Building a new ballpark and successfully rebranding a franchise are always huge accomplishments; the fact that Martie Cordaro and Alan Stein managed to do both despite some pretty steep odds wins them recognition as Baseball’s Executives of the Year from Ballpark Digest.
In some ways professional baseball was an afterthought when the city of Omaha and the NCAA embarked on planning for a new College World Series ballpark. That posed a huge challenge to the management of the then-Omaha Royals, who decided early on they needed to go their own way while staying in the greater Omaha area.
That was the right decision: the newly branded Omaha Storm Chasers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) were a huge hit playing in suburban Papillion, and Werner Park is already one of the best ballparks in the minors. For these accomplishments and more, Storm Chasers Vice President and General Manager Martie Cordaro and Storm Chasers President Alan Stein are the 2011 Ballpark Digest Executives of the Year.
“Keeping the Storm Chasers in Omaha was a much more monumental task than most people realize,” said Kevin Reichard, publisher of Ballpark Digest. “Putting together a financial deal for the ballpark with Sarpy County, broadening the team’s sponsorship base and opening a new ballpark under a tight timeline are huge organizational accomplishments, and Martie deserves a ton of credit for directing them.”
Cordaro’s baseball career started with sales positions on Class AA Southern League teams before he was named GM of the Midwest League’s Southwest Michigan Devil Rays for the 2005 season. He joined the O-Royals 2007 and was named team GM in September 2007. Under his guidance the Omaha Royals set attendance and revenue records in 2009 and 2010, setting up the successful move to suburban Sarpy County.
For Stein, the award recognizes not just the accomplishments associated with the Storm Chasers but years in service to Minor League Baseball. He beat the odds in building the privately financed Whitaker Bank Park as the home of the Lexington Legends (Low Class A; South Atlantic League), one of the most successful ballparks in Minor League Baseball. Since then he’s been active in building MiLB as an industry, setting up its media face via a leadership role in BIRCO. He’s now President/COO of Ivy Walls Management, which owns and manages both the Omaha and Lexington franchises.
"I am both honored and humbled to share this award with Alan Stein," Cordaro said. "This is a reflection of the effort and dedication that our entire organization and staff have put forth the past several years. This would not have been possible without our staff and supporters in the Omaha area."
“Alan and Martie are two of the really good guys in baseball, which makes this award especially gratifying for us,” Reichard said. “Their operational philosophy is simple: create a fun and festive atmosphere for fans in an affordable, family-friendly manner. They really do represent the best in baseball.”
There is a lot of talent in baseball front offices, all deserving recognition. Here are some of the other hard-working executives who had very good years (in alphabetical order):
Frank Boulton, Atlantic League. The independent Atlantic League continued to be a success at the box office in 2011, with seven solid teams and an expansion to Texas slated for 2012. It's a high-risk strategy -- the league focuses on new facilities, centralizes franchise ownership among a few individuals and is very measured in its growth -- but it's working.
Conor Caloia, Madison Mallards. We already highlighted the renovations of Warner Park this past offseason. Coloia is the detail guy, the person who takes the cutting-edge ideas and makes them work, especially on the financial side. Fans never know what's going to happen at a Mallards game; that's true sometimes for Conor as well.
Jesse Cole, Gastonia Grizzlies. It's been a turnaround in Gastonia, and Cole's hard work as GM of the Coastal Plain League's Grizzlies transformed the team from a money pit into a profitable franchise. The team sold out of box seats for the first time in franchise history, had its first sellout ever this season and had six games with more than 3,000 fans in attendance. He also worked with the city on a $200,000 renovation of Sims Park, with more changes planned for this offseason. It's a triumph of old-fashioned community involvement: Sims has raised money for the Boys and Girls Club and sits on six local boards of directors.
Kirk Goodman, Quad Cities River Bandits/High Desert Mavericks. This season Goodman, central in the renaissance of the River Bandits, added management of High Desert Mavericks to his portfolio. He'd be mentioned in this list even without the Mavs, though: the River Bandits continue to be one of baseball's top franchises, and his management of a unique Midwest League Home Run Derby should be a model in Minor League Baseball.
Mike Gorrasi, Modesto Nuts. All Gorrasi does in Modesto is set attendance records and successfully host events like the Carolina League-Cal League All-Star Game. Not too shabby.
Robert Murphy, Dayton Dragons. Dayton is perhaps the best-run franchise in Minor League Baseball, and the tone certainly comes from the top. This year the Dragons set perhaps the most amazing record in sports: most consecutive sellouts, a record held by the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. That's truly a great organizational accomplishment.
Justin Sellers, Coastal Plain League. Sellers is the detail guy in the 15-team circuit. For starters, he came up with a workable schedule for 15 teams and did it in a manner that actually cut leaguewide travel, eliminating 14,500 miles of travel in 2011 vs. the mileage totals in 2010. He improved the league website and added video to the mix. He also did the little things that endeared him to owners, GMs and even coaches, attracting 36 scouts to the league All-Star Game and raising the league's profile in baseball circles.
Mark Shapiro, Cleveland Indians. We pay the most attention to minor-league baseball on this site and in this category, mainly because it's harder for a single individual to make a huge impact on the operations of a large MLB organization. But we're making an exception this year in recognizing the accomplishment of Shapiro. The Indians were in a slump a few years ago, both at the gate and in the field. This season saw a rebound in both areas, but the groundwork for it was laid during Shapiro's tenure (2001-2010) as GM, going through a painful rebuilding experience. This season sees attendance up significantly (some 19 percent), and the team attracted 50,000 fans to Progressive Field with an innovative Snow Days promotion.
ABOUT THE BALLPARK DIGEST AWARDS
Each year Ballpark Digest honors noteworthy accomplishments in the baseball world, whether it be Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, independent baseball, summer-collegiate baseball or college baseball. Readers are asked to submit nominations for awards in specific categories; Ballpark Digest editors then go though the submissions (numbering some 400 pages of documentation last year). The awards cover both individual accomplishments as well as team accomplishments. This is the fourth season for the Ballpark Digest Awards. A complete listing of Ballpark Digest Awards can be found at www.ballparkdigest.com/awards.
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