Sunday, January 29, 2012

Executive Interview: Chris Maxwell, GM, Bluefield Blue Jays (Short-Season, Appalachian League)

Jan 29th, 2012-In minor league baseball, being a general manager isn't so much about overseeing the day-to-day operations of your team as it is...well, being the day-to-day operations of your team. In the minors, a GM has a hand in every single part of team operations, from ticket sales to promotions to meal money for the players. Even painting the stadium. Painting. That's right.

See, being a general manager in the minors means you generally manage everything. Sure, you have a supporting cast, and they're every bit as important as you'd expect them to be, but in the end it all falls on you to be sure that all the little details (as well as the big ones) are covered. It's not glamour and fame, and in order to be truly good at what you do you really have to love the game. It's probably the most important requirement for the job.

Bluefield has a man that fits that description, and fits it well. After the Orioles pulled out of their commitment to their Appalachian League affiliate, to the surprise and shock of many, Toronto was ready and more than willing to fill the void. Chris Maxwell is running the show for the brand-new Blue Jays affiliate in the tiny mountain town, and he's had a hand in everything. Just as it should be.

The Orioles drew 1/3rd fewer fans in 2010 than they did in the previous season. What did you find was your greatest challenge in terms of bringing fans out to the park, especially given the issues that sometimes occur when a team pulls out of a city without warning?

I think the original fear was after 53 years could the town accept a new team. I think the shock that came with the Orioles leaving combined with the fact they had had several sub .500 seasons prior to leaving left a hole in a lot of fans hearts. The Blue Jays came in and embraced the town and the history here and the fans came out in droves to support us.

Given that each league and organization has their own way of doing business, have you noticed any significant differences in your time in the Appalachian League when compared with your experiences in the Pioneer League?

The big difference between the Pioneer league and the Appy league is just distance and size. The Appy league is much closer knit simply because we are no more than 3 hours from each other. In the Pionner league you have some 12 hour plus bus rides. The cities are larger in the Pionner league but a lot of the feel of the games are similiar.

Is there any one specific issue or complaint that you hear often from the fans regarding their experiences at the park?

I think we get just the usual type of complaints like the concession lines are too long that sort of thing. You just address them one by one and try to get better.

If you had the absolute, final say on all decisions in Toronto's organization for a day, what would you do with that authority?

Prince Fielder at first, Verlander, Lee, Halladay, Lincecum, Sabbathia rotation and one dollar beers.

Did you always see yourself becoming a part of the professional sports industry?

As a kid I was the worst player on every team I ever played on. I was a cruise director for 10 years before I even knew you could make a living in sports management. Sheer dumb luck and good fortune got me into minor league baseball.

What would you consider your most memorable moment in baseball?

My favorite moment was when I was a clubbie for the Birmingham Barons and we played in a yearly game called the Rickwood Classic. They play it at an old ballpark in downtown Birmingham. They have the old throwback uniforms and everything. The whole game just feels like its the 1920's. It really is something special.

Are there any players in Toronto's farm system who stand out in your mind?

Being new to the organization last year Im really only familiar with our guys but up and down the line the have some really exciting talent at every level.

What specific qualities do you consider most important for a player to possess while making his way up the chain?

I have never professed to know anything about coaching baseball but I always felt you couldn't succeed without listening skills and work ethic. You can have all the talent in the world and you won't get anywhere without it and if your not as talented it can get you too the next level.

What would you consider the most important lesson you've learned in your time in professional sports?

Honor and respect how others get things done. You will always learn something.

If you had one piece of advice for aspiring sports professionals, what would it be?

Learn to throw left handed.
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