LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Altoona Curve owner Chuck Greenberg came to the Winter Meetings for the first time five years ago, he wondered what he was getting himself into by joining the baseball world.
He didn't know a soul at the Meetings back then, but five years later, he knows exactly what he's gotten himself into. The world of Minor League Baseball has treated him and Curve Baseball very well, and they've got the hardware to prove it.
Greenberg and Curve general manager Todd Parnell got to collect the John H. Johnson President's Trophy at Thursday's awards banquet, the top honor awarded by Minor League Baseball to one of its 176 member clubs in 15 leagues across the United States and Canada.
The categories taken into consideration when selecting the Curve as this year's winner included contributions to the baseball industry, contributions to the local community, long-term franchise stability, the financial success of the operation and promotion of Minor League Baseball.
"The run we've had over the past five years is remarkable," said Greenberg, whose ownership group now also controls the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in the Carolina League and the State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League. "There are so many great teams and organizations in Minor League Baseball, so to be regarded in that company is truly an honor."
"It's a great honor," said Parnell, the team's general manager since 2002. "Minor League Baseball selects a team that over a long period of time has improved and operated at a high level. It's like the Heisman Trophy of Minor League Baseball. We're just thrilled and honored.
The Johnson Trophy is the very big icing on what's been an impressive cake over the past few years of Curve baseball. The Pirates' Double-A affiliate has drawn nearly three million since beginning play in 1999. More than 9,300 came to Blair County Ballpark for the 2006 Eastern League All-Star Game, and the team continues to push the envelope in marketing the team and season-long promotions.
"It's a spectacular experience, whether you're a season-ticket holder, a front-office worker or just someone who lives in the region who comes once in a while," a proud Greenberg said. "One of things we've done since [Parnell] took over the franchise is to reach out to our extended community. We market aggressively to areas 60-70 miles from the ballpark.
"He came up with a slogan, 'Everybody's hometown team.' It's more than just a slogan, it's our business plan. It's been a huge part of our success."
The Johnson Trophy isn't the only reward they've gotten lately for that success. The Curve have won three top awards -- the President's Trophy, the Larry MacPhail Promotional Trophy and Baseball America's Bob Freitas Award -- in two years. Baseball America awarded the Curve the Freitas Award as the top Double-A franchise. In fall 2004, Altoona received the MacPhail Trophy for Minor League Baseball's top promotional effort.
Altoona is only the 11th franchise to bring home that trifecta of awards, and is thought to be the first to do so in less than three years. The Eastern League's Reading Phillies garnered all three from 1999-2003 and the Trenton Thunder accomplished the feat between 1998-2005. Needless to say, the Curve have been enjoying the accolades during their time here in Orlando.
"On the one level, it almost seems crazy to get an award for doing work we all love so much," Greenberg said. "But from an industry standpoint, having been new to the game five years ago, to in the span of two years having won the Johnson, the McPhail and the Freitas awards, it's extraordinary. We're so appreciative, we have such gratitude towards everybody in the industry and our fans, it's humbling, it's exciting and it makes for a great party all week long."