Double-A Freitas Award: Altoona Curve


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From the very first game at Blair County Ballpark, the Altoona Curve has been a success story. The club drew 6,171 fans that first night in 1999, despite frigid temperatures and intermittent rain, and finished the season drawing 323,932 fans.

ALTOONA CURVE
Operated by: Curve Baseball LP.
President, Managing Partner: Chuck Greenberg.
General Manager: Todd Parnell. Senior Director, Sales/Marketing: Rick Janac. Assistant GM, Senior Director of Ticketing: Jeff Garner. Director, Broadcasting/ Communications: Jason Dambach. Director, Community Relations: Elsie Zengel. Director, Merchandising: Ben Rothrock.  Director, Sports Turf Management: Patrick Coakley. Director, Ballpark Operations: Kirk Stiffler. Director, Finance: Machelle Noel. Director, Box Office Operations: Jeff Adams. Director, Information Services, Graphic/Web Design: Bill Edevane. Director, Promotions/New Business Development: Chris Mundhenk. Executive Producer, In-Game Entertainment: Matt Zidik. Director, Mascot Operations: Charlton Jordan. Assistant Directors, Ticket Sales: Derek Martin, Chris Phillips. Assistant Director, Promotions: Matt Hoover. Ticket Sales Associates: Eric Fiscus, Bill Hallman, Corey Homan, Chris Keefer, Lane Kieffer, Jessica Nebel, Dennis Newberry, Dan Newhart, Kevin Steele, Denny Watson. Sponsorship Sales Account Executives: John Carey, Greg Parassio, Julie Price, Jessica Seretti. Media Relations Manager: Billy Harner. Media Relations Assistant: Joe Moore. Producer, In-Game Entertainment: John Foreman. Sports Turf Manager: Matt Neri. Administrative Assistant: Carol Schmittle. Ballpark Operations Assistants: Shawn Huber, Cindy Stephens. Community Relations Manager: Stefanie Brown. Accounting Specialist: Tara Figard. Assistant Sports Turf Manager: Lisa Guinivan.

The club was sold to an ownership group headed by Pittsburgh lawyer Chuck Greenberg in 2002, and the Pirates decided to renew their player-development contract for four years in August of that season. The Pirates have been so impressed with Altoona’s operation that they renewed for another four years in September, as well as establishing ties with the same ownership group’s new State College franchise in the New York-Penn League.

“Altoona is one of the class organizations in the minor leagues,” Pittsburgh farm director Brian Graham said. “The environment that the ballpark and the front office provides is essential for us in the development process.”

It’s also essential for the local community. For Altoona, a city of roughly 50,000 with a history steeped in the railroad industry, the Curve provided an economic boon of sorts.

Blair County Ballpark is not your typical minor league facility. Located just off Interstate 99 in the heart of Pennsylvania, the ballpark features a brick exterior with a design modeled after a railroad roundhouse. An adjacent amusement park adds to the atmosphere, especially with the “Skyliner” roller coaster that sits just beyond the right-field wall.

Where most minor league operators view themselves as either being in the baseball business or what is vaguely referred to as the entertainment business, Curve general manager Todd Parnell has a slightly different vision of what the Altoona experience is all about: the memory-making business.

“The whole area revolves around the park in the summertime,” Parnell said. “It’s where people come to connect with each other. Guaranteed, you’re likely to run into somebody you know when you come out to a game.”

Parnell has a long history of innovation over his 17-year career in the game. The 40-year-old started out as director of sales and marketing for the Reading Phillies in 1989. After eight years in the Eastern League, Parnell took his first GM job in the South Atlantic League with the Kannapolis Intimidators, before heading back to the Eastern League again in 2002.

Parnell said the organization’s philosophy stems directly from Greenberg, who is as visible and accessible as it gets among minor league owners.

“It all starts with fun, and that whole deal comes from Chuck,” Parnell said. “He really thinks things through the process and is very open to new ideas. I mean, it’s capital punishment for any front-office employee who decides to stay in their office during the game. For those three hours, we’re on–it’s game time and you should want to be seen and have an impact on fans.”

Of course it doesn’t hurt that former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis and former Penguins star Mario Lemieux are also part of the Curve ownership. Both former players typically hold autograph signings each year at Blair County Ballpark, and the organization took another step in recent years, bringing in former TV personalities Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, Barry Williams, Jamie Farr and Erik Estrada for appearances and autograph sessions.

But beyond the celebrity sightings–and just like Parnell’s baseball roots in Reading–the Curve have broken new ground with other promotions. Their Awful Night has become a classic, not just because it’s funny, but also because it shows the Curve front office can be successful while not necessarily taking themselves too seriously.

The first Awful Night featured a “fail average” for hitters rather than a batting average, and the scoreboard showed players’ errors rather than home runs. The staple giveaway on Awful Nights has been bubble wrap, but Parnell took even that a step further this season. The GM had surgery to remove his gall bladder during the season, so the team gave away color photos of his organ for the event dubbed Awful Night 4: Beating A Dead Horse.

“We’re not afraid to make fun of ourselves at all,” Parnell said. “And you can’t be afraid to fail. We have such a great  relationship with this community, that we want them to enjoy the heck out of coming here every night. This is a game–and it’s all about having fun.”

Minors | #2006 #Awards #Freitas Awards

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