BY TODD LEWYS
In the world of professional baseball, franchises come and go.
So much so that as one franchise is starting up, another one (or two) might well be shutting down at the very same time. Suffice it to say when a professional franchise celebrates three decades in operation, it’s a rarity.
Over the past 30 years, the Winnipeg Goldeyes have been the benchmark for other professional baseball franchises. Not only have they survived, they’ve thrived since returning to the Northern League in 1994. Andrew Collier, the Goldeyes’ general manager, says sound business practices have served as the foundation of the club’s staying power.
“It all starts at the top,” says Collier, who’s served as the Goldeyes’ GM since 2002 and has been with the team since early in the 1994 season. “Our owner, Sam Katz, has a simple philosophy: he hires good people and then lets them do their job.” If any one quality defines the Goldeyes, it’s continuity.
Over their proud 30-year history, they’ve had two general managers (John Hindle and Collier) and just four managers: Doug Simunic (1995-95), Hal Lanier (1996-2005), Rick Forney (2006- 22) and now Greg Tagert, the former longtime manager of the Gary South- Shore RailCats.
There hasn’t been much turnover in staff either, he adds. “Not only have we had outstanding managers, but we’ve enjoyed great continuity in the office, with many people having been with us for over 20 years. That’s a real plus.”
The next ingredient in the Goldeyes’ recipe for success has been a commitment to providing patrons with a quality product. “We’re well aware that people are spending their hard-earned money with us, so we strive to not only provide the best possible on-field product, but we also want to provide on-field entertainment, and food and beverages at a reasonable price,”
Collier says. “We want to provide people with fun, affordable family entertainment.” That said, the whole experience starts with the on-field product. After all, people won’t come out to watch if a team isn’t competitive and fun to watch.
Consequently, the field managers have always worked tirelessly to source the best players available, whether playing in the Northern League (1994-2010) or American Association (2011-present).
“As the years have gone by, things have changed dramatically — it’s become more challenging to source good players. Back in the early days, players might have gotten five calls to play for different teams. Now, they might get 100, so it’s a tough job for us and our field managers to field a good team.”
Yet, the Goldeyes — who won the Northern League championship in 1994 and captured the American Association championship in 2012, 2016 and 2017 — do that pretty much every year. Collier says there are two reasons why
the club has been able to field a competitive squad year after year.
“As much as we look for good players, we look for players who are also good people,” he says. “A great example of that is Reggie Abercrombie, whose number we’ll be retiring as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations on Aug. 11. Not only was he great on the field, but he never said no to an appearance, signing autographs or running a baseball camp.
He knew people bought the tickets and he wanted to give back.” At the same time, Goldeyes’ management also does everything in their power to make players comfortable. “They are often coming to a new country or, at the very least, a new city. We help players with paperwork, find them places to live and help them get familiarized with the city. We do that so the only thing they need to worry about is playing good baseball and winning championships. These days, players want to play in a place where winning, not development, is important.”
Goldeyes fans appreciate that major league mindset, says Collier. “Our fans know the priority here is to win. And who knows — they could be seeing the next Jeff Zimmerman, George Sherrill or Brian Myrow. You never know. You might see a player you watched here play in Fenway Park someday.” Most importantly, the Goldeyes always strive to keep things fresh and give back to the community.
“We always have new and exciting promos and even did a rebrand last year with the team logo and uniforms,” he says. “We also have the Field of Dreams Foundation, which has distributed close to $3 million to children’s charities since 1995. Our goal is to always listen to our fans, look after them and provide them with the best entertainment experience possible.”
Read the rest of the Summer 2023 MBiz Magazine here.