The Silver Touch
Rochester exec is our Minor League Executive of the Year
Naomi Silver swears she was not trying to follow in her father's footsteps.
It was only after the Rochester Red Wings' chief operating officer helped save minor league baseball in neighboring Batavia that she realized how the act so closely resembled an achievement of her father some 50 years ago.
It was Morrie Silver who was the local businessman who led a stock drive to purchase Rochester's International League franchise in 1956, after the Cardinals relinquished the team and pulled out of town. He also purchased the remaining shares after the drive fell short and became the team owner—a move for which his daughter still gets congratulatory pats on the back from some old timers around town.
Though her résumé of community service had few holes, Naomi Silver can now join the ranks of her late father by adding baseball savior to it. In fact, she may have even one-upped pops, as some feel she has now accomplished the feat twice.
"I guess it's part of the genes," she said, as is operating a club that has long been one of the IL's steadiest while remaining active in the community. "I guess I always wanted to keep the thing he cared most about in this community, the Red Wings, alive and well if possible. I want to make sure this ballclub is a success and that his dream stays alive. A team like this means so much in this kind of community. He couldn't imagine a city like ours without a baseball team."
She feels the same way about Batavia.
The Muckdogs entered last offseason on the verge of extinction. The New York-Penn League club had accumulated more than $200,000 of debt, and no suitors were stepping up to the plate to purchase the club that had just finished at the bottom of the league's attendance ladder.
With Opening Day on the horizon, Silver and the Red Wings made a creative last-ditch offer in which Rochester would inherit the Muckdogs' debt while taking over operations. While Silver recognizes the purchase was hardly done out of charity—the Red Wings also stand to reap any future Batavia profits—she also appreciates that it keeps one of the league's oldest franchises at home.
"I didn't really think (of the similarities to my father) as the deal was unfolding. It wasn't looming, 'What would my father have done,'" Silver said. "But I guess in retrospect I am more like him than I know. People are so grateful in Batavia for not losing the ballclub and they knew they were close. It's a great place for me to be. People are very appreciative."
As they are in Rochester, where Naomi Silver also helped keep the team stay alive by negotiating a deal for a new ballpark to replace outdated Silver Stadium in 1997. That ballpark was originally built in 1929 and was later renamed in honor of Morrie Silver, and by the 1990s it no longer met Minor League Baseball's facility standards, leaving the team's future in jeopardy.
Silver worked with local officials over seven or eight years to negotiate a deal that proved fair for both sides, with a significant portion of the revenue generated through ticket sales, concessions and parking going back to the county to pay off the debt.
"It was a long, long process for us," Red Wings general manager Dan Mason said. "She worked with the county and state and worked with a variety of civic groups to make them realize that a new stadium is necessary if the Red Wings are going to stay in town. She worked tirelessly with a couple of board of directors to make sure Frontier Field became a reality, and it has become a sense of pride in the community."
Silver has made sure that Frontier Field has remained both a family-friendly atmosphere as well as one of the top draws in the IL. Overall attendance has grown from 418,014 in 2003 to 490,806 in 2008.
Silver says a key to the Red Wings' success is treating employees as family, and they in turn do the same to fans entering the gate. The result is a warm, inviting ballpark.
And Silver, who has headed the club for roughly the past 15 years, has been an active member of the community as well. She served as chairman of the board for the local boys and girls club for four years, recently left the presidency of her children's school board and is involved with ALS charity locally.
"The involvement you have in the community is tremendously important," Silver said. "It is part of getting out there, treating people well in the business world and in the community and showing an appreciation of what they have to offer."