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MiLB announces 2023 Award winners

Amarillo, Spokane, El Paso's Taylor, Daytona's Morton honored
November 7, 2023

LAS VEGAS -- Minor League Baseball announced the 2023 winners of the Organization of the Year Award, Executive of the Year Award, Future Star Award and the CommUNITY Champion Award. Nominees from each league were selected by their peers and were candidates for the overall awards.

LAS VEGAS -- Minor League Baseball announced the 2023 winners of the Organization of the Year Award, Executive of the Year Award, Future Star Award and the CommUNITY Champion Award. Nominees from each league were selected by their peers and were candidates for the overall awards.

ORGANIZATION OF THE YEAR -- Amarillo Sod Poodles (Double-A Affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks)

Since their inception in 2019, the Amarillo Sod Poodles have been one of the most successful organizations in Minor League Baseball on and off the field.

With a beautiful ballpark, HODGETOWN, that helped revitalize downtown Amarillo and a second league championship in 2023, the Sod Poodles have been a huge hit in the Texas Panhandle, confirming the beliefs of the club’s owners, The Elmore Sports Group, that Amarillo is still a baseball town despite not having an affiliated team from 1982-2018.

The Sod Poodles aim to create an entertaining experience for each fan that enters the ballpark to create lifelong memories and they strive to provide an atmosphere that welcomes everyone to the ballpark, from first-time fans to die hard supporters. Those goals helped the team record 31 sellouts in 2023, and despite being one of the smallest markets in the Texas League, they led in attendance each of the last three years while setting a franchise single-game record on July 3, drawing 7,588 fans.

The club also saw a 12.3 percent increase in overall business from 2022 (includes ticket, food and beverage and merchandise sales). The Sod Poodles’ marketing team worked to elevate the level of its marketing and social media efforts in 2023, gaining more than 6,000 followers on Instagram and 5,000 followers on Facebook.

In 2023, the Sod Poodles created an alternate identity, the Calf Fries, which was wildly popular not only in Texas but around the globe as Calf Fries merchandise was shipped to 44 states, Canada, Mexico, the Cayman Islands and parts of Europe. The HODGETOWN concession stands served Calf Fries on nights when the team used the alternate jerseys and sold out of over 400 pounds of the delicacy at each of those games.

The Sod Poodles have also made their presence known in the Amarillo community by partnering with several local organizations to support important causes. They implemented a charity spotlight, which showcased different non-profit organizations at the ballpark and allowed 23 organizations to increase their brand awareness locally through the opportunity to throw out a first pitch, participate in both a radio and on-field interview and set up a marketing table on the concourse of the stadium. Additionally, the Sod Poodles’ front office staff volunteered for over 200 hours during the 2023 season.

Showing they are more than just a baseball team, following a devastating June tornado that demolished much of nearby Perryton, Texas, the Sod Poodles organization hosted a jersey auction and other fundraisers at a home game to generate a donation of over $38,000 to the Panhandle Disaster Relief Fund. For the year, more than $250,000 was put back into the Amarillo community through various Sod Poodles charity initiatives.

“I could not be prouder of our team for winning Minor League Baseball’s Organization of the Year Award,” said Sod Poodles President and General Manager Tony Ensor. “This award represents all the collective passion and hard work that goes into creating what we think is the best experience in baseball. And it recognizes everyone from our full-time and seasonal staffs, players and coaches, community partners, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Elmore Sports Group and the most important part of our team, the Amarillo community. This is a very proud day for everyone associated with our organization.”

EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR -- Brad Taylor, Senior Vice President & General Manager, El Paso Chihuahuas (Triple-A Affiliate of the San Diego Padres)

A 29-year veteran of Minor League Baseball, Brad Taylor has spent the last 10 years leading the El Paso Chihuahuas to record-breaking heights since their inception in 2014.

After getting his start in professional baseball in 1995 as the Assistant General Manager of the River City Rumblers, Taylor moved on to successful stints with the Cape Fear Crocs (1996-2000), Trenton Thunder (2001-08) and Bowling Green Hot Rods (2009-13) before taking over as General Manager of the Chihuahuas in May 2013.

Over the last 10 years, Taylor has led one of the most successful franchises in Minor League Baseball, with the Chihuahuas being the top-selling merchandise brand in MiLB over that decade, and a MiLB-leader in ticket sales revenues and social media following.

In 2023, the Chihuahuas set club records in corporate partnership sales and group sales and saw a 13 percent increase in per game revenues from 2021 to 2023. The Chihuahuas ranked in MiLB’s top 10 in group revenue per game, individual game revenue, total attendance and average attendance.

The Chihuahuas have also been a philanthropic leader in the El Paso community under Taylor’s direction, raising nearly $500,000 this year through jersey auctions and 50/50 raffles. Since 2014, the Chihuahuas staff and the El Paso Chihuahuas Foundation have helped local organizations raise more than $1.5 million through in-stadium fundraising and have provided $1.2 million in monetary donations and $150,000 in in-kind donations. The Chihuahuas Volunteer Pack is an El Paso-wide volunteer force created to give back to the Sun City and surrounding region, with the Pack being made up of Chihuahuas fans, players, coaches and staff with the mission of making a positive impact in the community. In 2023 alone, the Pack contributed more than 450 hours of service to the area.

Taylor has been instrumental in Southwest University Park’s success as one of El Paso’s premier entertainment venues. Since its opening, the ballpark has been home to three professional international exhibition soccer matches, IBF Featherweight Boxing, the El Paso Marathon, the 2015 Gildan Triple-A Baseball National Championship game, the Way Out West Country Music Festival, the 2019 Triple-A Baseball All-Star Game and Home Run Derby and the 2019 Innovator’s Summit. The ballpark has also been a venue for concerts, weddings, business conferences and expos, 5K community races, high school baseball games and company galas.

As Senior Vice President for MountainStar Sports Group, Taylor assisted in hiring the El Paso Locomotive FC front office staff, helping supervise the sales and marketing efforts, team branding and the necessary facility enhancements at Southwest University Park to accommodate USL soccer.

Taylor has also become a community leader, serving as Chairman of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and sitting on seven Boards of Directors: United Way of El Paso County, The Hospitals of Providence Children's Hospital, Downtown Management District, Border Youth Athletic Association, GECU Foundation, Sun Bowl Advisory Board, and El Paso High School Baseball Boosters. He also helps to grow the game as a volunteer youth baseball coach.

Taylor received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, where he played baseball for four years as a second baseman, serving as team co-captain his senior year.

Taylor, and his wife, Jennifer, have two children, Braxton (a freshman at Texas Tech) and Parker (a sophomore at El Paso High School).

“Individuals are honored or recognized when organizations do consistently good things and I’m humbled to represent our organization, all of whom work daily with a mission and a purpose to be the best,” said Taylor. “Our team is why I was honored and I’m very fortunate to be in El Paso with the best ownership group and the best staff.”

FUTURE STAR AWARD (Top Executive 25 or Younger) -- Rachel Morton, Daytona Tortugas (Single-A Affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds)

Rachel Morton may have the title of Community Relations and Outside Events Manager for the Daytona Tortugas, but her list of responsibilities for the ballclub are far greater than any two titles could describe.

Since joining the Tortugas in 2022, Morton, 24, has proven to be a jack-of-all-trades, with her fingerprints on multiple facets of the ballclub’s operation.

In addition to her role managing community relations and outside events for the Tortugas, Morton oversees the club’s merchandise operations, which set franchise records for revenues for the second straight year as they saw an 11% increase in merchandise sales over last season.

During games, Morton oversees the club’s 50-50 raffle ticket sellers, mascots, the Tortugas’ entertainment crew and assists with on-field and pre-game promotions. When she’s not directing the gameday staff, she also operates the team’s social media platforms and ensures that all sponsorship fulfillment needs are met on the website and social media outlets.

Morton oversees the Tortugas’ involvement in MiLB’s Copa de la Diversión program, their activation of the Marvel Defenders of the Diamond game, their celebration of Black history in baseball through The Nine program and their participation in initiatives such as PLAYBALL Weekend and the ACS Hope At Bat campaign.

She is also very involved in the greater Daytona community, serving as the Executive Director of the Tortugas Care Foundation, which generated over $200,000 that has been contributed back to local charities such as the Boys and Girls Club of Volusia and Flagler County, Miracle League of Volusia County, Embassy of Hope and Jeep Beach. Morton also serves on the Volusia Manufacturers Association Robot Brawl Committee to help guide and oversee the competition of Volusia County School children, and she is actively involved in her church. She also oversees the Tortugas’ High School Ambassadors Program, which works with students from each of the local high schools to teach students about the sports and entertainment industry.

“I’m just extremely grateful and honored to not only have been nominated, but also selected for the Future Star Award,” said Morton. “I want to thank the Daytona Tortugas for allowing me to challenge myself in multiple areas and really dive into the community. There’s a massive amount of young talent in this industry and the future is immensely bright for MiLB.”

CommUNITY Champion Award -- Spokane Indians (High-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies)

Professional baseball has a long and storied history in Spokane, and after 37 years as a short-season affiliate in the Northwest League, the Indians returned to full season ball in 2021. The club has taken advantage of the longer season to extend its impact in the Spokane community through a variety of programs and initiatives.

As a leader in the Spokane community, the Indians have acknowledged the importance of respect and inclusion with the team’s namesake, the Spokane Tribe of Indians, setting an example for respectful relationships with Native communities in sports.

Their efforts to collaborate with the tribe include an annual Native Culture Day at Avista Stadium, which in 2023 included a ceremonial first pitch by Junior Miss Spokane and Spokane Tribal Member, Arawyn Dillon, and the singing of the National Anthem by Spokane Tribal Member Dakota Moses, who performed the song in Salish (the Spokane Indians’ native language).

In 2022, the team and Tribe worked together to develop an official Land Acknowledgement (believed to be the first of its kind in Minor League Baseball), recognizing that Avista Stadium resides on the unceded homeland of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, and in 2023, a permanent marker featuring this land acknowledgement was installed just outside the main gates in the Hall of Fame plaza.

The club also honors those local roots on the field as their home jerseys have Spokane written in Salish (Sp’q’n’i), and after the Spokane Tribe’s own Wellpinit Boys Basketball Team won their first Washington 1B State Championship, each player received an Indians jersey and participated in a celebratory pre-game ceremony at Avista Stadium.

While their efforts with the Spokane Tribe are important to the club and community, the Indians are active participants in the greater Spokane community all year long.

In 2017, the Indians launched the Redband Rally campaign with the City of Spokane to bring awareness to the native Redband Rainbow Trout. The project was designed to rally the community to protect and keep the Spokane River clean. In 2023, the team launched the first annual Redband Rally River Clean Up Day to promote a clean and healthy Spokane River, with the team’s staff and volunteers removing hundreds of pounds of trash from the river to protect its health and vibrancy. The baseball team contributes thousands of dollars each year to the redband rally fund, supporting local Spokane River habitat projects and events.

Launched in 2021, the Indians’ Operation Fly Together campaign stems from a historic first-of-its-kind agreement between Fairchild Air Force Base (Team Fairchild) and the team. The campaign celebrates the KC-135 tanker plane and helps better the lives of the 40,000 veterans from all services of the military that have settled in the Spokane region. The Indians auction off specialty jerseys modeled after the current U.S. Air Force Service Dress Uniforms at the close of each season, with the proceeds benefitting the Operation Fly Together Veterans Fund. The team also hosted its second Fairchild Deployed Families Night at Avista Stadium, treating over 120 family members of deployed personnel to exclusive seating for the game.

Several other promotional campaigns and events at Avista Stadium generated much-needed funding for several programs in the Spokane community in 2023.

The team played host to five SCRAPS Bark in the Park nights with all dog ticket sales being donated to local animal shelters. The Indians held four jersey auctions in 2023 benefitting the Spokane Indians Youth Baseball & Softball program (including players with special needs), the MultiCare Inland Northwest Foundation, the Redband Rally and the Operation Fly Together Veteran’s Funds.

After devastating wildfires took a toll on the Spokane area, the club raised money for those impacted by the blaze by hosting a garage sale of leftover giveaway items, baseball equipment and other items from the ballpark to raise over $10,000 in a single day.

The Indians’ Take Me Out to the Ballgame program donated thousands of tickets to non-profits and local charities through the Inland Northwest, as fans and partners alike can sponsor a fan or group and bring them out to an Indians game.

In addition to their financial giving, the Indians’ quartet of mascots combined to make 320 appearances throughout the Spokane community free of charge. Among those appearances were stops by Indians players and front office staff members to visit patients at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and Shriner’s Childrens Spokane as part of the Molina Healthcare Care-A-Van tour. The patients and their families were surprised with Indians gear and tickets to a game as the players and mascots were able to interact with young patients in General Pediatrics, Pediatric Oncology and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, as well as a visit to the Behavioral and Educational Skills Training (BEST) program at Sacred Heart.

The Indians also made an impact on youth baseball in their community by renovating five youth baseball and softball fields as part of the team’s annual Community Fields Project at Plante's Ferry Sports Complex. On June 7, more than 50 volunteers, the Indians’ front office staff and members of the grounds crew refurbished the fields and reaffirmed their commitment to supporting grassroots baseball and softball in the Spokane region.

“As the community’s baseball team, we're proud to serve our entire region with several community campaigns, initiatives and events," said Spokane Senior Vice President Otto Klein. "We're honored to call Spokane home and are committed to improving our community for years to come."