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.
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 Missoula Osprey and their director of community relations, Kim Klages Johns.
The Missoula Osprey concluded their 20th season on a high note, not only because the team finished the year with the top record in the North Division of the Pioneer League, an accomplishment worthy of its own celebration. It was two promotional nights -- Indigenous Heritage Night and Pride Night -- that also brought the team measurable success.
In October 2018, the Osprey were purchased by a new ownership group led by passionate baseball fans and couple Peter Davis and Susan Crampton Davis. After witnessing the success of Minor League Baseball's Copa de la Diversión platform, the new leadership challenged the front office to connect deeper with the Missoula, Montana community ahead of and throughout the 2019 campaign.
To do so, the team created a new position, director of community engagement, for Kim Klages Johns, who previously oversaw the team's retail and merchandising efforts. For her, the position brought new challenges that she readily she embraced living and working in Missoula.
"I have lived in many places, but Missoula is definitely my happy place. Our community embraces and celebrates the beauty of this area. When you love where you live, it's easy to love the people you share it with," said Klages Johns. My focus with this new role was to ensure we were continuing to create intentional, meaningful engagement with our fans and the community-at-large. We live and breathe through our fan engagement, and we want to entertain our fans and see their smiling faces when they leave the park."
The club ended its 2019 season with two new promotional nights that stood out in their authenticity and effectiveness. On Aug. 29, the club hosted an Indigenous Heritage Night followed by a Pride Night on Aug. 30. Klages Johns was pivotal in spearheading both initiatives.
For the club's Indigenous Heritage Night, the Osprey worked with local tribal leaders and the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center on planning and developing an activation that would both celebrate and honor Montana's Native American population.
Video: Missoula's Indigenous Heritage Night
Aside from having the tribes represented at the ballpark and flying their flags, the club ensured the night was full of the Minor League Baseball spirit of fun: through tribal dances, musical acts, special concessions, video clips, a fun run and an art gallery. The Osprey also ensured the night raised awareness for a dire issue facing the indigenous community in Montana: the alarming spike in homicide cases and missing women and men.
"Not incorporating the murdered and missing indigenous people was never an option. The issue has reached epidemic proportions and has become a reality all too familiar to our community and the indigenous population here," said Klages Johns.
Montana Tribes are sovereign nations and, as a result, do not fall under the purview of the state or federal government of the U.S., hindering their ability to be effectively tracked and protected through databases and resulting in a lack of resources and research capabilities.
The Osprey created a campaign that looked to bring further awareness about the situation, to predominantly women, in the community by creating five banners that highlighted stories of missing women. On June 15, 2018, Jermain Charlo, a 23-year-old Confederated Salish Kootenai tribal citizen disappeared from downtown Missoula and is still considered a missing person.
Proofs of the banners displayed throughout the stadium to raise awareness for the missing and murdered indigenous women.
"We recognized this was a dark subject and were mindful to ensure it was addressed respectively and thoughtfully. One of the banners we made will be given to Jermain's family for them to use while they continue to raise awareness for her story and this epidemic. For us, it was important for us to look for ways to help address this crisis."
The indigenous community and the Missoula Urban Indian Health Center were appreciative of the team's efforts. However, the true value of the event was the reception by the Missoula community at large which Klages Johns described as full of "reverence and tears."
The team's commitment to the indigenous community extends far beyond a single night, and next year, the Osprey hope to create a three-day indigenous celebration at the ballpark and establish a permanent Interpretive Trail sign outside of the stadium for the general public to enjoy. In addition, the team hopes to work with other teams with significant indigenous populations to host similar nights in their community.
Proof of the Interpretive Trail sign the team plans to implement outside of their stadium in 2020.
The following night, club hosted its first-ever Pride Night, an activation that it hoped would signal to the region's LGBTQ community that the park was an inclusive, loving environment open to all who call the city home.
Fans on the stadium concourse holding their pride rally towels ahead of the game.
The club created a pre-game Family Pride picnic, that included inflatables, a dunk tank, darts and special MiLB Pride temporary tattoos. The first 750 fans also received a Pride rally towel to wave during the game. Area LGBTQ organizations set up booths on the concourse to share information, team staff wore rainbow Pride shirts, specialty rainbow concessions could be purchased, and the national anthem and first pitch were conducted by area LGBTQ leaders. Osprey players got into the spirit of the night by wrapping rainbow Pride tape around their wrists to show support for the community and to promote equality in athletics.
Missoula Osprey players Jose Curpa (#30) and Justin Martinez (#47) wearing Pride Tape.
In addition, the team raised over $3,000 to support local LGBTQ+ organizations.
"It was such an incredible night, overwhelming," added Klages Johns. "We received sincere thank-you's from the LGBTQ community for recognizing and celebrating them, and we received overwhelming comments from non-LGBTQ fans who shared heartfelt appreciation for our efforts. It was such a joyful evening; the energy was powerful."
The Osprey certainly have plenty of reasons to celebrate, their on-field success this year being one, but it's their inclusion efforts that have had an impact extending far beyond the diamond.
Video: Missoula's Pride Night