BY CAROLYN LaWELL
PORT CHARLOTTE, Florida | As a broadcast journalism student, Jim Pfander didn’t want to make resume tapes or live in places like Spokane, Washington, or travel the country, bouncing from station to station, climbing the ladder.
And he didn’t. Sort of.
During a broadcasting internship with the Cleveland Indians, Pfander got a glance at how the pros bring a stadium alive. He left the camera behind – but not his on-air storytelling skills. He’s crossed the country from west to east, north to south – Spokane to Boston to Charleston, South Carolina to Akron, Ohio to Port Charlotte, Florida – working his way up the ladder in minor league front offices. Now, he’s in his first year as the general manager of the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
In the short term, he’s looking to successfully transition the Stone Crabs, who moved to Port Charlotte four years ago, out of the five-year honeymoon period that new clubs typically experience and keep the team among the top draws in the Florida State League. In the long term, well, he would like a shot in the big leagues.
Everyone starts somewhere. Here’s why Pfander stayed in baseball after that internship, his first thoughts on being a GM and his aspirations for Port Charlotte:
I was with the Indians on the broadcasting side. I was broadcasting games in Spanish because I was a Spanish minor, and it was unbelievable for me. I was good (at Spanish). Now I’m not as good. But I was calling the games, we did the Indians in Español with Luis Torres and Allen Davis. I would do the postgame show on WDLW. They put me in the booth. I’d go down, I’d get sound from Omar Vizquel, I’d always get Einar Diaz. Luis Isaac was my go-to person, the bullpen coach.
I was really focused on the broadcasting side. Something overcame me when we were making the ballpark come alive. When you were involved with putting a game on and you had 40,000 people every night, it was amazing. You would feel the electricity. It must be what it feels like to be a drug addict. You get that high when you have so many people that are excited about what you’re doing.
Being part of the broadcasting department, we would be down in the dugout before the game. We had relationships with the media. John Telich from Fox 8 says to me, ‘You know, Jim, you’re going to be a GM one day.’ That’s always stuck with me. That has always been in the back of my mind. That’s not the whole reason why I’ve wanted to become a GM. But working through baseball, working my way up, having the chance to put your signature on a ballpark, that, to me, that’s what gets me up in the morning – making this ballpark come alive, giving more people a chance to come to the ballpark and really engage this community. That’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.
I’m excited about trying to come up with new ways to reenergize this community. We’re still in that honeymoon period, but it’s starting to tail off a little bit and it’s really getting into rolling up your sleeves and trying to figure out, ‘OK, how can I fix it?’ I’ve never been a handy guy. If the sink breaks at home, it’s my wife going in there and fixing everything. But the creative side of me just loves the challenge and loves trying to come in and figure out how we can immerse ourselves in the community.
We control the fun that happens on the outside of the lines. I want people to come to the park and say, ‘Oh wow, I saw the sumo wrestling, I had a Stoney Dog, I tried a Frozen Dome, had a few beers, I had a good time and I have no idea what the final score was, but I can’t wait to come back.’
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Time for minor league trivia. The Charlotte Stone Crabs are the third minor league team to be purchased by Ripken Baseball – yes, Cal Ripken Jr. and his brother Bill. What other two minor league teams does the group own?
The Stone Crabs scored two runs in the 10th inning to win, 3-2, their second straight victory over the Jupiter Hammerheads. After the Hammerheads scored a run in the top of the 10th, the Stone Crabs loaded the bases, scored on a sacrifice fly by Philip Wunderlich and a single by Riccio Torrez. Both starting pitchers – Albert Suarez for the Stone Crabs and Chad James of the Hammerheads – turned in quality starts, the first game on the AMLS schedule with a pair of quality starts.
Charlotte Sports Park, home of the Stone Crabs and the spring training facility for its Major League affiliate, the Tampa Bay Rays, received a $27 million renovation that was completed in 2009. The Rays signed a 20-year agreement with Port Charlotte in 2006 that will started in 2009 and will run through 2029. With a new home on the Gulf coast of Florida, Tampa Bay moved the Vero Beach Devil Rays from the Atlantic coast and renamed the team the Charlotte Stone Crabs.
Want the answer? The Aberdeen IronBirds and Augusta GreenJackets. The Ripkens purchased the Utica Blue Sox and moved them to their hometown, Aberdeen, Maryland, in 2002. The Low-A short-season team is a Baltimore affiliate and plays at Ripken Stadium. The group bought the GreenJackets in 2005 and the Stone Crabs in 2008.
And in random statistical news, the game started two minutes later than scheduled, the first pitch was a ball and the first hitter singled to center. The “Star-Spangled Banner” lasted 1 minute and 35.5 seconds. Also, we ate one-and-a-half Stoney Dogs.
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