When picking a general manager, an organization wants someone who can understand the unique responsibilities required of everyone working for the club. So Shari Massengill, who seemingly has done every task during her tenure with the Kinston Indians short of suiting up and playing was the perfect hire for the team.
"I think there's an advantage," Massengill said during a phone interview while going off her to her other full-time gig -- as mom to daughter Regan and son Miles. "I can say to myself this is what I want done because I've been in those shoes."
Massengill, 33, first came to Class A Advanced Kinston in the Carolina League in 1995 with no baseball experience. She had toiled for Indians chairman and principal owner Cam McRae at another business venture and was familiar with the club. Working as an office manager came easy to her. "I was answering phones and writing up contracts," she recalled.
Massengill took 18 months off from Kinston duty to have Regan in November 1995 and returned in 1998. "Basically, I've been there ever since," she said.
Early in her tenure, Massengill was strictly a 9-to-5 woman. "I would see others staying all hours and say, 'You guys come in at 9 and stay until 11 or 12 (in the morning) and work Sundays.'" Then Massengill started booking groups and sales for the club and everything changed. "If you've booked a picnic, you basically want to stay and make sure everything goes all right. The nights are part of the job too," she said.
Former Kinston GM North Johnson, who held the post for 18 years before taking the same position for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the California League, noticed that her own ambition led to her change in attitude.
"When she started staying for games, she started saying, 'Can we do this?' or 'Should we try that?' and the next thing we know she was selling tickets or helping out at the souvenir store," Johnson said. "As she became more involved in the game, she became more involved in the running of the ballclub.
"She's one of those people who would rather do things herself, rather then pass them off to someone else and worry about them," he added.
Around the turn of the millennium, Massengill shifted to director of sales. From there it was an easy jump to assistant general manager in fall 2001.
"I relied so heavily on her," Johnson said. "She was someone whose opinion I respected so much, first because she knew the community and second because she was always very straight with me. If she thought something was wrong, she would tell me. That's an important thing to have."
It took a little longer for Massengill to become GM. She was asked three times before deciding to make that leap. The first time the post came open in 2003, she didn't think she was ready. "When North left, I thought it would be easier if I kind of kept the place going by staying (on as assistant GM)," she said.
But Johnson's immediate successor only lasted a year. The second time Massengill was asked to take the reins in December 2004, she knew she wasn't ready, since she was about to give birth to Miles. The third time, this January, proved to be the charm. "I thought this time maybe is the right time for me," she admitted. "The team has gone through two general managers in a couple of years. To the town it looks like we're not stable. I might as well step up to the plate and take the job."
Johnson didn't leave easy shoes to fill. But Massengill's promotion apparently is sitting well with the Indians' faithful. "It's really been a little overwhelming," she admitted. "People are calling and emailing, and I've been at TV stations and out in the community. Things I'm definitely not used to doing. I'm used to just doing my job behind the scenes. It takes a little getting used to, but it's something I really have to do."
Massengill also has the support of her staff, who have noticed how the community has already responded to the change. For Kinston sales and media manager Jessie Hays, who also came from a male-dominant front office, it makes a big difference. "For me as a woman, it has been great to work for her and see how successful she has been and how supportive this community is of her," Hays said. "The community is really excited to have her in charge."
Devoted Kinston fan David Dalimonte noted Massengill's work ethic over the years. "She has seemed to be everywhere for the K-Tribe," he said. "When I call to order tickets, she is often the one taking my order over the phone. When I buy my tickets at the booth, she is often the one behind the window. When I'm buying a souvenir, she is often helping out in the shop. When I buy my chicken sandwich, she's the one who pops out of the kitchen with my order in her hand. When I win a gift certificate through a promotion, it's her signature on the line at the bottom of the coupon.
"During the game, I see her constantly back and forth on the concourse helping fans and members of her staff," he added. "Some members of the staff wear walkie-talkies to stay in touch, and while passing them, I'll hear her voice coming over the speaker solving another problem. In short, she seems to be everywhere at once, working her tail off for the team."
Her predecessor expects Massengill to eventually outdo him.
"She's far better than me," Johnson said. "When I left Kinston, I was saying I was sort of like the Wizard of Oz. I was all smoke and mirrors. She's been the one behind the curtain.
"I really do consider her one of my best friends," he added. "I think when I left she didn't want to come in right away after me. I think she's kind of comfortable in her own skin now. She's not my assistant anymore, she's the GM."
No big changes are on the horizon for Kinston, instead Massengill is striving to return the team and the feeling about it to a more comfortable time. "Sometimes change is hard for people, especially in a place of this size," she said. "So I thought I'd go back and really work on customer service issues and things that have gone by the wayside these past couple years."
The subtle but crucial tweaks to the system include the hiring of seasoned food and beverage director Tony Patterson and the return to pre-printed tickets. "Last year we had two interns running concessions," Massengill said. "They worked hard, but they didn't know a lot about food services. (Tony) is training our people about cleanliness and food preparation and making sure it's served good and hot.
"And we want to make it easier for people to get into the ballpark," she added. "Last year we had a new ticketing system that didn't work too well for us. We had some problems and there were these long lines and it just wasn't easy to get in."
Meanwhile, husband Chris holds the fort on the home front. "Somehow my husband manages to baby-sit during all our games and my 10-year-old lives at the ballpark," Massengill said.
Among the events this year that Reagan will enjoy at Grainger Stadium is the return of the Buffalo Bisons on April 4. Kinston first hosted the Indians' Triple-A affiliate in 2003. And following last year's championship series loss to Frederick, Kinston will be looking to return to the Mills Cup Finals again this season.
"Last year, we were one game shy," Massengill said. "We've had winning seasons for as long as I can remember. Cleveland has done a great job of supplying us with players."
Speaking of the parent club, Kinston just extended its player development contract with Cleveland for another two years in the easiest manner possible. "I just looked in the files and saw the contract was ending in 2006," Massengill said. "I emailed (Cleveland) and they emailed me back the contract, and I signed it."