ago, and I looked on our page and there were only two photos and nothing else. I got a little ticked and brought everyone in and said hey, if we’re going to do something, then let’s do it or we are deleting it. So, everyone says OK Brian, what are some ideas of what should we do? I said I don’t know, I don’t have Instagram, so I really put my foot in my mouth on that one. I added it, and have been taking photos to test it out; it’s my new obsession.
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Career-wise, it would be to take as many experiences as you can. Unpaid, whatever, just do it. Every job I’ve gotten has been from my experiences, not from my degree or my resume. The earlier I could understand that, the better off I would’ve been. And personally, I think I was more reserved growing up, so I think I’d say to be active and create a network of people. I talk now about creating a network in your industry of five to ten people you can call on for advice, but I think you should have that in the place you live, too. Expand your network personally, and socially.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A chef. My mom worked, and my dad stayed home. He was always making these great dinners, and growing up watching him that’s what I thought I was going to do. Now, I can’t cook for anything, so had to go with a different career path.
Brian, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Brian and the Kalamazoo Growlers on facebook and twitter. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.