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Governor-elect has MiLB connection
11/08/2006 11:10 AM ET
The baseball credentials of Jeb Bush, Florida's outgoing governor, are well known.

Bush, of course, comes from a family whose connections to our national pastime are deep-rooted and intimate. His brother, current President George W. Bush, once owned the Texas Rangers. His parents, former President George H.W. and First Lady Barbara, are long-standing fans of the game and passionate supporters of the Houston Astros.

On Tuesday, Republican Charlie Crist defeated Democrat Jim Davis in the race to succeed Bush as Florida's governor. The 50-year-old Crist not only shares many of Bush's conservative principles -- he is also a baseball fan who once held a prestigious position within Minor League Baseball.

Crist received his law degree in 1982 and soon thereafter was hired as general counsel for the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. (In 1999, the NAPBL officially changed its name to Minor League Baseball).

Crist has been quoted as saying it was "pure luck" that he got the job, perhaps a nod to the fact it was his first permanent job after graduating from Cumberland Law School in Birmingham, Ala. The NAPBL's general counsel is involved in all legal matters that involve Minor League Baseball. This includes complex issues such as player contracts, team relocations, and marketing and licensing deals.

Sal Artiaga, now the Director of Latin American Operations for the Philadelphia Phillies, was second-in-command at the NAPBL when Crist was hired. He says that it's no surprise that Crist has gone on to great success in the field of politics.

"He was destined for public service," said Artiaga, speaking from his office in St. Petersburg. "He was honest and honorable, lived a very structured life, and seemed to have a real solid understanding of what he would need to do in order to be successful."

Artiaga believes that Crist's five years as the NAPBL's General Counsel helped him prepare for a political career. "We dealt with a lot of issues within all classifications of Minor League Baseball," he said. "We often had to deal with territorial rights, where each league would be coming from a different perspective. We had to remain flexible and address individual needs while always remaining aware of the big picture. It was a good experience for Charlie to resolve and address these sorts of issues."

Crist left the NAPBL in 1988, largely as a result of his desire to be involved with politics. He won a seat on the Florida state Senate in 1992, and in 1999 was appointed by Jeb Bush to serve as deputy secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Crist is now on the cusp of his biggest political challenge yet. Artiaga, a baseball lifer, sums up the governor-elect's strengths in the same language a scout would use to assess a top prospect.

"Charlie is well-prepared," he said. "I like his make-up, his conviction, sincerity, and ability to listen. He possesses all the elements of someone who will be successful."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.