Cal notes: Nuts turn ballpark reins over to kids

'Junior staff' members spend night spreading, counting smiles

Modesto-area children between the ages of 6-14 shadowed Nuts employees for a night, performing various tasks. (Jose Carlos Magana)

By Josh Jackson / | June 5, 2017 10:00 AM ET

It was not exactly a case of the inmates running the asylum, but for one night in Modesto, young fans were in charge of the Nut house.

On May 26, the Nuts turned over operations at John Thurman Field, sort of, to a group of area children through the team's first Kids Run the Stadium Night.

In advance of the event, the "Jr. staff" members completed an application in which they'd ranked their top three preferences from 10 positions, including "mascot handler," "Jr. brand representative," "usher" and "in-game broadcaster." Then they got to spend a few innings shadowing a corresponding Nuts staff member.

"Most will have two things to do," Modesto public relations manager Natalie Winters said before the game, noting that the team received about 40 applications and were able to provide jobs for all applicants.

"One might be a hawker for one inning and shadow the [general manager] the next, so that way they get to cover a couple different positions. They'll all be singing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' together for the seven-inning stretch to close it out."

Arjan S. helped director of broadcasting Keaton Gillogly with the call. (Jose Carlos Magana)

Nine-year-old Modesto resident Tait Campbell is one of the lucky junior staffers who got to be GM for the night, his only assignment. Campbell comes to "almost every game," so he had no trouble learning about the promotion and finding an application, which the Nuts pushed on social media and made available in their free in-park magazine, Playball, as well as on their website.

As for getting to the interview and orientation session about two weeks prior, well ...

"My dad pulled me out of school early for the interview," Campbell said. "I was a little nervous."

Having secured the position, though, Campbell proved a natural.

"I was good at being quick at picking up the garbage," he said. "I've learned that you have to pick up trash."

If that sounds like a task below the GM's pay grade, it's not -- not in Minor League baseball. Mike Gorrasi, the Nuts' everyday general manager, made it a point to teach his junior staffers that the wayward hot dog wrapper stops here. With Gorrasi, being in charge means being responsible for every single thing in the ballpark.

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"What makes our job easy?" he asked Campbell.

"When people are doing what they're supposed to and when the lines aren't really, really long," the young GM replied.

"When we have good workers, right?" Gorrasi said. "And the hard part is when something goes wrong. When something goes wrong, whose job is it to fix it?"

"Ours," Campbell said.

In making sure that nothing was going wrong, Gorrasi and Campbell monitored concession sales from the GM's office.

"[The top seller] was drinks and sodas, and the second favorite was hot dogs. The people almost ate up 1,000 hot dogs," Campbell said, noting he personally had just one.

Perhaps the toughest lesson Gorassi tried to impart on his pupils was the importance of remembering their roles amid the excitement of a ballgame.

"I told all of our junior staff with foul balls, 'If you happen to get one, you have to give it to a [non-working] kid,'" the GM said. "That's hard for them to understand. I was walking with two of them and a foul ball came. They broke out of the job immediately and ran for it. That was really funny to see.

"But they both assured me that if they'd gotten it, they would have given it to a kid. I guess we'll never know for sure." 

The promo was conceived early in the preseason, and it was clear to Nuts staffers that it could serve a purpose beyond giving everyone a fun time.

"We recognize that we're lucky to work in Minor League Baseball," Winters said. "We work in a place people want to be, and so we thought it'd be great to show them at a young age you can still work in baseball without being an athlete."

"They're loud and clear," GM Mike Gorrasi said of the junior hawkers. (Jose Carlos Magana)

The night turned out to be a memorable one -- including for Gorrasi.

"You're seeing the job that you do -- that I've done for almost 13 years -- through a different lens. Just seeing the excitement on their faces, the joy, it reminds you why do it," he said. "Tonight was probably the most fun I've had this year.

"I told them we measure whether the night is a success or not on how many smiles we see. I think that resonated. As they walked around, some of them were counting the smiles they got. I told them the more you smile, the more people are going to smile back. They got it. They get that there's a baseball game going on and we hope the Nuts win, but it's really about the experience people have coming out to the ballpark, and we want to make sure everybody has a good time."

For Campbell, it was unforgettable.

"Next year in fourth grade," he said, "I'm going to tell the teacher and my friends that I worked for the Modesto Nuts and I was the GM for the night."

In brief

Rodgers watch: Despite starting the season a couple weeks late, top Rockies prospect Brendan Rodgers has played enough games to qualify on the league leaderboard in the percentage-based categories, and he's on top of the three big ones. Through 34 games with Lancaster, he's hitting .397/.419/.692 with 25 extra-base knocks. He entered the weekend with eight straight multi-hit games.

Lethal lefties: The southpaw duo of Eric Lauer (the Padres' No. 8 prospect) and Joey Lucchesi (No. 20) has been overpowering for Lake Elsinore. Through Thursday, Lauer's 1.97 ERA was second in the league behind Rancho Cucamonga's Dennis Santana (1.84), with Lucchesi third at 2.18. Lucchesi also had fanned 64 over 53 2/3 innings while holding opponents to a .188 average.

A diamond year at the diamond: On Saturday, the Giants celebrated 75 years of baseball at San Jose's Municipal Stadium. The evening included appearances by a bevy of greats who played there, including former big leaguers Sandy Wihtol and Tom Brennan, as well as a Brandon Crawford bobblehead giveaway.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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