June 21, 2018

Touring The Bases With…Princeton Rays GM Jim Holland

July 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Jim HollandJim Holland is the General Manager for the Princeton Rays located in Princeton, West Virginia. They have been an Affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays since 1997 and are in the Appalachian League.  They play at Hunnicutt Field.  (a)  www.princetonrays.net

Seamheads.Com: What is your history with the Princeton Rays?

Jim Holland: This will be my twentieth consecutive season as General Manager at Princeton and my twenty-second consecutive overall. I was the Leagues Executive of the Year back in 1993 and have won the League’s Promotional Award of Excellence three times (2002 – 2005 – and 2010) in the last eight years.

Seamheads: What was your first job working in baseball? How did you obtain that position? How did that job enable you to get to where you are today?

Holland: I was a journalism graduate at the University of Charleston in West Virginia in 1980 and originally wanted to be a sports writer. I drifted into other jobs that involved traveling. I always scheduled my travel around where my Minor League teams were playing.  I covered five states on my sales travel.  Eventually, in a Charleston, West Virginia ballpark I made the acquaintance of Bud Bickel, who was the original founder of the Frontier League.  He invited me to do all sorts of different things for the Huntington Cubs and I accepted. He drilled into me all he new about promoting and administrating. I was a success selling for them right out of the gate.

At that time, he had just been named as the first General Manager of the newly formed 1990 H – Cubs of the Appalachian League. He saw my communications sales skills and invited me to work with him.  In October 1991, Princeton made it known they were looking for their first year-round GM. I was interviewed and wound up with the job. I started here on November 1,1991 and I am still here today.  I took that first major step across the line when I was at an Appalachian League afternoon game in the summer of 1990 in Huntington, West Virginia.

Huntington is forty-seven miles from my hometown of Dunbar. My buddies and I were in a phase at that point when we would go to a ballgame anywhere. We were sitting in the third base bleachers and listening to the play-by-play of the game on a radio we brought with us.  The announcer was a guy by the name of Kurt Pickering. He was lamenting on the broadcast that his color commentator had no shown up that day. I got out of my seat and went straight to the press box and the next thing you know, I was on the air with Kurt.

That is what gave me the opportunity to do some things with the Huntington Cubs in both 1990 and 1991. When a person makes a jump like that, there is no turning back and I am still at it.  In a “small-world scenario,” Kurt wound up being on our Princeton game day staff filling both our radio and P.A announcer roles for the first three seasons I was in Princeton.

Seamheads.Com: What career were you considering in college?

Holland: I graduated college with the intention of being a sportswriter but drifted into industrial sales in the mid to late 1980’s.  Since I was spending my time and money at ballparks, why not pick out a ballpark and work there instead, I thought to myself. That was a good theory and led to a good decision and that made my life more enriched and fulfilling.

Seamheads.Com: What are your responsibilities for the Rays?

Holland: We are a small operation. I am responsible for everything outside the foul lines:  Sales, marketing, public relations, purchasing, writing, event scheduling, merchandising, public speaking and paying the bills.  We have additional seasonal staff in the summer but from September to May, it is pretty much me in all the administrative sales and marketing operations.

Seamheads.Com: What do you love most about your job?

Holland: Seeing people with smiles on their faces upon arriving, during and leaving from the ballpark. That is a great reward and it has helped keep me driven to continue to try to be better at what I do every year. It is great to create things that interest people and their enjoyment is the true indicator of knowing if I have done a good job.  I used to work to have money to go to the ballpark, now I have taken a better shortcut and start my day for pay there instead!

Seamheads.Com: Have you seen any interns you hired and trained with the Rays move on to become General Managers elsewhere?

Holland: Yes, Pat Day, GM of the Lansing Lugnuts in Lansing, Michigan was on the very first college intern staff I brought on board in 1998. I am proud of the prospect that I may have played some small role in his development as one of the best General Managers in the game. I look forward to reading his interview in Baseball Digest.

Seamheads.Com: What is the most difficult part of your job?

Holland: I do not find any aspect too difficult, but I do try to balance my time so that non-sales tasks are done on non-sales hours in the evening on my home computer. As a result, I do take a lot of work home and it makes for some late hours.  I have learned the only consistent thing about my sleeping habits is that they are very inconsistent.  I have a great family and the job cuts deeply into family time. That is disheartening but, on the other hand, they are all baseball fans. Thus, my family can visit my work place and enjoy a ballgame while I am on the job.

Seamheads.Com: Where were you born and raised?

Holland: I was born in Charleston, West Virginia on November 13, 1957 and raised in Dunbar, West Virginia six miles from Charleston. I am a 1976 graduate of Dunbar High School in Dunbar, WV.

Seamheads.Com:  What was your first job as a youngster?

Holland: I was a newspaper delivery boy. My degree is in communications with an emphasis on print journalism. That has been my life from the get go. I wanted to be a sports reporter when I got out of college. I was circulation manager in the paper business.

Seamheads.Com: Did you play sports in High School?

Holland: I was a two-sport letterman at Dunbar High School in cross-country and track. During my senior year, I was our conference’s (Tri-Valley Athletic Conference) individual overall champion in cross-country as well as being the conference champion in track in the two-mile run.  I was also state finalist in my senior year. Ironically, year after year on my baseball intern staffs, I see a lot of kids who were distance runners in college. Hopefully, they will keep their weight down as adults better than I have.

Seamheads.Com: what college did you attend? What was your major?

Holland: I graduated Cum Laude in 1980 from the University of Charleston, WV with a B.A. in Mass Communications. I went to UC to continue my running career but suffered some injuries early and for the first time, I got interested in doing the best I could as a student.

Seamheads.Com: When did you get interested in baseball? What team did you root for as a kid? Who were your favorite players?

Holland: The summer of 1967 was when I played my first organized baseball on the playgrounds; it may or may not have been an actual Little League game.  My first exposure to pro ball that really left a memory for me was the 1967 World Series. I still believe to this day that Bob Gibson is still the one pitcher I would want on the mound with the big game on the line.  My team from the beginning was the Cincinnati Reds until I got aligned with the Rays in 1997. I was a Reds fan before the arrival of the Big Red Machine.  My favorite players played in the 1967-1985 ranges. A big thrill in my life was when my parents took me to my first major league game (a doubleheader!) on July 15, 1969 at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. Lee May had four homers and ten RBI’s for the twin bill while Hank Aaron also passed Mickey Mantle on the all-time home run list that night.

Seamheads.Com: What is the most outstanding memory you have working for the Rays?

Holland: There are many rewards away from Diamond that make it so memorable to be a professional baseball employee.  The Tampa Bay Rays organization is so outstanding in their relationship with and how they treat their Minor League General Managers.  They took my wife and me to Japan with them in 2004 when the Rays opened the season against the New York Yankees in the Tokyo Dome.   Just being able to be part of the activities with the entire 2008 and 2010 postseasons in St. Petersburg with the Rays.  On the Minor League side of things, my outstanding memories revolve around all the terrific people I have met and worked with throughout the years. There is a lot of smiling around a baseball stadium and that makes a memory for me anytime I know our operations is gathering smiles.

Seamheads.Com: What makes you successful at your job?

Holland: I have always had a “type A” work ethic. I do not abandon things at “quitting time.” I keep plowing ahead and try not to waste a lot of time over-analyzing.  I am a creative person and feel that I have put forth a lot of fresh new promotions over the years. That alone should take the word redundancy out of my dictionary.

Seamheads.Com: What are your ambitions in baseball?

Holland: My biggest ambition is just to get through my career in one piece and then to be able to enjoy what I have experienced from an easy chair sorting through a million memories. I certainly feel blessed that the breaks in my life fell my way to be able to enjoy this many years of being able to be in an occupation such as this.

Seamheads.Com: Should players who used steroids or found guilty of using be in the Hall of Fame?

Holland: Players should be subject to the rules that were in effect on the subject during the era they played. You cannot punish yesterday’s offenders on something that had no rules to temper it at the time.

Seamheads.Com: Who was your mentor in baseball?

Holland: Mr. Bud Bickel was the man who showed me the ropes seeing I wanted to get more deeply involved in baseball. He was good at being able to craft something out of an idea that would draw the interest of people.  He challenged people to think outside the box so that you could keep up with him.  I consider myself to be a creative person but seeing the way he promoted the game blew the lid off for me and took me to a whole new dimension as far as promoting is concerned.  Here in Princeton, we have had some sort of promotion or giveaway at every home game we have played since I arrived in late fall, 1991.

Seamheads.Com: Which GM in baseball do you admire the most?

Holland: On the Major League level, it would definitely be Andrew Friedman of our own parent club, the Tampa Bay Rays. He has proven time and again he can dig down deep in his own creativeness and keep a team competitive. He came into baseball from Wall Street as a result of fate and utilized his chance to combine his energy with his passion for the game.

Seamheads.Com: Of all your accomplishments in baseball, or with the Rays, what are you most proud of?

Holland: On the baseball side, being honored by my peers by being awarded the Appalachian League’s promotional award of excellence three times in the past eight years.  All franchises are blocks of clay that have to be embellished to the best extent it can.  I work in the League’s smallest market to boot. As a result of that, I do like the challenge. It is nice to be recognized by a league that has so many top quality General Managers within it  Personally, the real reward is when you see people exiting the gates after a game with smiles on their faces because of their visit and that is truly the real measure of success! That positive energy they show has a way of cycling itself from them back to me to give me a lot of drive to get back to the ballpark the very next morning.

Seamheads.Com: In 1992, you originated the idea of the Mercer Cup. Would you explain what that is?

Holland: The Mercer cup was created to award the regular season series winner between the Princeton Rays and the Bluefield Orioles franchises in the Appalachian League. The two stadiums are located only twelve miles apart.  If one team wins the cup three years in a row, that cup is retired to that team and a new cup is initiated.  I contacted the officials with the Bluefield franchise and they were sold on the idea.

The Mercer cup concept has been a huge success. The two cities are so close (and we also share the same media outlets) and have been so competitive with each other in every last thing forever, the total atmosphere at Mercer Cup games exceed anything I have seen in minor league baseball.  I think other teams have tried to duplicate it, but you cannot duplicate the short distance and the competitive nature these cities have between each other. Obviously, with little exception, the players are not local but the fans get caught up in the spirit of it.

Seamheads.Com: What is your favorite ballpark to watch a game?

Holland: It is tough to pick a MiL park, every park has a character and history all its own.  PNC Park in Pittsburgh is beautiful, with the water background and at night, with the city of Pittsburgh all lit up, it is gorgeous.

Seamheads.Com: Who is your favorite all-time ballplayer?

Holland: When I was a kid, Pete Rose.  I would crouch like him and slide in headfirst like he did.

Seamheads.Com: Do the Rays have a mascot?

Holland: Yes we do. He is Roscoe, our Drug free rooster and has been with us from the day he was hatched just prior to the 1992 season. He makes many public appearances and has appeared on the big stage in Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field as part of that teams “Fan Fest.”  Beginning this season, he is lending his name to the concessions industry, as the P-Rays operation will now be known as “Roscoe’s Grille.”

Seamheads.Com: What is the most unusual promotion you have seen with the Rays?

Holland: We are proud of the fact we have had a promotion or giveaway in every home game since the end of1991 season. That streak will continue this year.  In our very first year here in 1992, our mascot, Roscoe the Red Rooster got thrown out of a game.  The next evening, we worked out a plan with the new umpire crew so they would be in on the gag. After the game started, a police car drove on to the field from the right field fence. The police car, with lights flashing stopped at first base, Roscoe got out of the car with handcuffs on and knelt down at the umpires feet, begging for forgiveness and kissed the umpires foot. The crowd roared.

Seamheads.Com: What is your favorite music? Have a favorite singer or musician?

Holland: I love music; it is on all the time in the office when I am working.   My favorite musician is a guitarist from England whose name is Robin Trower.  I am a big Beatles fan. I am like a Beatles professor, I’m an expert on them.

Seamheads.Com: What book are you currently reading?

Holland: The last book I read was Beyond Belief, the story of the Texas Rangers star outfielder, Josh Hamilton. I read that in a day, it is a very inspirational story; we are all waiting for the movie to be made. We were his first stop on his way to the Big Show. I am waiting for the film to come out.

Seamheads.Com: Where do you and your wife like to vacation?

Holland: We like St. Petersburg, Florida.  We like the beaches and the sun. We are a Tampa Bay Rays family and our son works for the Rays, so we get to see him.

Seamheads.Com: What is your favorite ballpark food?

Holland:  There is no question here, a hotdog. My wife and I have to have at least one hotdog at every park we visit.

Seamheads.Com: Who are one or two current players you love to watch?

Holland: I am partial to guys who played here in Princeton, Josh Hamilton of the Rangers and Carl Crawford of the Red Sox.  They were both here in 1999.

Seamheads.Com: What advice would you give a young person considering a career in baseball?

Holland: Use any college electives they may have toward classes that are communications based. I would push diversity in college course content and one thing that people often overlook that would help a minor league team, would be someone that could help build sales while at the same time being an accomplished computer graphics artist.  Teams could use in house talented graphics artists when needed of which there is a short supply. Internships are incredibly useful for a person to see what all of this is about first hand.

Seamheads.Com: At the end of the year, when you look back at this season, what will you be most proud of?

Holland: That we did the best job we could as an organization, that we gave every fan, an experience that would make them look forward to the next season.  I stand at the gate at games end, shaking fans hands and thanking them for coming.

(a)     H.P. Hunnicutt Field is the home field of the Princeton Rays. It was built in 1988; developed by the H.P. and Anne S. Hunnicutt Foundation and holds 3,000 people. The stadium was updated in 1999 from wooden bleachers and press boxes to a modernized stadium-featuring wrap around bleacher seating down each foul line and box seats behind home plate. Also added were home and visitor locker areas, coach’s offices and training rooms.

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Norm Coleman is a sports writer, actor and photographer. He lives in Half Moon Bay, California. Normcoleman36@hotmail.com www.tycobb367.com

“This interview has been printed with permission from Baseball Digest magazine.”

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