Minor League Baseball has placed diversity and inclusion at the forefront of its growth strategy. We strive to create an industry where all identities are represented, welcomed, valued and empowered to enhance our league's culture, creativity, innovation and comprehensive service to the communities we occupy. We strive to be the most fun and inclusive league in all of sports and entertainment.
While conversations regarding diversity and inclusion happen daily in the Minor League Baseball office and among our 160 clubs, we recognize the need to do more to elevate the voices and stories of those who currently work in our industry. There is something uniquely powerful about sitting face-to-face with someone and listening to his or her experience.
The goal of this series is to spotlight the people, programs and stories in the baseball industry that champion diversity and inclusion and advance the mission of Minor League Baseball's diversity initiative. This week we profiled the Hartford Yard Goats' General Manager Mike Abramson.
In 2016 the New Britain Rock Cats relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, to become the Hartford Yard Goats. Under the leadership of General Manager Mike Abramson, the team has quickly embraced the capital city as their new home, and Dunkin' Donuts Park is slowly becoming a gathering place for the entire community.
The Hartford Yard Goats have taken steps toward embracing Minor League Baseball's diversity and inclusion initiative. Abramson strives to be a socially conscious leader, and that style filters through the entire organization, creating a model for other teams aiming to strengthen their ties to the community.
Abramson talking with Fox61 Sports Reporter Rich Coppola before a Yard Goats game last summer.
"I'm really interested in continuing to position our organization as one that is progressively socially conscious. Whether that's through our participation in the Copa de la Diversión initiative, our investment in the LGBTQ community, or our concern for the dietary and health needs of our fans. That's my motivator. Minor League Baseball is at such an interesting crossroads with the success of the Copa program and the initialization of the Pride platform. We as a franchise are able express ourselves in a way that used to seem to radical."
The Yard Goats were one of the 33 teams to take part in MiLB's Copa de la Diversión initiative last year, and this season they're expanding on their LGBTQ engagement efforts by hosting two Pride nights (June 4 and Aug. 27). Permanent signage was recently affixed within the ballpark to signify to the entire community that all fans are welcome at the ballpark.
"The motivation behind the permanent signage in our ballpark is to solidify our ongoing commitment to stand up and represent the LGBTQ community and do it an unapologetic manner. We framed a 'You Can Play' poster that we had fans sign as they entered the ballpark on our first Pride night to show solidarity with the community. We want it to be known we're true supporters and allies."
Abramson marching with the Yard Goats in the 2019 Hartford St. Patrick's Day Parade.
In just a few short years, Abramson and the Yard Goats have established a community-centric brand for the team, and one that is poised to continue its impact for years to come. In addition to theme nights designed to celebrate different cultures and groups within Hartford, the team has positioned its ballpark as gathering place in the community. While Dunkin' Donuts Park is an obvious home for baseball, the team has been creative in making the space one that hosts cooking classes, dance classes, art classes and a variety of other activities to ensure they're including as many types of people as possible.
"We want our whole community to feel welcome and accepted here - we're all on the same team," said Abramson. "Inclusion can be perceived as a buzzword, but it's really a way of life. Our community's diversity makes us stronger and it's on all of us to ensure everyone feels accepted and welcome."
In 2017, the team amplified its civic engagement by partnering with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hartford to launch the Young Ambassadors program. Designed to support the professional development of local high school students, this program could be a game changer for many Hartford youth.
"Our Young Ambassadors program is something we run out of our Community Center. This group of 25 high school students is very diverse. They all live in Hartford or attend school in the city. They meet for three hours, twice a week, for four months, and learn about good study habits, public speaking skills, personal branding, money management and more. Year two is underway now, so it's tough to tell what the greater overall impact will be. But it's been great to watch the kids blossom over the course of the program and become more confident."
Theme nights and community programs aside, Abramson is also intent on understanding the needs and desires of fans. In fact, one conversation was so impactful that it eventually led to a decision to become the first peanut-free stadium in professional sports.
"This decision was very much in line with the greater overall strategy of ensuring everyone is welcome at the ballpark. I met two sisters last year who both had children with severe food allergies. They asked what more we could be doing, and during those conversations (over a few months) the idea of going peanut-free came up. Once we realized that by removing one food item out of more than 200 served in the ballpark, we'd enable kids who weren't coming to the ballpark the ability to do so, it was an easy decision."
Abramson with Yard Goats Manager Warren Schaeffer and Eastern League All-Star Matt Pierpont.
The Yard Goats are undoubtedly leaders in the diversity and inclusion space, and much of that reputation can be credited to Abramson's leadership during the team's first few years in Hartford. When asked what he hoped his legacy in the game would be, Abramson was quick to again highlight his desire for an inclusive ballpark, championing the "baseball-for-all" idea.
"There is no shortage of people in the community who we still want to reach. Though the fear may be that we come off as inauthentic, we know we are legitimately coming from an authentic place. I try to partner with the right community organizations, local chambers and gather a diverse workforce to ensure when we act, we're doing it right. I would be really proud to have my legacy be that I exhibited the greatest effort to ensure every last person felt welcome in our ballpark."
Benjamin Pereira is an associate at Minor League Baseball.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.