Touring The Bases With…Harrisburg GM Randy Whitaker
Randy Whitaker is the General Manager for the Harrisburg Senators located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the Eastern League. They have been an Affiliate of the Washington Nationals since 2005.Â Their Stadium is Metro Bank Park. (1)Â www.senatorsbaseball.com
SEAMHEADS.COM: What was your first job working in baseball? How did you obtain that position? How did that enable you to obtain the position you now hold?
RANDY WHITAKER: My first job in baseball is the one I have now â€“ General Manager. I worked for twenty-five years in commercial television in various sales capacities. As Research Director for the local ABC network affiliate, I came in contact with one of the entities interested in purchasing the Senators from the City of Harrisburg.Â They were looking for market and media information to help to determine the viability of purchasing the team. I had been a regular at Senators games for almost two decades and an avid Minor League baseball fan that had experienced over eighty different Minor League parks and operations.
I became an â€œunpaid consultantâ€ as they went through the bidding process and continued when they purchased the team. When the GM position became available, I was offered the job. I believe they considered it a choice between bringing in a baseball guy and having him learn the business environment or hire a long-time businessperson within the market and teaching him baseball. The fact that I already had a decent basic understanding of the principles behind the Minor League baseball business helped.Â It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, having a proven track record in local sales and business and an extreme enthusiasm for Senators baseball.
Seamheads:Â Who influenced you as a child and got you interested in baseball?
Whitaker:Â My dad. I would play catch with him, but he was much more of a football fan. Strangely though, I think I found baseball on my own, kind of late in life.Â By the time I really caught the baseball bug, everyone else in my neighborhood had already been playing Little League for several years so I did not jump in.Â That did not stop me from watching. I was big into baseball cards and knew all the facts from a fan perspective.
Seamheads: Did you play sports in High School or college?
Whitaker: No, I never played although I was asked to by one of the baseball coaches. He saw me play during gym class and thought I could help the team.Â But by that time, I had an after school job.Â I decided I liked money more than I liked playing baseball. I coached Little League teams while in High School and played intramural I college. I started and organized the company softball teams at two different TV stations. I never played professionally.
Seamheads: Where were you raised? What college did you attend?
Whitaker: I grew up in various parts of Virginia. My Elementary years were in the DC area. Junior and High School years were in Southwest, Virginia. I graduated from Blacksburg High School.Â I college-hopped: Arizona State as a freshman, Virginia Tech as a sophomore, then finished up with my final two years at the University of Tennessee where I got my BS in Communications and went into television.
Seamheads:Â What are your responsibilities for the Senators?
Whitaker:Â I am one of the leaders of the business side of the team I am in charge of sales of sponsorships, facility management, community relations, personnel management and general operations. Everything that makes the business profitable, from sales to cost containment.Â On game day, it is all about the customer experience. I greet fans at the front gate for a couple of hours, interact and trouble shoot during the middle innings of the game, then hold down an exit parking position as folks leave the park. We are a small business so everyone is expected to do everything.
I also act as a primary liaison with the Washington Nationals. They make the player personnel decisions, but we have to take care of them when they get here-bus transportation, road hotels, etc. I am heavy on the â€œgeneralâ€ in General Manager.
Seamheads: When and how did you get interested in working in baseball? What was your first job and where was it?
Whitaker: I have been a baseball fan since the days of the Big Red Machine (Cincinnati Reds) in the early seventies. Later on, I began going to Minor League baseball because I preferred the overall experience to the Major League game.Â I started â€œcollecting ballparksâ€ â€“ seeing how any different parks I could visit. I have seen Minor League baseball from Portland, Maine to Sarasota, Florida to Ogden, Utah.Â Over the years, whenever one of those office surveys went around asking what your dream job would be, I would say I wanted to be a Minor League General Manager. When the opportunity presented itself, even though all I had ever done since I graduated from college was work I television sales, I had to go for it.
Seamheads: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Whitaker:Â Time management. The volume and scope of work that has to be done within an inelastic calendar is massive.Â I never knew how easy I had it in the TV business until I got into baseball. Sponsorship sales, program planning and implementation, public relations personnel management, logistics, etc. must all be done simultaneously all to hit an opening day deadline. Baseball is a tough business, and a great one. I love it!
Seamheads: What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Whitaker: Turning a plan into an enjoyable and successful experience for a stadium full of fans. Seeing the end result of all that work and planning.
Seamheads: What parts of the job do you like the least?
Whitaker: I miss the baseball; I see very little baseball during a game. I am still a fan, but I do not get the chance to watch the game while working it. That is why during my off days during the season, the first thing I do is check the schedule to see where I can find a game to go to and enjoy it as a fan.
Seamheads: What is your most outstanding memory with the Senators?
Whitaker: That occurred far before my time in the front office. It was the final game of the 1999 Eastern League championship that took place here in our ballpark. It was a most dramatic event.Â The Senators were going for what would be a record 4th straight Eastern League championship. The previous four games in the playoffs were one-run games.Â The fifth and final game went to the ninth inning with the Senators down by four runs. They loaded up the bases and pushed one run across. Then, with two out, bases loaded, Milton Bradley came to the plate and with a three and two count, drove a pitch over the right field wall for a walk-off championship-creating grand slam.Â I was fortunate to be along with the TV camera crew on the field so I saw the celebration up close and personal. Nothing will ever beat that, even if the Senators win another and I can take home a ring.
Seamheads: You mentioned visiting over eighty different Minor League parks. What two or three stand out?
Whitaker: I really like the antiques. The nostalgic feel of a game in an old stadium is really special. Municipal Stadium (a) in Hagerstown, Maryland, home of the Hagerstown Suns is a simple ballpark, but gives you that sense that you are watching a game from the fifties.Â The same could be said for Bowman Field, (b) home of the Williamsport Crosscutters in Williamsport, PA. Bowman is an old, but well preserved and quaint ballpark.Â Of the newer parks, other than my own, I enjoyed Coca-Cola Park, Â© home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Allentown, PA and Richmond County Bank Ballpark, (d) home of the Staten Island Yankees, Staten Island, NY- (for the view).
Seamheads:Â Did you see Stephen Strasburg pitch?
Whitaker: I saw Stephen pitch four games. He was obviously an outstanding player.Â The most talented player who has ever played in our stadium for any team was Vladimir Guerrero when he was a Senator in 1996. It was obvious that he would be a Major League star even then.
Seamheads: What team did you follow when you were growing up?
Whitaker: I grew up a Cincinnati Reds fan. Johnny Bench and Tony Perez were my favorites.
Seamheads: Do you follow any other sports or teams now?
Whitaker: Everything is secondary on my fan meter to baseball. I can get emotional about baseball like other people do over music or theater. As far as other sports â€“ I can root for the University of Tennessee in any sport I see them play.
Seamheads: Who had the most influence on you and got you interested in baseball when you were a kid?
Whitaker: No one. Baseball and I found each other all by ourselves.
Seamheads: Who was your mentor in baseball?
Whitaker: Bill Veeck and my CEO, Bill Davidson. I enjoy reading about Veeckâ€™s creativity and commitment to baseball as a business. Bill Davidson gave me my start and has been a great source of professional knowledge and training on the business side.
Seamheads: Given the economy of today, what are the Senators doing to increase attendance in the coming season?
Whitaker: Refining the product that we reintroduced last season and marketing it to the community. We gained control of the stadium (1) after the construction so close to opening day last season that much of what we ended up doing last year was on the fly. This season we know exactly what we have to work with from the start.Â This is a great facility. Now we just have to take one hundred percent advantage of it.
Seamheads: Should MLB utilize instant replay, not counting ball and strikes?
Whitaker: I much as I hate to see missed call, I would hate to see the pace of the interrupted by extended replay delays. Once it starts, it will be difficult to dial back or control. Pass.
Seamheads: Are you married? Have any children? Any pets? Hobbies?
Whitaker: My wife Carla and I have been married for twenty-seven years. We have two boys, Brent, twenty-two, and Reagan, sixteen, and three dogs. Baseball is my hobby.
Seamheads: How do you relax or unwind after the game?
Whitaker: Nothing beats a cold Cherry Coke while I answer whatever emails come in during the game.
Seamheads: What is your favorite ballpark food?
Whitaker: Whatever the specialty of the ballpark is wherever I go. Except for the catfish sandwich in Carolina, that is not very good.
Seamheads:Â Which GM do you admire the most?
Whitaker: Todd (â€œParneyâ€) Parnell,Â (Richmond Flying Squirrels). He is above GM now, but it is the spirit that counts. He had energy and an amazing gift for creativity. I find myself saying, â€œI wish I had thought of that after seeing what he comes up with.
Seamheads: What advice would you give a young man considering a career in baseball?
Whitaker: Make sure you know what you are getting into before you commit to it. I have never worked so hard at something in my life. It is worth it, but it is a very difficult job. Or as Parney says, â€œit is not a job, it is a lifestyle.â€
Seamheads: In the history of MLB, who, in your opinion was the most creative GM?
Whitaker: Bill Veeck (e) One of the foremost innovator in the industry. Many of the things the Minors and Majors do today started with him. He was a creative showman that was fan-focused when the other guys were self-focused.
Seamheads: What are your thoughts on aluminum bats as used in college baseball?
Whitaker: I understand the reasoning from a cost basis. It is only a matter of time before someone gets seriously injured from a come backer.Â And I HATE the sound!
Seamheads: What makes you successful at your job?
Seamheads: What was the biggest obstacle you overcame to get into baseball?
Whitaker: Fear of moving out of my comfort zone. I was twenty-five years into a very successful career in commercial television. It would have been a lot easier to stay where I knew everything and was comfortable. But, after years of telling people being a Minor League GM was y dream job, it would have been hypocritical to pass it up.
Seamheads: What are your ambitions in baseball?
Whitaker: To stay exactly where I am making our product better and better each successive year. Staying in one place does not mean standing still.
Seamheads: Should players who used steroid or found guilty of using be in the Hall of Fame?
Whitaker: The rules were clear; they broke them. The same goes for Pete Rose and that is tough for a Big Red Machine fan like me to say.
Seamheads: Are you a movie fan? What are three of your favorite movies?
Whitaker: Sure, when I have the time I love going to the theater. My favorites are: Field of Dreams, Fletch and Hunt for Red October.
Seamheads: What is your favorite baseball movie?
Whitaker: Field of Dreams. It had baseball philosophy, classic lines, James Earl Jonesâ€™ voice and actors that actually look like they belong on a field. It also had a great soundtrack.
Seamheads: What is the most creative part of you?
Whitaker:Â The enthusiasm that help me connect the Senators with the objectives of our business partners.
(1)Â Â Metro Bank Park is the homefield of the Harrisburg Senators.Â The original structure was built in 1987 and was called Riverside Stadium until 2004. Currently, the ballpark has a capacity of 6,187.Â The park received a $30 million renovation beginning in 2008 and is located on City Island on the Susquehanna River.
The Park is basically a brand-new ballpark and every penny of that $30 million was money well spent, as you’ll see when you visit this new Park.
Metro features new seating areas complete withÂ chair-back seats and twenty-one corporate suites, featuring their own private seating areas and three dugout suites next to the visitorâ€™s dugout. Metro Bank Park also hosts an all-new Kids Zone, more concession areas with more food options, and more restrooms throughout the stadium.
(a) Municipal Stadium is one of the oldest Minor League Stadiums in the country.
First game was played May 8, 1930. Many improvements have been made. A state
of the-art video board is planned for 2011.
(b) Historic Bowman Field is the second oldest Minor League Park in the United States.Â It is one of baseballâ€™s most distinguished parks; it opened on April 22, 1926.
Â© An astonishing 9,227 fans frequented Coca-Cola Park per game in 2010, making the highly acclaimed venue the most visited in all of Minor League Baseball.
Named Ballpark Digestâ€™s â€œBallpark of the Yearâ€ in 2008.
(d) The Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George is New York’s premier waterfront stadium and has become one of the standard bearers in professional baseball parks across the country.
(e) William Louis Veeck Jr. was a franchise owner and promoter in Major League Baseball. He was best known for his publicity stunts to raise attendance. Veeck was at various times the owner of the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns and the Chicago White Sox. Veeck was the last owner to purchase a baseball franchise without an independent fortune, and is responsible for many innovations and contributions to baseball.
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Norm Coleman is a sports writer, actor and photographer. He lives in Half Moon Bay, CA