Touring The Bases With…Fort Wayne TinCaps President and GM Mike Nutter
Mike Nutter is the President and General Manager of the Fort Wayne TinCaps located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They have been an Affiliate of the San Diego Padres since 1999 and are in the Midwest League. They play at Parkview Field. (a) www.tincaps.com.
Mike Nutter: Lots of stuff the fans never realize! It does not consist of anything in terms of the players on the field. Other than that, our staff is responsible for just about everything! We pick the game times, set ticket prices, concessions menus, promotions, etc. Our front office is responsible for the gate opening times, promotions, community involvement and just about everything other than who plays for the team and who the coaches and manager are.
Seamheads: What does your job consist of, what do you do?
Nutter: As the GM, I am the person ultimately responsible for what goes on here, but the reality is that this is a total team effort. We have a management team that starts with Jason Freier-our owner and CEO of Hardball Capital. He is the best to work for and with. He gets what we are trying to do for the fans and for our business model He is very involved in the process and success of our team.
We have an extremely talented front office that chooses to work in Fort Wayne, Indiana at one of the best stadium in the country (Parkview Field). We are entering our third season in our new facility and the reality is that many offers have come to current employees to move on to other positions but most have elected to stay and continue to be a part of something very special here. It is more than being part of minor league baseball-it is about doing our part in the economic redevelopment in our region and downtown Fort Wayne.
Seamheads: What does your staff do?
Nutter: Our staff works on daily stuff from eight AM to five PM on non-game days in and out of the season. Game days are nine AM until the conclusion of the game for the seventy dates we have at home.Â Off-season is spent more in management and sales mode and in season is a lot more of executing the game/events as well as promoting the team and stadium. The game has changed a lot in the regard as well. More stadiums are going from seventy games only and doing much more. Last year we hosted over two hundred special events in addition to the seventy home games. We were the only minor league stadium in the country to host the Zac Brown Band (Grammy winner) and we had other concerts, conventions, wedding and wedding receptions, etc in addition to the games.
Seamheads: Parkview Park recently reached its one-millionth fan, although not all attended TinCaps game. What are your thoughts on reaching this milestone?
Nutter: We are excited and got there faster than anyone imagined. Baseball attendance has been spectacular and the special events (non baseball attendance)
has been tremendous as well.Â Parkview Field has become exactly what people hoped it would be. The ballpark was intended to be a community-gathering place that would be utilized the entire year. Between TinCaps games and the multitude of other events hosted here, our goal has truly been met and exceeded how the facilityâ€™s use was envisioned.Â Later this summer, we plan on welcoming the 1,000,000th fan to attend a TinCaps game at Parkview Field.
Seamheads: What was your first job in baseball?
Nutter: My first job in baseball was as an intern or summer employee of the Kane County Cougars in 1992. My very first job was to clean the lawn areas up after each game and make sure there was no trash, cigarette butts or gum left in them. This was a very humbling experience.Â I was able to work four summers during college for the Kane County Cougars-definitely one of the best franchises in the country for all of minor league baseball.
The four summers there provided great experience in all aspects of the game: promotions, sales, concessions, operations, grounds crew, etc. I was fortunate enough to work for great people there that believed in doing things the right way and helping advance others in their careers I think eight or nine of us went to be General Managers from our time spent at Kane County during the summers.
Seamheads: How did you get that job?
Nutter: My mom got me the job! Seriously, I was attending college in Northern California and my parents wanted me to move to Chicago as they were transferred. She called me and said since you always wanted to work in baseball-and I said yes-that is what I am going to do in my career, she said, â€œgreat-you start on May 15thâ€Â I laughed and that started what has been a twenty-year career in the Minors that had led to the position of GM/President of the Fort Wayne TinCaps. Family vacations for my mom ad dad and I were for spring training and sporting events. I realized I could spend a lifetime in sports without being on the field.
Seamheads: What do you love most about your job?
Nutter: I get to work at a baseball stadium! Seriously, it is the American Pastime and we get to do it for our career. This is the place people come to escape the grinds of their day-to-day lives. We do affordable, family-friendly entertainment with baseball too! I consider it a blessing to work for a baseball team and plan on doing it for a long time.
In addition, I love that our job is never the same two days in a row, from the crowd, weather, games, etc. There are lots of days, but they are all different and exciting. Additionally, our jobs are like many different jobs in one. The season is long hours providing great entertainment to over 400,000 fans When the season winds down, we do all of our off-season events, sales, etc and then start over preparing for the new season.
It is always jumping and there is always something going on. I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing than working with this staff in Fort Wayne.
Seamheads: What is the most difficult part of your job?
Nutter: The time commitments are a challenge-no doubt about it. My wife and I are blessed to have a seven-year-old son (Carson) and a six-year-old daughter (katelynn). There is not a lot of family time during a ten-day homestand. Fortunately, my wife is great at keeping things going well at home and the kidsâ€™ love what dad does for a living!Â Of the seventy home games last year, my family probably attended sixty of them. That helps a lot.
Seamheads: Where were you born and raised?
Nutter: I was born in Akron, Ohio on November 30, 1972. My father was in sales so we moved a lot. I lived in Napoleon, Ohio from 1977 until 1987. We moved to Danville, California in 1987 and I graduated from San Ramon Valley High in 1991.
Seamheads: Did you play sports in High School?
Nutter: Yes. I competed for three years in Cross Country as well as four years of golf. I attended San Ramon Valley High School in Danville, California.
Seamheads: What College did you attend?
Nutter: I went to Cal. State, Chico, California for two years and then transferred to Bowling Green State University and graduated May 2006 with a sports management degree and a minor in marketing.
Seamheads: What career were you considering in college, how, when & why the change to a baseball career?
Nutter: I always wanted to work in sports. I would have guessed that I would have worked in the NBA-I was sure of it, but that never happened. Going to work for the Kane Country Cougars was all I need to know that Minor League Baseball would be great for me
Seamheads: When and how did you get interested in working in baseball?
Nutter: My mother and father raised us in a big sports family. It was all Cleveland Indians, Browns, Cavaliers and Ohio State Buckeyes. We were always encouraged to follow our heart and dreams and for me that was working in baseball.Â Twenty seasons later, I love what I do more than ever before. I can recall wanting to work in sports as long as I can remember.
Seamheads: When did you get interested in baseball as a child? Who influenced you?
Nutter: I am thirty-eight and baseball was king as I was growing up. We played outdoors most days, that is what I loved doing. I grew up playing and going to games, working at a baseball card store, going to major league games and getting autographs.Â My mom and dad were my biggest supporters. Without their encouragement, I would not be in the industry without them.
Seamheads: What was the first pro game you saw?
Nutter: I saw the Cleveland Indians vs. Texas Rangers at old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. The first minor league game I was the Toledo Mud Hens at Old Ned Skelton Stadium. We sold tickets in our Little League and went to the game together as a team.
Seamheads: When you were a youngster, who did you root for? Who were a few of you favorite players?
Nutter: As a really young child, I rooted for the Cleveland Indians. We moved to Danville, California and I became an Oakland Aâ€™s season ticket holder. We loved rooting for both teams.Â Players that stood out then were: Joe Carter of the Indians, Dave Stewart and Rickey Henderson of the Aâ€™s. I am still a fan and pull for guys like Jake Peavey, Grady Sizemore and Chase Utley.
Seamheads: Who are a few of your ALL-TIME favorite players?
Nutter: Jackie Robinson for what he went through and what he did for the game.Â Ricky Henderson for his combination of speed, power and his intimidation of the other team. Dave Stewart because he had the heart of a champion for the Aâ€™s and others.
Seamheads: Who are a few great MLB players that played in Fort Wayne? Where are they now?
Nutter: Jake Peavy: Cy Young Award Winner-currently with the Chicago White Sox. Tori Hunter: multiple gold gloves winner and All Star games-currently with the Los Angeles Angels and Mat Latos: Fifteen game winner for the San Diego Padres in 2010, still there and Joakim Soria-all star closer for the Kansas City Royals.
Seamheads: What advice would you give a young person considering a career in baseball?
Nutter: You can succeed in the industry with a great work ethic and passion for your job and career. Embrace sales, as sales are a part of almost everyoneâ€™s responsibility that we have on staff.Â Start your career early as there is a high demand to work in sports, make sure you are working for a team if you have the opportunity. There are over one hundred eighty teams in the USA and hundreds of opportunities out there. Gain as much experience as you can prior to graduation through internships and volunteering.
Seamheads: Are you married? Do you have any children?
Nutter: I was married in September 2002 and my wife Beth enjoys a good game at the ballpark. We have two children, Carson Michael born in 2003 and Katelynn Ann born in 2005. They both think dad has a cool job.
Seamheads: Are you active in local community groups?
Nutter: Yes, I am active in groups like the Salvation Army, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and I am a Board Member of the Convention Visitors Bureau.
Seamheads: What was the best baseball advice you have received?
Nutter: Scott Lane, currently the President of the West Michigan Whitecaps and a baseball veteran, gave me the best advice. He was Assistant GM of the Kane County Cougars a few summers when I worked there.Â His advice was great. He told me to always prepare every day and try and make three, four and five steps ahead so that when something happens, you are ready to react and put out the fire and make the best of a bad situation.
Seamheads: What makes you successful at your job?
Nutter: I have a tremendous group of people around me and we run it as a team. I seek their input and work with everyone on staff. Individually, it would be the work ethic instilled in me by my parents growing up. It might drive my wife crazy the hours that I/we are here, but I would not want it any other way.
Seamheads: How has baseball affected your personal life?
Nutter: It has been awesome for my family as our kids are getting older (they are six and seven). The hours are tough on all of us. I tend to miss a lot of family events that take place in the summer, but I help coach little league when I can, basketball in the off-season, but we make the best of it.
Seamheads: Who was your mentor in baseball?
Nutter: Bill Larsen was the GM at Kane County for many years and went to have successful stops in many other cities. He was a great innovator but has never gotten all the credit he deserves.Â There are many teams running a lot of promotions that Bill created first. He had an incredible mind for marketing and promotions. He gave us a lot of freedom to make decisions and take chances and would advise us that there were not any mistakes we could make that we could not fix as a group. He empowered us and gave us confidence.
Seamheads: What is the most unusual promotion you have seen with the TinCaps?
Nutter: It is not unusual to me, but many people coming to their first game like the Bad Apple Dancers. It is our promotions team that has been dancing and doing the grounds work for a few years. They do an awesome job with it; it is often imitated, it is never duplicated.
Seamheads: What is your favorite ballpark to watch a game?
Nutter: Wrigley Field. I remember the first time going there when I worked for the Kane County Cougars. My dad and I attended together and I still remember walking out into the seating bowl for the first time and getting chills. It is an awesome scene to watch a game.
Seamheads: Have you attended any World Series games?
Nutter: We were season ticket holder for the Oakland Aâ€™s during the late 1980â€™s and early â€˜90â€™s. We were there for the three straight World Series appearances and all the playoff runs that great team had. Unfortunately, it ended with just one title in the three years.Â We were not at the game in San Francisco the year of the big earthquake or that would be at the top of the list for sure. (b)
Seamheads: Do you follow other teams or sports?
Nutter: The entire Nutter family are big Cleveland Indians and THE Ohio State Buckeyes fans. We also cheer for the TinCaps and the San Diego Padres.
Seamheads: What is the most creative part of you?
Nutter: We are willing to try new things, give it a shot, take a risk, keep things new and fresh, willing to fail and move on.
Seamheads: What do you do for relaxation after work?
Nutter: Go home, play catch with my kids. We just put a new Bar-B-Que in so I will do some cooking and have a cold brew.
Nutter: Ours is Johnny Appleseed (Johnny) named after John Chapman who is buried here in Fort Wayne. He walked around with a tin cap on his head so we called our team the TinCaps. Most people cannot believe there was a real Johnny Appleseed but this is where he lived. Â©
Seamheads: What is your favorite American city to go to when you and your family travel?
Nutter: Chicago, about 200 miles from Fort Wayne. We love the culture there; my wife loves to shop Michigan Avenue; my son and I visited the Museum of Science and Industry and we love to go to Wrigley Field.
Seamheads: What do you do during the off-season?
Nutter: We work during the week and weekends and we travel. But that is when the team sets up the advertising and group sales; we have numerous sales and management meetings and get ready for the following season.
Seamheads: Do you have a favorite Spring Training site to go to?
Nutter: We enjoy going to Peoria, Arizona. The San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners share a complex there. It is a different vibe there; guys are approachable and it is easy for the kids to get autographs.
Seamheads: What is your best memory with the TinCaps?
Nutter: The year was 2009 and we were the first team to win 101 games lost 49. We were the first team in 25 years to win that many games and won the championship on the road. We got some buses, told the front office staff to bring their family and kids.Â One of the stars of the team was Mat Latos who won fifteen games for the Padres last year. Guys would swing and miss, he was domineering.
Seamheads: Do you have a future super star on your team the Padres fans should be watching for?
Nutter: Yes, we have a young guy name named Donavan Tate he was the third pick in the draft a few years ago. He is built like a ballplayer; he is six feet- two inches and weighs two hundred pounds. The Padres gave him a 6.25 million contract when was eighteen. He has the talent, tools, plays center-field and is a great kid.
Seamheads: What are your thoughts on the DH?
Nutter: I grew up an Indians fan and liked it. We had Buddy Bell, etc. They use the DH in low A Pitchers reward takes BP the next day. It should stay.
Seamheads: When you look back at the end of this season, what do you most want to be proud of?
Nutter: We are going to host four games with the AAA Tucson Padres vs. Las Vegas 51s between July 14th and 17th. The Padres (they were the Portland Beavers) moved from Portland to Tucson and we suggested they play here in our stadium. We get to show off the second biggest Hoosier city, one of the best childrenâ€™s zoos in the country and show them mid-west hospitality.Â This is a first in the minor leagues; two teams from the Pacific Coast League playing in a city in the Midwest League.
Seamheads: What were the results of the four game series? How did your fans accept this unusual series? What was the attendance?
Nutter: We did very well with the series. The four games attracted just under 24,000 total fans. This was in-line with AAA attendance and our attendance numbers for TinCaps games. It was a truly unique opportunity for our fans to see Minor League baseball at the highest level being played.Â The Las Vegas 51â€™s team won three out of four games, but they were all entertaining and the fans loved it. More info. on the series (d)
Seamheads: What is the economy like in Fort Wayne?
Nutter: It is pretty tough. We are a little insulated from the highs in the economy to the low, lows. General Motors, one of the largest employers in town closed. Some factories used to run three shifts and are now running two. Some used to run seven days a week but now running five. However, we have a resilient group of people here in Fort Wayne who love their sports and support their team. Street & Smiths Business Sports Journal a few years ago called Ft. Wayne the number one minor league sports market in America. Even when the economy is bad we still see families coming out to the park because our entertainment is family oriented and affordable.
(a) Opening day was April 16, 2009. The TinCaps beat the Dayton Dragons 7-0. Attendance was 8,208.
â€œParkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, earns praise for achieving a level of perfection. TinCaps owner Jason Freier and architect Populous have managed to create an intimate, thoughtfully designed facility where community is king and fans are prompted to have a new experience every time they visit the park.â€ BallPark Digest
(b) The 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics is best remembered for the Loma Prieta earthquake that occurred just prior to Game 3. It caused a 10-day disruption in play. This Series is forever known as the â€œEarthquake Series.â€Â The Aâ€™s swept the Giants four game to none.
Â© Johnny Appleseed was born John Chapman in September 1774 and died in March 1845. He was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. He was known for his kind and generous ways, his leadership in conservation and his importance he attributed to apples.Â He is buried in Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana and is a National Historic Landmark.
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Norm Coleman is a writer, actor and photographer. He lives in Half Moon Bay, CA.
This interview has been published with permission by Baseball Digest.