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El Paso's Paul changed the game forever

Diablos GM and those whom he influenced reflect on careers
Former El Paso Diablos GM Jim Paul speaks with El Paso Chihuahuas president Brady Taylor at the Innovators Summit. (Danny Wild/
October 24, 2019

When Jim Paul bought the El Paso Diablos in 1974, the price was $1,000. He also had to assume the team's pre-existing $52,000 debt, which was owed to a whopping 72 creditors. 

When Jim Paul bought the El Paso Diablos in 1974, the price was $1,000. He also had to assume the team's pre-existing $52,000 debt, which was owed to a whopping 72 creditors. 

The terms of the Diablos sale were common at the time, when Minor League Baseball was struggling to draw crowds in an era of outdated facilities, stagnant (or non-existent) marketing strategies and resultant fan apathy. But what Paul did when he was in charge of the Diablos, then the Double-A affiliate of the California Angels, was anything but common. The longtime El Paso resident ushered in a new age of Minor League Baseball by emphasizing the fan experience over all else.
Paul cultivated a raucous energy at the Diablos' home of Dudley Stadium, which was nicknamed the "Dudley Dome" because it (allegedly) never rained there. "Enemy" was painted atop the visitors' dugout and fans were given Kleenex to wave "bye-bye" to departing pitchers; the Famous Chicken became a regular visitor; 10-cent hot dogs and 25-cent beer nights were common; giveaways packed the promotional schedule and acts such as the Beach Boys and Creedence Clearwater Revisited performed ballpark concerts. Paul's antics and innovations reverberated across the Minor League landscape and resonate to this day.  
In 1977, seeking to both share and learn industry best practices, Paul founded an event he called the El Paso Seminar. This autumnal gathering, taking place soon after the end of the Minor League season, started modestly but grew in size and stature until Paul sold the event to Minor League Baseball. Thus, it became the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar, taking place at a different host city each year while attracting representatives from teams from all over the country. 
In 2019, the Promotional Seminar rebranded as the Innovators Summit, which took place in El Paso from Sept. 23-26. Paul, who sold the Diablos in the late '90s but still lives in El Paso, was a guest of honor. On Sept. 24, after being interviewed by El Paso Chihuahuas general manager Brady Taylor during a "Mountainside Chat" at the Abraham Chavez Theatre, he joined this writer as well as a trio of Promotional Seminar veterans -- Taylor, San Antonio Missions president Burl Yarbrough and Iowa Cubs account executive John Rodgers -- for a wide-ranging conversation about his influence on the industry, Minor League Baseball's growth and trends to look for in the future. 

The full interview with Paul, Taylor, Yarbrough and Rodgers can be seen above. Highlights of the conversation are below. 
On the creation of the El Paso Seminar and its impact on attendees:

"I didn't have any experience, I never played the game, so I needed to find people that had the ideas and the enthusiasm to create something for the fans, because we couldn't control the players or the talent. But we could control everything else, so it started with me calling a couple of guys up and asking if they can come to El Paso and discuss that. And we did that for maybe four, five or six hours. And the next year, we came back with better ideas and their attendances started going up. That second year, we were 18 1/2 games out of first place and we broke the all-time attendance record, because we were having fun, being innovative and being creative. ... And we would get young people and their ideas and creativity and imagination, as well as their willingness to step out of the box and try something. And with what we were doing, it just fell together. And I think it changed the direction of Minor League Baseball from, 'Open the gates and let them come in,' to 'Hey, this is a fun place. Bring your family and live it up. Rock 'n' roll.'" -- Jim Paul 

"It was just refreshing to have friendships and relationships, to build a network of people with which you could talk, share ideas that weren't necessarily in your market. They have no bias towards what you're doing because you're out of market, and you've got an honest and fair opinion about things." -- Brad Taylor
Offseason MiLB include
"That was the key to my whole [career] transition. I went to the [Promotional] Seminar. I didn't know what per-cap meant, didn't know what a proof of performance meant, didn't know what an on-field promotion was. But everyone there was so welcoming, so encouraging. But realistic, saying, 'This is a tough field to crack in.'" -- John Rodgers
On the growth of Minor League Baseball over the past four decades:

"I think one of the things I can point to is that there's been an evolution of what the fans can look like. And it's more diverse, it's families, and I think one of the things we've done a good job of currently in El Paso is, our staff is very diverse. Males, females, different races and it's more representative of what our fans look like. And when you have people who can talk to the people who you want to bring to your ballpark, it makes sense that they'll probably want to come hang out with you." -- Taylor

"I think it's run so much more business-like now than it was many, many years ago. We had smaller staffs and now the staffs are bigger. I think we're more focused on not only bringing fans into the ballpark, but taking care of them when they're here." -- Burl Yarbrough
"I would say the words coming to my mind, why I love getting up every morning, is 'clean, wholesome, fun, affordable, memorable.' There's not a lot left in society that fits that bill. And we're very lucky to get up every morning with a bounce in our step because every day's different. -- Rodgers

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.