Results tagged ‘ Pacific Coast League ’

2012 Al Radka Award: John and Diane Carbray

By: Chris Kutz

Leadership can be tricky to define. A significant amount of time and studies have been dedicated to narrowing down what makes a good leader. None seem to give us a universal answer.

In sports, leadership can be vaguely defined as an “intangible.” Leaders are the ones who rise to the top. Teammates and fans are drawn to them. Members of the media, coaches and scouts all attempt to capture this mystic quality as “it.”

“It” is one of the broadest terms in the English language, but from a leadership standpoint, “it” can be found in John and Diane Carbray.

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Diane is Kansas born and raised. She played volleyball, basketball and softball. After completing her undergraduate coursework at Benedictine College in her home state, she later earned her Master’s degree in Sports Administration at Ohio University.

John’s life has been devoted to sporting events and entertainment. His first experience in the business of sports came in the form of professional baseball. He first served as the Northwest League President from 1969-71 before venturing into the Pacific Coast League for the first time in his career with the Eugene Emeralds and Sacramento Solons. He earned the honor of Sporting News Triple-A Executive of the Year in 1974.

The game of soccer brought the two together as the John and Diane first met when both were working with the San Jose Earthquakes, then of the North American Soccer League. In 1983, the future husband and wife founded Projects West Entertainment, a company that would put on more than 400 concerts over 20 years at athletic events.

From Jimmy Buffett to The Beach Boys, The Temptations to Miami Sound Machine, the Carbrays put on shows with a stable of self-owned portable stages. Baseball became one of the easiest settings for an action-packed event from beginning to end.

“Sometimes people would show up in the sixth inning, catch the end of the ballgame and use the 20 minutes between the end of the game and the start of the concert to visit the concession stands, go the bathroom; whatever they needed to do so they see the best of both shows.”

But navigating the country, putting on hundreds of concerts, can show one the corners of the nation that might have not been known prior to the journey.

“Bob Freitas [a Minor League Baseball executive] introduced us to Fresno,” said Diane. “The Fresno Giants/Suns moved to Salinas [after 1988], and Bob called us to see if anyone wanted to buy the wooden bleachers from Euless Park [the Fresno Giants’ former stadium]. The Rose Bowl Parade ended up purchasing the bleachers, but we quickly learned more about Fresno.

“It was a business-decision to bring professional baseball to Fresno. There are five Major League teams in California. From a partnership standpoint, [the MLB teams] would have a partner. This market…not having a pro team, was ripe.”

It was 1991, and the Carbrays began to set in motion their dream of bringing a team to Fresno.

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Leaders without followers are lonely folks. The “it” they possess becomes a wasted quality. Leaders must have the vision, the dream, the persistence to institute change, but no aspiration is attainable without a dose of reality.

Followers institute this reality. They empower leaders to continue on and realize the vision. Without the followers, leaders quickly realize others do not share their goal.

For the Carbrays, the followers became the Fresno community. The Central Valley motivated them to change the landscape of baseball in a land of agriculture. Pro ball may have left, but they brought it back.

“There was a will here,” said Diane. “The community lifted us up, and we were the leaders. We got so far into it, we couldn’t quit.”

“It was a grassroots effort,” said John. “We kept selling the dream. People of Fresno kept us motivated. As soon as we got down, someone would come through the door.”

Seven years worth of motivation from the community was needed before the Carbrays introduced the Grizzlies to Fresno. People such as William Connolly, Jack Emerian, Dave Cates and Tim Cullen helped make up the ownership partners, the Fresno Diamond Group. Residents of the area bought 3,000 season tickets for a team that didn’t yet exist. Each person not only became an investor financially into John and Diane’s vision, but invested their time and efforts to help make the vision a reality.

“We didn’t use their money until the stadium was built. It was a huge trust factor,” said Diane. “Numbers told them it was a good idea.”

The group, led by John and Diane, eventually purchased a Triple-A team in 1996. With the Tucson Toros franchise in hand, the dominoes for a professional baseball team in Fresno began to fall.

A few years later, after getting commitment from more powerful figures in town, the Carbrays were able to fulfill their entire vision: pro baseball in downtown Fresno. Now, Chukchansi Park is considered one of the finest ballparks in Minor League Baseball, even 11 years after it was completed.

The 2012 season will be the Grizzlies’ 15th anniversary and 11th in downtown. The Carbrays always knew a Triple-A team is what Fresno would want.

“It is a bonding experience for everyone with the diversity of people who are going there. It is a melting pot with a common community experience in front. That is why we built it.”

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The Carbrays sold the dream, took the community through a long-winding journey, and delivered the prize to the believers by bringing Fresno the second-highest level of professional baseball in North America to its downtown.

The Al Radka Award was created by the Carbrays in 2003 and meant to celebrate individuals who made a contribution to the community through the game of baseball. They then awarded it to Bill Thompson, but it is now time for the award to come to its original starting point.

“Humbled and honored,” said Diane after learning her and her husband would be recipients of the achievement. “It’s been 15 years since we bought the team, and for it to come full-circle feels great.”

Leaders are visionaries, opportunists, harmonious, persistent, to name a few qualities. As with the Carbrays, whose leadership is being honored at the Hot Stove Gala on January 28th, their qualities can be summed up simply by saying they have “it.”

A Walk In The Park

By: Noah Frank

When you are fortunate enough to work in baseball, you can, from time to time, forget the advantages your job affords you. In the offseason, when there are no games being played, you work a fairly standard 9-5 day, joining the rest of the population on the morning and evening commutes. But if you are lucky enough to have your offices built into the ballpark, and built into as beautiful a ballpark as we have here in Downtown Fresno, there is a constant reminder, right outside the window.

This week, that which all Grizzlies fans already know about our baseball home was revealed to a nationwide audience. Baseball America, the preeminent publication in our sport, chose Chukchansi Park to grace the cover of its 2012 Great Parks Calendar, which will hang in offices and homes from Spokane to Jupiter, from Portland (not Oregon anymore, just Maine) to Orem. It is a special honor for a city like Fresno, one that is not always associated with aesthetic beauty by those who do not live here.

In order to get a feel for the weight of such an honor, I caught up with a couple of people who know Downtown Fresno as well as anyone. Craig Scharton was born and raised in Fresno, and has moved his life Downtown, first living in the Security Bank building before purchasing his current house. This is only fitting, as he spends his days in the city offices as the Director of Downtown and Community Revitalization. There are few people in our town more committed to the success of Downtown than Scharton, who currently has a 20-game package for The CRU Club, and whose family has owned some form of ticket plan since the team’s move to its Downtown home in 2002.

A shot of Chukchansi Park from the Fresno sky. (Fresno Grizzlies)

“It’s obviously an incredible facility,” said Scharton of the ballpark. “And if we forget, we’re always reminded when we take visitors around how beautiful it is.”

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s view to make us aware again of what a great facility we have here. Another one of Downtown’s biggest champions, Travis Sheridan, relayed such a perspective.

“I’ve had visitors in all last year, coming anywhere from St. Louis to Australia,” he recalled. “They have all been so impressed with the ballpark. That’s when you know without a shadow of a doubt that this is a top notch ballpark.”

Scharton also recalled his experiences hearing from those who live outside of Fresno about how Chukchansi Park compares in the national landscape.

“We consistently hear from players and visitors that it’s the nicest ballpark in Triple-A” Scharton commented. That’s saying a lot, considering that six other parks have been built since 2000 in the Pacific Coast League alone.

The ballpark has also become the focal point of the Downtown entertainment experience. Sheridan was living in the Tower District when he first attended a game, back in 2004. Despite being a big baseball fan, he did not begin attending regularly until he became more involved in the future of Downtown four years ago as the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Central Valley Business Incubator.

“For me, it was a two-pronged approach,” Sheridan explained. “The more I got involved, the more I started patronizing the Downtown area, and the ballpark is the crown jewel of Downtown. As a baseball fan, I realized I was missing out.”

Sheridan (left) with Billy Crystal in the tunnel behind the Grizzlies dugout. (Don Davis)

Sheridan moved Downtown a year ago and took a much bigger leap in his connection to the Grizzlies this season, when he became the on-field host for 67 of the team’s 72 home games.

“Nothing beats an afternoon at the ballpark,” said Sheridan, who would certainly know. “Walking from my place (at Broadway Lofts) to the ballpark, it’s a great way to experience Downtown. It makes for a great overall urban experience.”

Adding to that experience, at least over the last couple of seasons, was the chance to see past or future World Champions playing right here in Fresno.

“One of the things I thought was great last year was carrying the momentum forward from the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series,” said Sheridan. “We don’t have that with Fresno State Football. There’s not a lot of people who graduate that program who we’re following in the pros.”

Of course, college football lacks the fluid feeder system that the Grizzlies enjoy, thanks to the club’s strong affiliation with the Giants. After all, more than half of the 2010 World Series roster came up through Fresno at one point or another, intrinsically tying Grizzlies fans to last year’s world title. Scharton agreed with the importance of that connection, citing a recent example.

“We were with a whole group in LA last night talking about Downtown (Fresno),” he recalled. “We listed off the players that we’ve all been fortunate enough to watch up close and personal, like Buster Posey, Tim Lincecum, and even Pablo Sandoval, who hit that home run here last year (on a Major League rehab assignment).”

In good times and bad for the baseball on the field, though, the ballpark remains. As it goes into its 11th year, Chukchansi Park looks as good as ever, as evidenced by its selection for the Great Parks Calendar cover.

The photo used by Baseball America for the cover of the 2012 calendar. (Don Davis)

“We know that we have a great stadium, and we hope that this recognition lets a lot of other people see what a great facility we have too,” said Sharton. “We hope they come and check it out.”

The people Scharton is referring to aren’t limited to just Fresnans, though. There are Giants fans all over the state, mostly north of the Central Valley, who travel great distances to see those in the farm system play.

“Just like people go to Spring Training, they should come down a couple times a year to see the upcoming prospects,” said Scharton. “It’s much easier and much cheaper to come down here than to go Scottsdale.”

Scottsdale Stadium, the Spring Training home of the Giants, is somewhat similar to Chukchansi Park. It holds roughly 12,000 people and was wholly renovated just a couple of years after Chukchansi Park was built. Both provide an opportunity for Giants fans to get out of San Francisco and watch the up-and-comers in the organization before they hit the Major League level. Sheridan agreed, for the most part, that Fresno could pull the same type of fan that makes the trek to Arizona each spring.

“Spring Training will always be a destination, but you can definitely carry that momentum,” Sheridan suggested. “Once people that have been identified in Spring Training as prospects, you can follow those folks in Fresno, throughout the year. To be able to see the prospects in Scottsdale and know you’ll be able to catch them any weekend in Fresno is a good selling point.”

It certainly won’t hurt to have some national recognition from the likes of Baseball America, either.

The Social Network

By: Noah Frank

So yes, the
title of this post is obviously a play on the upcoming Academy Awards and the
favorite in the Best Picture category. But did you know that the Grizzlies have
been at the forefront of the social media push in Minor League Baseball? Thanks
to you, our great fans, we have become one of the leaders in followers, as it
were, and we’re continuing our push to lead the way in social media.

A few weeks
ago I was scanning through our social media sites and realized that the
Grizzlies Official Twitter Account was within a few dozen people of cracking
5,000 followers. As I browsed the rest of the Pacific Coast League teams’
accounts, I found that we were 

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leading the pack (albeit narrowly), but had the
best chance of cracking the milestone mark first. It was one of those
opportunities that I didn’t want to waste, or let slip by.

I converged
with our marketing department and we secured two tickets to our Hot Stove Gala
to give away to one of our followers. While that was a nice incentive for one
winner, I wanted the chance to reward all of our followers for the community
they have become. So, we worked with our tickets department to create an
awesome Opening Weekend Package full of special perks, unique to this offer.
Plus, we got a great price exclusively for our Twitter following.

We rolled
out a press release exclusively through Twitter, directing people back to our
website for the special ticket offer. The idea of using Twitter as the
exclusive platform for a press release was intriguing, as it was something that
we had never done before, and that I hadn’t heard of others doing either. Sure,
people often will include a link to a release that has been put out to the
public, but a Twitter exclusive?

We pushed
the message out on a Friday morning, attempting to reach the plateau before the
weekend. We crept along much of the day, inching closer and closer, then caught
fire and skyrocketed past the 5,000 mark. Thanks to some publicity, both local
and national, we pushed through and have possibly ignited a friendly social
media competition with our 

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neighbors to the north up in Reno. The Aces have the
second largest Twitter following in the league and are the only team ahead of
us in Facebook followers as of the writing of this post.

While we’re
thrilled to be the first to reach the 5K followers mark on Twitter, we still
have a push to make to hit the 15,000 fans mark on Facebook (and catch Reno).
So, we’ll be rolling out a number of Facebook-only offers in the weeks leading
up to Opening Day. If you aren’t already a “fan” on Facebook, make sure you
“like” us
and spread the word to all your friends.

This is your
chance to have a dialogue with us about how to make the Grizzlies the best
organization for Fresno. This is your team, after all. Tell us what kinds of
offers you want to have us put out there, what will help you better enjoy your
Grizzlies experience.

Oh, by the
way, there are just 41 days left until Opening Day. Get excited!

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