Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Friday, July 22, 2011

LA's Loss is Visalia's Gain

When commissioner Bug Selig announced that he was assigning a conservatorship to move in and monitor the operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers back on May, I immediately wrote that he needed to assign Tom Seidler, Walter O’Malley’s grandson, to take the position.  I cited his background and his bloodlines.  I mentioned his experience working in minor league operations from the ground up.  I felt that his legacy and concern for the Dodgers would stand out above anybody else that would be an outsider, and that his skills and more importantly, his heart, would care about the future of the franchise.
I wrote Tom Seidler and more or less begged him to take accept such a position.  He answered quickly.  That very same day in fact.  He politely thanked me and said that he wished the Dodgers well, but he wasn’t interested in the job.  After meeting him yesterday, I believe him.  Here is a man that truly loves his present position as majority owner of the California League, Visalia Rawhide.  
Tom Seidler, majority owner and President/General Manager of the Visalia Rawhide, the Arizona Diamondbacks Single A affiliate in the California League.
(photo by Michael Robinson Chavez, Los Angeles Times)
“I really haven’t given it much thought,” he answered when asked if he’d ever like to eventually move up to the major league level.  “I am enjoying my time here and the chance I have to interact with this community.  This is a nice place to live.  One of the great hidden communities in California.”
Tom mentions the geographic location of Visalia, with a population of around 120,000.  Its a few miles away from a major highway, off of Highway 99 as you meander up the spine of California, about 40 miles south of Fresno.  “I’m working with the community, (he sits on the Board of Directors for the Visalia Chamber of Commerce), there is a lot of community support.   We get the players interacting with the businesses and with the local kids,” he says. 

Tom tells me that the Visalia Rawhide is affordable family entertainment at its finest, a reminder of what the Dodgers were under the O’Malley ownership.   And guess what? Free parking.  I pulled up to the ballpark and simply locked my car and headed in.
When was it that Tom realized that baseball administration was the career path he wanted to pursue?  I figured that he would answer that it was early on in his life, being the prodigy of Dodger royalty, but that wasn’t the case.  “I had a job working the booth at the Dodger Stadium parking lot when I was in High School, but I really wasn’t thinking of getting into the baseball business,” said Seidler.  “During my Junior year of college I took an intern job with the Dodgers in Great Falls, Montana,” he continued.  “That first day, I remember starting at 9:00 am and not leaving the ball park until 11:00 pm, and this was May, a month before the season started.  Working ten to fifteen hour days are the norm in this job.  There were three of us managing the operations: the General Manager, the Office Manger and me (the intern).  It was a great experience and Great Falls is a fantastic, supportive community.”
So the minor league operations was in Tom’s blood at an early age.  Twenty-two years later, he is still working in it.  Has minor league baseball changed much?  “It is very similar today as it was in 1989 when I started at Great Falls,” he answers.  “The differences are for the better, being that the stadiums are newer and renovated, which brings in more fans.  The fields are in better shape, and the lighting is better.  The travel is the same with the buses but the hotels are an improvement and the meal money for the players is a little better.  But the game is the same.”
Tom’s staff isn’t made up of a trio of people like there were in Montana.  When I arrived for our scheduled 2:00 pm interview, I was greeted by three people in the ticket office and then I was introduced to his media staff and met his broadcaster/historian Donny Baarns.  (Baarns, by the way is a true up and comer in the broadcast business, I listened to his broadcast later that evening and he has a smooth eloquent delivery).  “We have fourteen working in the front office and two in facilities and groundskeeping, plus additional game day staff that help out,” says Tom.

Recreation Ballpark, Visalia
Speaking of the facility.  Recreation Ballpark in Visalia is a cozy, comfortable park with all the amenities.  Seidler was able to work with the city to upgrade the stadium that seats 1,800 (with additional room for lawn seating), an air conditioned Hall of Fame club and bar, dugout seats, lawn berm seating, two grandstands, sky boxes, and the all important “Cold Zone” down the left field line that is made up of shaded seating with mist fans blowing throughout the game.

The Visalia Rawhide have an Air Conditioned "Hall of Fame Club" down the right field line.  It has a full bar and is available for catered events.  It is very comfortable for those 100 degree summer days.

“They have been playing baseball in this stadium since 1946.  It is the smallest of the full season class A teams.”  Then Tom shows me the renovations. It is a great venue and has a little bit for every type of baseball fan.  “There is something for everyone here, with the kids, it’s the mascot and the fireworks.  A father may be interested in the player development and will compare a present day player with a Kirby Puckett or Vada Pinson (both Visalia farm products). We have the Hall of Fame Club up here that allows an adult to enjoy a glass of wine in an air conditioned environment.”   When Seidler bought the club, there were 60,000 fans crossing through the turnstiles  per season. “We’re on pace to draw almost double that, about 115,000.”

Baseball Digest named Visalia’s Recreation Park the “Best Renovation of the year” in 2009, citing that it has “...an excellent blend of local baseball history and modern amenities.”   So I asked him how fans react when players move on and advance through the ranks, leaving a competing Visalia team high and dry.  “The fans understand and accept it.  They take pride in players that advance to the big leagues and that they went through here.”  He points out the photos of Visalia greats on the outfield walls.  Amongst them are Vada Pinson, Kirby Puckett, Tom Kelly and even umpire Doug Harvey.  There are a few other names that I don’t recognize, Bud Heslet, who hit 56 home runs there in 1956 and Bob Talbot, a local boy who played briefly with the Chicago Cubs.  “We have our own little Hall of Fame.”
The Dodger affiliate Rancho Cucamonga Quakes are in town, so they expect a decent Dodger fan turnout.  Visalia is in that region of the state where allegiances between the Dodgers and Giants are somewhat split.  I saw my share of Ethier jerseys and Posey jersey in the stands at the game that night.  “We’ll serve Dodger Dogs in the concessions stands tonight.”  And they did, and they were grilled.

Rancho Cucamonga stages a second inning rally during their 6-2 victory in Visalia on Thursday night.
I ask him how do they manage to balance things out with the complexity that makes up his teams rosters, i.e. high round draft picks making next to nothing combined with 1st rounders that signed multi-million dollar signing bonuses. “Once they sign they all get $1500 per month.  Most players live with host families.  It really isn’t much of an issue.”
I was intrigued by the host family issue.  Tom explained that there are a number of families that volunteer to allow a player to live in their home, usually without compensation, just because they enjoy being close to the players and helping out the franchise.  Tom mentioned that Vada Pinson is still close to his host family and that Ubaldo Jimenez invited his host family to last years’ all star game.
I stress to him initially what I think my readers would be interested in, the Los Angeles Dodgers and what it was like growing up with O’Malley bloodlines.  “We’d spend each Sunday in the summers attending Dodger games in the box, the owners box.  It was a family get together each Sunday.
He grew up amongst 9 siblings.  What was that like?  “We had a triple bunk bed, four older brothers.  We’d spend a lot of summers outdoors.”
Hall of Famer, Walter O'Malley
Memories of his grandfather and his thoughts on the Hall of Fame induction:
“I remember the Sundays in the owners box.  It was the only box at the time.  In the off-season we’d get together for church, Sunday brunch.  With his Hall of Fame induction, at first we expressed disappointment that it didn’t occur during his lifetime, so he could see it.  But my mom (Terry) and my uncle (Peter) have seen how it has allowed some of the family to get to know their grandfather/great grandfather.  Many who weren’t around to know him before he died.  They all got together and heard stories from everyone.  It connected everyone to him.”

This photo is from www.walteromalley.com, a 1968 photo of the the Seidler children taking in a game in the President's box at Dodger Stadium.  This photo was taken the year  Tom Seidler was born.
When asked if it was unfair how he has been vilified in Brooklyn for moving the team, Tom says, “I think Peter and his staff, with the website, LINKED HERE , have done a great job at honoring his legacy and telling his story.  He was a saver and there is a treasure trove of documents that have been preserved for everyone to see.  We’re secure that his legacy really helped grow the sport and that he made the most out of a difficult situation in Brooklyn.”
Things have come full circle for Tom.  He told me how as an intern, he worked under Dodger Farm Director, Charlie Blaney in 1989.  “He was the one that recommended that I go to Great Falls and work my internship there.”  It is where he got his feet wet and a true taste for minor league baseball.   Charlie is currently the President of the California League, so they are still working together.

Former Dodger Farm Director and current California League President, Charlie Blaney poses with Doug Harvey and the Cal League recipient of  the Umpire Doug Harvey award, Blake Davis, in September, 2010.
I ask if he was disappointed when the family sold the Dodgers.  Tom was General Manager in Great Falls at the time and had already been awarded a minor league executive of the year award.  “It was the right time.  Football played a role.  The NFL wanted Peter and he wanted to build an NFL stadium at Dodger Stadium, but politics got in the way.”
“I think we are all disappointed how that turned out,” I said.
So from there, Tom and his cousin Kevin O’Malley bought the Stockton Ports Single A club and attempted to get a new stadium built up there.  “It was a good learning curve for us.  We weren’t successful in getting the deal done because we hit a dead end politically, but we swapped ownerships and moved to Visalia and have been able to secure the stadium deal down here.”  Kevin continues to be the other Majority Owner along with Tom, but isn’t involved in the day to day operations of the club.
So I ask Tom with some trepidation about the current state of the Dodgers.  I equate it to the reluctance a home owner might have to look back and see what has happened to a home that he lived in, raised his children in, fixed up and then moved away.  Tom kind of gets my analogy, “It’s tough,” he said.  “There are fewer and fewer we know well in the front office over there.  It’s tough to see what it has come to today.  But I’m an optimist.  I believe things will come around and the Dodgers will return to greatness.  Look at the Yankees, that 15 year drought they had.  They rebounded.  The Dodgers are a great franchise, and the great franchises always come back.”
Coming from Tom Seidler, I can’t help but feel better after that statement.

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I walked away from Visalia being gifted a wonderul keepsake, a historical book on Visalia baseball history written by Visalia play by play announcer, Donny Baarns.  Goshen & Giddings: 65 Years of Visalia Professional Baseball.  Mr. Baarns is a hidden gem that some major league team needs to snatch up in a hurry.  Take a look at his website. Where you can order a copy of his book.  Oh yeah, I almost forgot.  Donny is a Dodger fan, through and through.


CLICK HERE for link

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