The Minor League Baseball landscape is endlessly diverse, and encompasses everything from rookie league clubs nestled in mountainous rural areas to Triple-A teams located in the heart of major urban centers. Accordingly, each club must develop marketing and promotional strategies that resonate with their unique fan base. Each week, MiLB.com profiles a Minor League club, in order to spotlight just how interesting and varied the world of professional baseball can be.
Today, we speak with Randy Whitaker, general manager of the Eastern League's Harrisburg Senators (Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals). Whitaker is entering his first season in the world of professional baseball after spending the previous 19 years at Harrisburg's ABC television affiliate. He maintains a blog on the Senators website entitled "A Fan is the GM" that chronicles his experiences.
MiLB.com: How would you characterize your team's fan base? Has it grown or changed in recent years?
RW: We have a good core of knowledgeable fans rooted in families from around the region. Of late, our geographic coverage has compressed to a smaller radius from either "shore" of the river we sit in (our stadium is on an island in the Susquehanna River).
MiLB.com: Working in a Minor League front office is all about getting people in the seats. What type of marketing strategies do the fans respond to?
RW: We are all about affordable family fun. The old tried and true fireworks night continues to draw very well, even on a repeat basis.
MiLB.com: How has the internet affected the way your team is run?
RW: Marketing is quickly getting more targeted and efficient. We take every opportunity we can to gather data so we can connect directly with a pre-qualified fan base.
MiLB.com: Has your team staged any notably creative or offbeat promotions in recent years? Any that just didn't work?
RW: I'd have to admit that there has not been anything earth-shatteringly notable. But, then, nothing has bombed either!
MiLB.com: Does your concession stand serve any regional specialties or otherwise remarkable items?
RW: My favorite is our Gazebo Room grilled chicken sandwich. Gazebo Room Dressing is the local marinade that adds a great zip. I highly recommend it.
MiLB.com: What type of merchandise sells the best at the team store? Are there any offbeat or unique items available for purchase?
MiLB.com: How large of a role does your mascot play, both at the stadium and within the community?
RW: Rascal (a friendly river monster) is one of the most recognized characters in the community and is seen frequently at the stadium, malls and other venues, especially during the season. We added a friend for him a couple of years ago -- a dog named Grrrounder.
MiLB.com: Minor League stadiums often vary greatly from one another. What are the positives of playing in your facility? Any drawbacks?
RW: Like I said, we play in a river, which is really cool. It's the best place in America for a ballpark. The stadium is due for a 100 percent replacement after this season, in time for the 2009 season. It will have skyboxes, great views of the state capital skyline across the water, a deck all around the outfield wall and dugout-level suites. For now, we sit on mostly bleachers. It's not bad, but things will soon be so much better. The drawbacks: on big nights, the parking can get a little short on the island, so fans get to take a short walk across a historic walking bridge from the city. This adds about 15 minutes to the process.
MiLB.com: What are some of your favorite on-field moments with the team?
RW: Nothing can beat the ultimate highlight: the 1999 Eastern League Championship, when we were going for our fourth championship in a row. The Senators were down, 11-9, with two outs and a 3-2 count in the bottom of the ninth inning when Milton Bradley hit a grand slam in the rain to win it all. They wouldn't dare write it in Hollywood because no one would believe it.
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.