From the time she was 12 years old, Amy Venuto knew she wanted to work in baseball. She spent the better part of her lifetime working her way up the minor league ladder, climbing from mascot to intern all the way to the General Manager of Ripken Baseball. However, when given the chance to be called up to the major league club, she eschewed it in favor of the more personal appeal of the IronBirds and minor league baseball.
"[Working in minor league baseball] is what I've always wanted to do," Venuto said. "I like minor league baseball because you're in it with the fans; you get to know people so much more. There's just something that's grassroots and true about minor league baseball."
Venuto has been with Ripken Baseball since its inception 12 years ago. She has seen the company from every angle, from planning non-baseball events at Ripken Stadium to overseeing the Cal Ripken World Series to even working as a mascot for a brief period of time. However, one constant in all the roles Venuto has played is that while the responsibilities changed, the focus remained on how to best serve the customer.
"While my role at Ripken Baseball has changed every year, I've always stayed true to the customer first and foremost," Venuto said. "And that customer-first mentality is one of the things I love about Ripken Baseball."
While the fan-centric approach remains a core principle of Ripken Baseball, Venuto says that the company has changed considerably since she began working there 11 years ago.
"When I came on board, it was a lot more intimate, a lot more tight-knit, probably because there weren't so many employees," Venuto said. "Over the years, we've expanded, from the Myrtle Beach youth complex to the tournaments and camps we've started to our non-profit foundation, which does amazing work. It's a little less intimate, but we are able to accomplish so much more."
While Venuto believes Ripken Baseball has evolved considerably since its inception, she says the IronBirds have to this point undergone considerably less change. However, she says, this year will be different.
"For the IronBirds, this is the year that you'll see the most change," Venuto said. "We've got a lot of new people in integral roles right now, and I think we have the intent of shaking things up a little bit."
One of the more marked changes from years past is evident in the brand-new Season Seat membership program. The program allows season ticket-holders to get a more personal look at IronBirds baseball, allowing them greater access to the team, even allowing them to hold 'Chalk Talks' with Manager Matt Merullo.
"Discount and added-value are where so many other sports teams go to, and I think it's oversaturated," Venuto said. "Our Season Seat members will feel invested into the franchise, and get behind-the-scenes experiences and moments the average fan just doesn't get."
Beyond the Season Seat program, Venuto says there will be many more small improvements around Ripken Stadium, including more fireworks shows, more theme nights (like Vintage TV Night and Cowboy Night), and more innovative promotions (including a beer garden and live concert featuring Nelly's Echo, a Nigerian-born music artist featured on NBC's The Voice, on Opening Day) that will lead to a major upgrade in the fan experience.
"We're changing everything, from the in-game entertainment to the ticketing policy to the food," Venuto said. "These aren't seismic shifts, but we're doing everything we can to improve the fan experience."