December 24, 1946 - November 10, 2007
Wilmington Blue Rocks Ownership
Clark Minker, along with Main Street Baseball, LLC, announced on December 18, 2014 that the two had purchased the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Class-A Advanced Carolina League affiliate of the American League Champion Kansas City Royals.
Minker serves as the club's president. Minker is the son of Matt Minker, the long-time owner of the franchise and for years one of the most revered figures in minor league baseball. Matt Minker also served as the lead contractor in the construction of Frawley Stadium, the Blue Rocks' long-time home, and worked on the construction of the ballpark along with his son, Clark.
"This team has been in my family ever since the first pitch was thrown back in 1993," said Minker. "My family's construction company built Frawley Stadium and my Dad and I were the first people to play catch in the outfield. This team means more to me than just about anything, and I'm going to do everything I can to ensure that it thrives in Wilmington for decades to come."
Dave Heller is the president and CEO of Main Street Baseball, LLC, and the majority owner and Managing Partner of four affiliated minor league baseball teams: the Quad Cities River Bandits (Midwest League, Single-A affiliate of the Houston Astros), the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Carolina League, Advanced-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals), the Billings Mustangs (Pioneer League, short-season affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds) and, most recently, the Lowell Spinners (New York - Penn League, short-season affiliate of the Boston Red Sox).
In 2016, Main Street Baseball was awarded Ballpark Digest's coveted "Minor League Baseball Organization of the Year" honor - one of the industry's highest honors.
Heller's teams are known primarily for three things: fun, innovative promotions; making significant ballpark improvements benefiting both fans and players; and giving back generously to each club's home community.
In the Quad Cities, since Heller took over, the River Bandits have sparked a stunning resurgence of baseball, winning two league championships in the past five seasons, repeatedly setting the all-time per-game attendance record (they've had affiliated baseball since 1931!) and capturing numerous awards for innovative promotions and ballpark improvements.
Within a month of purchasing the Bandits, Heller sold naming rights to Modern Woodmen of America; nine years later, MWA extended their deal through 2027. Since then, Modern Woodmen Park has earned as many accolades as any ballpark in the country. It was voted "best minor league ballpark" by the readers of USA Today and 10Best.com and the Midwest League's best ballpark by Baseball America. It earned a 5-star rating from Ballpark Digest and in 2015 their readers voted it the best ballpark in Single-A baseball. It was also named one of the two most beautiful ballparks in the minors by USA Today, one of the top 10 by Parade Magazine, and "the #2 Coolest Minor League Ballpark in America" by Complex Magazine.
Under Heller's leadership, the River Bandits have added many fun new features to the ballpark, including two outfield bars, five concourse-level "loge boxes," an 80-foot long high-definition ribbon-board, a 20' x 36' HD videoboard, playground and a birthday/game room ringed with ten X-Box and PS4 stations. The team has also added new concessions stands and portable food carts, a triple suite, a Hall of Fame autographed jersey display, an unmatched collection of minor league bobbleheads, a permanent home for the Quad-Cities Sports Hall of Fame and a (sponsored) corn field from where the players are introduced at the game's outset (after all, it is Iowa)!
Heller also helped design and finance the spectacular Budweiser "Champions Club," a large, multi-purpose banquet hall with glass garage doors that open/close based on the weather. That room helped the club increase wedding business by more than 1,000% and was voted by Ballpark Digest as "the best ballpark renovation under $1 million."
In 2014, the Bandits unveiled their biggest improvement ever - the addition of a new 105-foot tall Ferris wheel, the first Ferris wheel in Minor League Baseball! That ride has already transformed the Quad Cities' skyline and become an iconic part of downtown Davenport - and it, too, was named by Ballpark Digest as "the nation's best ballpark improvement" (the fourth time in seven years Main Street Baseball earned that award!). This season, the Bandits added more than $1.5 million worth of new rides to the ballpark, including a spinning kids' coaster, two new thrill rides, a kiddie train and Iowa's first-ever double-decker carousel - with all of the proceeds from the latter four rides going to benefit underprivileged children in the Quad Cities.
The team has also added an expanded children's play area featuring four new amusement rides, including spinning bumper cars, a swinging pirate ship and a 30-foot tall Drop-N-Twist to go with a myriad of bounce houses. And it unveiled two new group areas: 50 new swivel-seats abutting the home bullpen as part of a new three-level group area and 18 seats adjacent to the visitor's dugout, as well as a special group of seats set aside for our nation's veterans (the Hon. Lane Evans Patriot Seats). Most recently, the Bandits added an 11,000 square foot expansion of the third-base concourse. Heller has also improved the "back of the house," adding two new large storage spaces, renovating both the home and visitors' clubhouses, redoing the playing field and irrigation system, adding new protective netting beyond the ends of the dugouts, expanding the club's kitchen facilities and, in 2017, making Modern Woodmen Park the first Single-A ballpark in the country to install new, energy-efficient LED lights along with new light poles.
Since taking over the Bandits, sponsorship sales, suite sales, ticket sales, and concession sales have all seen annual increases; in 2015, the team set an all-time record for group sales and in 2016 the team set an all-time record for sponsorship sales. Average attendance under Main Street rose by more than 56% in its first year, the largest such increase in baseball, and has since climbed to nearly 4,000 fans per game, the highest ever seen in the Quad Cities. The Bandits also led one of sports' most successful rebranding campaigns - merchandise sales after the 2008 rebranding increased more than 400%, sponsorships jumped more than 64%, and CNBC named the team's logo one of the top caps in minor league baseball. In 2014, the team's home cap was voted the best cap in Single-A baseball.
The River Bandits have been voted Best Family Entertainment by the Quad-City Times for each of the past seven years and were voted by the River Cities Reader as "The Best Place for an Inexpensive Date that Doesn't Look Like It." The team won the prestigious "Golden Bobblehead" award in 2013 for best charitable promotion in Minor League Baseball for its Autism Awareness Night. In 2015, it won a "Bizzie Award" from MiLB for adding the Ferris wheel and other amusement rides. It also won a "Veeckie Award" from ESPN in 2009 for best minor league promotion ("Tattoo Night") and the "Promotion of the Year" Award from Ballpark Digest for the "Mega-Candy Drop."
Heller and the River Bandits love giving back to the community; the team donated more than $1 million in the last two years alone to area charities and needy recipients and has won multiple Gold Awards from the U.S. Army for its community service. In 2009, the team started its "Bandit Scholars" program, which paid an entire year's college tuition for one area student. Today, the team funds three such scholarships - one each for St. Ambrose University, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges and Augustana University - valued at about $80,000 annually. It is in midst of a five-year $250,000 cash grant to the Genesis Foundation to help fund neo-natal intensive care units and free flu vaccinations. In 2016, Heller and the Bandits' staff logged more than 1200 hours of community volunteering. In 2015, Ballpark Digest honored the River Bandits with an award for the nation's "Best Charity Work."
The Billings Mustangs have also been tremendously successful. In 2014, the team won the Pioneer League Championship, finished second in attendance. Since Heller purchased the club, it has consistently been first or second in Pioneer League attendance. In 2015, 2016, and again in 2017, the team saw increases in literally every area - from attendance to corporate sponsorships to concessions and merchandise sales to in-game promotions! The club also added a new 300-foot long zip-line, visible from home plate, to the ballpark - the first of its kind in Minor League Baseball! Heller recently completed negotiations on a new 10-year lease extension with the City, securing the Mustangs' future through 2026.
The team has also earned its share of honors. Its General Manager, Gary Roller, was named Pioneer League Executive of the Year in 2014. In 2016, the Mustangs were the Pioneer League's nominee for the John Henry Moss award for charitable work and Ballpark Digest voted the Mustangs' home, Dehler Park, "the best minor league ballpark in Rookie Ball." In 2017, the team won the Pioneer League's award for best field.
Heller's third club, the Wilmington Blue Rocks, is regarded as one of the Carolina League's premier franchises. Its ballpark, Frawley Stadium, in 2015 was voted best ballpark in Advanced-A baseball by readers of Ballpark Digest. That club is also consistently among the league leaders in attendance and sponsorships - and set new records for each in 2016. In 2015, the team won Ballpark Digest's award for Best New Food Item.
In 2016, Heller negotiated a five-year lease extension for the Blue Rocks. That year, the Blue Rocks won three (out of six) league-wide awards: Marketing & Promotions, Community Service and Female Executive of the Year. They are also improving their venue: In 2016, the Rocks replaced all of the seats in Frawley Stadium and made more than $500,000 worth of structural improvements to the park; this year, the team upgraded the concourse flooring, expanded the Batter's Eye, added new flooring in the dugouts and will become the first Advanced-A ballpark in the country to add new energy-efficient LED lights. Next season, the team will be purchasing a giant new state-of-the-art videoboard.
The Blue Rocks also give back: in 2014, 2015 and again in 2016, the club earned the prestigious Matt Minker Award from fellow Carolina League members for its charitable work throughout the Delaware.
Heller's newest club is the Lowell Spinners, a Boston Red Sox affiliate based in Lowell, Mass, which he purchased in June, 2016. The following year, Ballpark Digest voted its ballpark, LeLacheur Park, "best short-season minor league ballpark." The Spinners draw nearly 4,000 fans per game, putting it among the league's leaders in attendance. In 2016, Heller added new protective netting beyond the ends of the dugouts, a second batting tunnel and brought the first amusement ride to Lowell - a new swinging pirate ship. He improved the children's play area and added a second ride for 2017.
As in Billings, Heller negotiated a new 10-year lease extension in Lowell, significantly reducing the team's rent while adding $1.7 million in new improvements to LeLacheur Park. That ballpark will soon become the first short-season club to boast new LED field lights and will be installing a new playing surface. A concourse expansion featuring a new two-tiered group area is already in the works for 2018.
In addition to his work in baseball, Heller is one of the Democratic Party's top media consultants and campaign strategists. As president of Main Street Communications, an award-winning political media firm, he has compiled the best won-loss record in the Democratic Party helping clients win election to Congress. His clients have won 15 out of 19 general election open seat races for Congress (open seats being the most contested races). He has also repeatedly won in some of the nation's toughest House districts, including now-U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) in 2010, (now retired) U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), who won in a completely redrawn R+13 district in 2012, and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who today represents the nation's "reddest" district to be won by a Democrat. In 2016, Heller also wrote and produced all of the media for the new mayor of his home town of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh (D), who came from behind to win a hard-fought campaign.
Heller currently sits on the Board of Directors of the Downtown Davenport Partnership in the Quad Cities and the Lowell Plan in Lowell, MA. He graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with honors from Brown University and earned a Master's Degree in Politics from Oxford University (Nuffield College), where he earned an Overseas Research Scholarship. He went on to Yale University, where he completed his Master's thesis and taught his own undergraduate seminar on 20th Century American politics, before moving to Washington, D.C. Growing up in Baltimore, Heller and his wife June live in Davenport, Iowa, with their two sons, Dylan (9) and Cade (7).