Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The off-season...that never is an off-season

I have become a bit nostalgic as the Sweets prepare for season #7. The fact that we're still here is a bit of a surprise - a pleasant one - to me and to my family. Not necessarily because we thought the Sweets wouldn't succeed, although there has always been that motivating fear. We just never intended Walla Walla to be our landing spot. It is very exciting that we are launching the 2016 and that we have grown roots in the community. 

What didn't I do in the off-season? To this day, I really enjoy the question of "What do you do all winter long?", because I am certain that the vision is that we roll up the carpet at Borleske, sit back, bathe in the money that we've made (aka Scrooge McDuck) and work in our pajamas (when there is work to be done). I'm kidding - I don't really think people think that, but I did want to figure out how to use a picture of Scrooge McDuck in this entry.

A few of the priorities this off-season included:

  1. Making sure our manager was signed to a long-term deal. While we didn't have the finish we had hoped for, there were moments where the talent on the field and the direction of the coaching staff lined up well. I wanted to see what Frank could do with a full off-season under his belt and start building the continuity we enjoyed the first five seasons at Borleske. We were able to wrap that up right after the new year. We traveled together to the ABCA's in Nashville, TN and worked to develop the best relationships with college programs in the country. We should have a very, very good year on the field.
  2. Re-connecting with our long-time season-ticket holders and corporate partners. A lot of people thought that I had moved, because the last two seasons I've spent primarily in Yakima getting the Pippins started (what a cool experience, by the way...I'll have to write another post on starting a second team and the ups and downs that go along with that commuting 240 miles round trip everyday). I didn't move. I'm still right here in Walla Walla. To prove it, I made sure that if it wasn't a thank you card, it was a phone call, a lunch or a pop-in visit. So many of our fans have become our friends - you've seen our children grow up at Borleske, you've helped us welcome in our baby daughter (who is now 4...seriously), you've grown as our company and roles in the community have grown. It was really, really nice to remind people that we still lived here, play here, work here.
  3. Taking a vacation. It has been an exhilarating, and taxing, two years. While I've loved most of it, I've not done a very good job of disconnecting. While I've gone on family trips, I always have my cell phone or tablet within 6 inches, and I don't do anything that would mean I can't be reached. I committed to my family to make sure that this Christmas break, I was disconnected. For the most part, I was successful. I skied for the first time in a decade, I spent meaningful time (sans phone) with lifelong friends from college and our families, and I sat in a hot tub in -10 weather in the middle of a major snowstorm in Salt Lake City. It was awesome. 
I think getting back to my priorities has helped the Sweets and given Katie another person to help carry the load - we are trending to have our best crowds since 2011 (we drew 54K+ that season), our roster is good (GM Katie Biagi and Frank have done a nice job constructing a team to meet the style that our coaching staff will have), and we are really connecting with our sponsors and fans in ways that remind me of the early days. I love it! It is the energy associated with "small town" baseball that is what drives me everyday. The best part of the off-season - Yakima Valley and Walla Walla are no longer in the same division, which means they don't have to beat each other to make the playoffs, which means I can enjoy the season again. 

Like any small business owner, I know there isn't time (or margin) to take it easy. So - with 114 days left until opening day (as of today - check this out: https://days.to/3-june/2016), we keep chopping away at making 2016 the best season we've had. It sounds like a broken record - but that really is what motivates our team every single day.


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