On Pro Baseball
---- — Art Solomon never considered purchasing a Minor League Baseball franchise during the first 60 years of his life but that all changed in 2004.
It was then he met a woman named Sally, fell in love quickly and thought the best engagement present he could buy for her — a passionate baseball fan from Rhode Island — was the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.
Unfortunately for Solomon, then-PawSox owner Ben Mondor had no interest in selling.
“Reality had crushed my dream of a happy, Hollywood-movie-type ending with Sally and me seated in the stadium, and the outfield video board flashing the message, ‘Sally, the PawSox is my Gift to You, Art.’” Solomon wrote in his new book “Making It in the Minors.”
But four months later, Game Plan LLC, the consulting and investment banking company Solomon had help him inquire about the availability of the PawSox, informed him that the owner of the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, was looking either to sell a share or the entire franchise.
To make a long story short, Solomon wrote another type of happy ending for himself. He not only married Sally but he also now owns two teams — the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester and the Single-A Bowling Green Hot Rods, an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays — and he is enjoying his new life in baseball quite a bit.
In “Making It in the Minors,” which is available now, Solomon shares with readers tips on developing relationships with local businesses/advertisers and government leaders, and ways his and other minor league teams have promoted their product, earned profit, and helped within the community. He also discusses the economics in the majors and minors.
The book not only is targeted for those interested and involved in sports management and those in business but also for avid sports fans.
“I just think people interested in sports who know an awful lot about what happens on the playing field might be very interested in what goes on behind the scenes — what it’s really like. What are the big issues? What do you need to think about to be successful?” Solomon told The Eagle-Tribune by phone Wednesday.
Solomon is an avid baseball fan. He grew rooting for the Boston Red Sox and still is a Sox fan. But he never attended any minor league games as a child — nor did he ever take his kids to any.
“I grew up in Connecticut so I would go sometimes to college games,” Solomon said. “I would go to see the Yale baseball team play sometimes or Quinnipiac play. But I really didn’t know that much about Minor League Baseball.”
Solomon has worked as a partner on Wall Street and as an MIT professor and real estate developer.
He is in a men’s group that socializes and often invites a guest speaker. One Tuesday, the group invited two men from Game Plan LLC to speak about experiences in professional sports. That’s when Solomon realized he had the type of wealth to purchase a minor league club.
The minor leagues is much different from the majors. Minor league teams affiliated with a major league club do not choose and sign their own players and coaches. Each major league team’s baseball operations staff assigns prospects and coaches to each of its farm clubs.
Minor league owners and general managers, therefore, have absolutely no control over wins and losses.
What they do have control over is devising interesting promotions to draw fans to their park.
Being a savvy businessman all his life, Solomon has thrived in his role as owner and made his teams profitable. As mentioned in the book, the Fisher Cats have increased annual attendance from 235,000 to 380,000 and tripled business advertisement since Solomon took over during 2005.
Baseball America named the Fisher Cats the country’s best operated Double-A franchise. The club also won the Larry MacPhail award in 2010, which Solomon explains goes to the minor league team “that has most excelled at team promotions and community involvement.”
In his book, Solomon stresses minor league team owners must keep prices affordable and build a theme-park, family atmosphere at the ballpark, including having multiple mascots, a kids’ play area and having promotional events such as allowing the kids to run the bases, firework shows and handing out free backpacks at the park entrances.
The book shares stories about how the Hot Rods used Facebook to sell out their ballpark one summer night, how the Fisher Cats have allowed scouts to pitch tents and camp out overnight at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium and how the club has helped local schools raise money for their athletic programs.
Solomon is considering buying a third minor league franchise.
“Within in the current economic downturn, I feel confident that I can be more financially successful in MiLB baseball than stocks and bonds,” Solomon wrote.
In Wednesday’s interview, he said the experience of owning teams obviously comes with pleasures and rewards that he doesn’t get by owning stock.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I enjoy going to the games. And I feel blessed in life. And I was brought up in a way to want to give back to the community. Owning stock — I don’t give back to the community.”
Although his job in ownership primarily focuses on the business side, Solomon does get his baseball fix in many ways, including attending the annual Baseball Winter Meetings where he has conversed with Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi and several other top baseball minds.
“I’m a real baseball fan,” Solomon said. “I love baseball and frankly always have. And so sometimes, I will talk to the guys who run the minor leagues for our two major league affiliates. I talk with them about the players. I’ll ask them questions about their strengths and what kind of shot they have of making it to the big leagues.”
Solomon also makes a promise to the players before each season begins.
“I always say to the guys on my two teams, ‘whoever makes the All-Star team, my wife and I will take you to the best restaurant in the area,’” Solomon said. “And so that’s always fun. ... We always say, ‘You want steak or lobster?’ Never have they chosen lobster.”