NASHVILLE–At the Winter Meetings, minor league teams typically fill out their front offices with fresh-faced job seekers eager to break into baseball. However, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Carolina) arrived at this year’s event at the Opryland Hotel with more serious business to tackle, like finding a new general manager.
Scott Brown left his post in Myrtle Beach last week after three seasons to take over as general manager of baseball operations for the Charlotte Knights (International), who are adding depth to their front office while preparing for life in a new ballpark. Brown takes over for veteran GM Dan Rajkowski, who was promoted to vice president/chief operating officer and will oversee the team’s transition from Knights Stadium—their home for the past 19 years, about 20 minutes south of town in Fort Mill, S.C.—to a new $54 million downtown Charlotte ballpark set to debut on Opening Day 2014.
“It’s certainly bittersweet; I love the beach. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Brown told the Myrtle Beach Sun News. “I think it’s the most exciting stadium project in our industry. I had a chance to walk the site and I think it’s going to be phenomenal. I don’t think there’s a better combination of stadium and city in Triple-A baseball.”
That’s a sentiment shared by the Knights, who had tried unsuccessfully for years to land a new downtown ballpark while struggling to build a fan base in a suburban home stadium. The team struck a deal with local officials, and the Knights will contribute $38 million to the project, a significant portion of which is coming from a naming-rights deal with the local bank BB&T.
Meanwhile, Myrtle Beach is left to fill its top post relatively late in the game. The team can use its successful track record to help lure candidates, as Brown joins North Johnson as former Pelicans GM to make the leap from the Carolina League to Triple-A. Johnson now serves as GM of the Gwinnett Braves (International).
Team owner Chuck Greenberg seems to be handling the task in stride. Upon arriving to Nashville on Saturday, Greenberg tweeted: “Landed in Nashville 4 Baseball Winter Meetings. Need 2 pick up a few essentials: toothpaste, toothbrush, new GM for @Pelicanbaseball.”
Several teams took care of business before the Winter Meetings got under way by making significant changes to their front offices. This list includes the Omaha Storm Chasers (Pacific Coast) hiring Kyle Schoonover, who last served as general manager of short-season Auburn in 2011 before being dismissed after the season amid the franchise’s turmoil and turnover. Schoonover will serve as the Storm Chasers’ director of group sales and says he is thrilled to be back in the game—something he was not confident would happen after struggling to find opportunities a year ago.
Schoonover was dismissed by the Doubledays in the days after they lost in the New York-Penn League championship. He was the team’s third GM in a 14-month stretch..
“The biggest thing I was wondering was, am I blackballed from baseball? Did this tarnish my name?” said Schoonover, who spent last year working in the management training program for a car rental company. “I have a lot of friends in baseball, but a lot of the jobs I was applying for, I wasn’t getting any response.”
Schoonover described landing the Auburn GM job as a dream come true, but the California native quickly came to feel like an outsider with the team’s board of directors. He still holds out hope of running a team again, but for now is thrilled to be on board with the Storm Chasers.
“I’m real thankful to (Omaha GM) Martie (Cordaro) for giving me a chance to come back into baseball and run my own staff,” Schoonover said.
PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE
• Omaha Storm Chasers—Promoted Laurie Schlender for a second consecutive season. She becomes the team’s lone assistant general manager after serving last season as assistant GM of business operations. Other Storm Chasers promotions include Noah Diercks (head groundskeeper), Adam Basinger (assistant groundskeeper), Jason Kinner (corporate sales executive), Ben Tupman (director of creative services) and Brett Pollock (director of baseball operations).
The Storm Chasers also hired Matt Rau (a former catcher at North Dakota State) as director of corporate sales, Ben Kratz as director of special events, Cameron Wilson as group sales executive, Jenna Grable as manager of the team store, and Caitlyn Brown as community relations intern. Omaha also appointed longtime on-field emcee Bob Hemmen director of marketing and promotions.
• Round Rock Express—Hired Jill Cacic as director of communications. Cacic spent the past three seasons in the same role with the Huntsville Stars (Southern League).
• Wilmington Blue Rocks—Hired Brian Randle as director of advertising sales. Randle, 31, spent the past seven years in the Atlantic League, including the 2012 season as the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs’ assistant general manager.
• Potomac Nationals—Named Bryan Holland play-by-play broadcaster and director of media relations. Holland served as a sales executive for the P-Nats last season. He previously worked on the air for the Hagerstown Suns in 2010.
High Desert Mavericks—Hired Mitch Butz as assistant general manager. Butz spent the past five season with the low Class A Clinton LumberKings, including the past three as director of operations.
Beloit Snappers—Hired Bill Czaja as director of corporate sales and promotions and Zach Ricketts as head groundskeeper.