Monday Q&A: A hometown GM for the home team

bvanderbeek@modbee.comFebruary 23, 2014 

  • The Modesto Nuts

    History: With the exception of 1965, there has been California League minor-league baseball in Modesto every summer since 1946. The Nuts have been the High-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies since 2005, but previously were affiliated with the Oakland A’s for 30 seasons. They play at John Thurman Field, which seats 4,000 but has a capacity (with standing room) of around 5,500. They play a 140-game schedule.

    This season: The Nuts open the season April 3, and their first home game is set for April 10 against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.

    Tickets: The most expensive seats at Thurman Field are $12, and general admission prices for 2014 remain $6. Seniors and children receive $1 off tickets at all price levels. In 2013, the Nuts averaged 2,539 fans per game and recorded 14 sellouts.

When you talk about the Modesto Nuts – with the players and coaches changing nearly every season – the real home team resides in the front office.

These are the people who man John Thurman Field on a year-round basis, while the people wearing the Nuts jerseys are here only from April to September.

And for the first time in 25 years, the big boss in Modesto’s front office – the general manager – is a Modesto native.

On Nov. 20, Tyler Richardson became the Nuts’ general manager, having risen from intern in 2005 through various positions with the ball club. Richardson, 29, attended Calvary Temple schools from kindergarten until midway through his junior year in high school. He graduated from West High in Tracy, then went on to California State University, Stanislaus, where he earned a business degree.

He’s the first Modesto native to hold the highest front-office position since Dan Kiser, who became GM of the Modesto Reds in 1971 and retained that role, eventually becoming part owner of the team, through the 1989 season.

Do you see growing up in Modesto as an advantage in your position as GM? At the very least, you have local knowledge from growing up here that somebody coming from elsewhere couldn’t have.

I do look at it as an advantage. Certainly that’s taking nothing away from Mike (Gorrasi), my predecessor, for being from the East Coast. When I was growing up, I went to a lot of Modesto A’s games and I knew as a fan what having a sports team meant to the community, because not every market does.

Now that I work in the front office, I know what the community means to the team. I see the other side of it and I think there’s an added layer of care, of loyalty.

I’m not itching to leave to a bigger market or to a big-league team. My family and my wife’s family are from this area, so there is that extra layer there, and it’s special.

When did baseball front-office management occur to you as a possible career choice?

About 2004, I started looking into it. I interned with the Nuts in 2005 while still in college, kind of figuring out what to do with my life. It dawned on me that there was the possibility of a career in sports. Sports management degree programs are common on the East Coast, but not so much on the West Coast, so when I saw the position with the Nuts was open, I applied for it and got it. I finished up at Stan State and then the Nuts offered me a full-time position.

Never considering that when you took the internship, you’d become a lifer.

No, not at the time (laughs). Here, almost 10 years later, I never thought that I’d be the GM here. But I’m happy it worked out.

I mentioned that because so many of the kids who come here as interns have their sights on jobs with the Giants or A’s, or whoever they followed growing up. And for the most part, everyone who is involved in the team, from the front office to the umpires and players on the field, is looking to move up the baseball ladder. You’re telling me, “Not so fast.”

Yes. Obviously, the players all want to play in the majors. The coaches and trainers, the same thing. But for the front office as a whole, it’s not quite as prominent as one might think. There are a lot of people who make careers out of working in minor-league front offices. For me, being from here and my family being here, it’s different. Some people have dreams of working for the Giants or A’s, but I’m very content here and I’m happy being here, maybe for the long term.

When you tell someone who doesn’t know the minor leagues that you’re the general manager of the Modesto Nuts, they’re thinking you’re Brian Sabean or Billy Beane and you’re signing the players. Explain your job to people who aren’t familiar with what a minor-league general manager does and how it it doesn’t involve the playing product on the field.

I think that’s a common misconception that the minor-league GM is every bit as responsible for the product on the field as is the major-league GM. It’s completely different. The job of the front office, and mine as GM, is to – as a team – focus on the entertainment value and the ballpark experience. We look at ourselves as the host. The Colorado Rockies handle all the talent on the field, and we handle everything off the field. We’re constantly looking at ways to provide the best customer service to our fans for all 70 home games.

When you started here, the team had just lost the Oakland affiliation. There was a fan backlash, primarily in having lost the tie to a regional team. Is it possible to have the same relationship with a team from 1,500 miles away as it would be if you were affiliated with the Giants or A’s?

My experience with this club is only as a Rockies affiliate, but I grew up with the Oakland A’s being here. I’ve been impressed with how interested the Rockies have been with the success of our team – both on and off the field – in the community. They’re always asking how they can help in the community, and with our attendance. They’re vested in our success off the field, and that means a lot.

I do have to ask about attendance. There was a streak of five years in which the franchise attendance record was broken each year, but the last two seasons have fallen short of those totals. Has the attendance hit a ceiling, and if so, what needs to be done to crash through?

We’ve been real close the last two seasons, coming down to the last homestand each year. I don’t know that there’s a major marketing change that needs to be done to break through that barrier. Our challenge is to continue to get better, in our promotions, our guest services, our marketing and our communication with our fans. We need to take incremental increases every year in those areas. I don’t think we’ve capped our attendance, but I don’t know if our attendance jumps will be as dramatic as they were from 2007 to 2011.

What will we see new this year in the product or in tweaks to the ballpark?

We haven’t quite finalized our promotional calendar, and we’ll have that done certainly well ahead of the season. We’ve resodded the outfield and made the playing surface better. We’re going to continue having fireworks shows after every Friday and Saturday night game. There are a lot of things in the works that we’re excited about. When we finally release our promotional calendar, I know the fans will be excited.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek bvanderbeek@modbee.com or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brianvanderbeek.

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