2011 Freitas Award Winners
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
by Geoff Morrow - Staff
Published: November 29, 2011
The Freitas Awards are Baseball America's annual awards honoring the best operators in Minor League Baseball. They are named after Bob Freitas, a longtime ambassador of minor league baseball who helped teams and minor league owners around the country. The following are the 2011 Freitas Award winners, one for each level of affiliated minor league baseball.
Randy Whitaker landed his dream job when new Harrisburg Senators (Eastern) owner Michael Reinsdorf hired the longtime local television executive as his general manager before the 2008 season. After a challenging debut season, when attendance fell to a franchise low, the Senators have seen those numbers rise in each of the past three seasons at the newly renovated, and now state of the art Metro Bank Park.
The key to the revival was—after more than a decade of talk—landing the necessary financing to rebuild the ballpark on City Island. Team president Kevin Kulp came on board during the 2008 season and helped oversee construction on Metro Bank Park, which began before the 2009 campaign. The two-phase, $45 million project brought a wraparound concourse boardwalk and new scoreboard that first year and was completed before the 2010 season.
Now with comfortable seating, spectacular sightlines, luxury suites and significantly more restrooms and concession areas, the island ballpark transformed from your closet's trusted sweatshirt to favorite formal wear.
Average attendance spiked nearly 18 percent to 4,205 in 2010, the team's first season in the completely renovated park. And despite challenging weather—the Susquehanna River flooded the ballpark at the start and end of the 2011 season—the Senators held steady at the gate with a 4,221 average. And speaking of flooding, Harrisburg's newly elevated boardwalk and team offices—which sit above the 100-year flood plain—helped prevent significant damage when more than eight feet of water flooded the playing field in September.
The team's high-definition video board in left field ranks among the largest in minor league baseball, and assistant GM Aaron Margolis is in charge of utilizing the park's gem to keep fans (and sponsors) glued to the action.
"At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure everybody who comes to the ballpark—whether they're lifetime baseball fans or here for the first time—has a fantastic time," said Margolis, who uses dozens of cameras around the ballpark to showcase fans for between-inning features like Kiss Cam, Air Guitar Cam, the Chicken Dance and many others. "Whether you're 7 or 70, it's still cool when you're on the video board or on television."
Improved on-field games like an enhanced version of tug-of-war, mascot monkey races, toilet races and launch-a ball also have become a hit with fans, which is markedly different than the mostly forgettable acts of three seasons ago.
The team has also focused its attention on fan experience outside the ballpark. There is only one way on and off the island, the Market Street Bridge, and the experience of getting over it had proved to be a headache in past years. Whitaker—and a number of season-ticket holders—estimate that time spent sitting in traffic after a game has been reduced by at least half simply because more bodies are in place to direct cars and people at the most hectic moments.
"It's not a sexy point to what we do, but the last impression is often the one that makes the biggest impression," said Whitaker, who can be spotted before and after games directing traffic and pedestrians. "If we can get people home comfortably, that doesn't muddy their opinion of the rest of the night. You could have a great night at the ballpark, but if you sit in the parking lot for 30-45 minutes and don't move, you'll say, 'Damn those Senators,
they don't know what they're doing over there.'"
The Senators have proven that to be anything but true.
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