BY MATT LaWELL
GRAND CHUTE, Wisconsin | During his 15 seasons with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, Jay Grusznski has directed cars in the parking lot, hawked programs on the concourse, called just about every group in northern Wisconsin to sell tickets, handled the back end of the team web site and scribbled hits, runs and errors as the official scorer up in the press box. For the most of the last six seasons, he has also ordered every item on sale in the team shop at Fox Cities Stadium.
That works for Grusznski, whose business card refers to him as the merchandise manager of the Timber Rattlers and whose closet at home is filled with about 50 jerseys, more than 300 caps and way more team shirts than he can count. “At home, everything is branded,” he says. “Every cup I use is branded with a logo. I love sports merchandise. Now I get to buy it on a bigger scale.”
We just made the top 25 again for merchandise sales in all of the minor leagues. Since we’ve become the Timber Rattlers, we’ve been on there every year but one, and we’ve been on there 11 or 12 years straight, which is pretty amazing. Most teams get a new logo, they cycle into the top 25, then after two or three years, they’re off again. The teams that do make it every year are mostly Triple-A, like the Toledo Mud Hens, the Durham Bulls. So for us and our logo to be on there is fun.
Everybody likes at least one of our logos. We have enough of them — a batting practice logo, alternates, we have a road logo, we have a jersey logo, we have a primary logo, we have a road uniform logo, we have a coiled snake logo. We have logos up the wazoo, and they all appeal to different demographics, that’s the interesting part. Anybody under the age of 15, 16, they want the snake head. High school, college, they want the R with the snake wrapped around it. If you’re over 30, everybody wants the W logo, our original. If you don’t like one of our logos, there’s probably something wrong with you, because each of them appeals to at least one group.
DOOMSDAY TOP FIVE
WITH JAY GRUSZNSKI
Timber Rattlers merchandise manager Jay Grusznski has thousands of pieces of sports merchandise and memorabilia at home, the evidence of a life dedicated to collecting, understanding and ultimately improving the quality of the industry. In the event of some wild doomsday scenario, here are the five items he would grab before running out the door.
A Reggie White practice jersey. “They used to sell them at Packers rummage sales. I got that at 6 in the morning.”
A Vinny Rottino Nashville Sounds game jersey. “Vinny Rotino went to LaCrosse, where I went, and we’ve had very few guys who’ve ever made it to the Majors, so I collect anything Vinny Rotino I can find.”
A ragged Brewers throwback cap. “I’ve had long before that logo came back en vogue. That’s one of my favorite hats of all time.”
His Packers ownership share. “I own a share of Packers stock, bought it in ’98, so that’s something I would definitely grab off the wall.”
His new Appleton Foxes track jacket. “One of my favorite pieces I’ve ever ordered for the store. They’re really pricey and I don’t know if I’ll ever sell them all, but they’re really cool.”
I’ve brought back a lot of the retro stuff. They didn’t care too much for that prior to me. Obviously, our logo is huge, but there are a lot of people in town who remember the old stadium when we were the Appleton Foxes so we had been the Foxes or the Papermakers since 1912 or something like that. I get comments all the time, people are so happy we started carrying this stuff again.
The Swoosh sells. Nike was never in Minor League Baseball. This is their third year, I think, and most of their stuff is $2, $3 more than anything else, but people gravitate to the Swoosh. It’s really amazing. Just has that little logo on it. I have carried more and more, just because it does sell. It resonates with people. It’s been a good addition to Minor League Baseball, too, because it has created a little more competition. The other companies know that the Swoosh is there, so they know they need to do some things to catch your eye.
I just got an order of 900 light sabers in that I’m selling on Star Wars night. Last year was the first year I did light sabers, and I ordered 300 of them. Gates opened at 5 o’clock, and they were all gone by 5:30, 5:45, something like that. I sell them for $5. Some of them were broken and didn’t light up, so we sold them for $2, and we sold all of them. The line was all the way down the concourse. I was selling them on one side of the concourse, so from here over, every kid had a light saber, and nobody on that side did at all. Every kid was waving a sword and it looked awesome, and I said, ‘I have to get light sabers to the rest of that side next year.’
There is one thing in here that I did not order, for sure, the foam Fang visors. We have had these things for, like, eight years and we can’t get rid of them. They’re funny, everybody tries them on and nobody buys them, so I will not take claim or blame on those. Every adult comes in and tries them on, but we’ve sold three. Only thing in here I did not order.
My store is getting twice as big. It won’t be as crunched. This place gets crowded during games.
We do great business here, but it’s also Little Leagues all throughout the country. Every week, I get orders from California and Georgia and Florida and Texas. I sold to a Little League team in Maryland today. There are Timber Rattler Little League teams everywhere. Everywhere. Pretty cool. It’s amazing how much they’ve switched over. I played on the Blue Jays and the Cardinals. Now it’s Timber Rattlers and Grasshoppers and all those teams. Four of the teams in our league are in the Little League program and there are only 32 teams in the Little League program. We were lucky enough to get in.
We’ve seen Wiz Khalifa wearing a hat in a video (please note that the link contains explicit content). Idiots Abroad, where Ricky Gervais sends his buddies to weird places, he’s in Africa, like the Congo, and there’s a kid in the Congo wearing a Timber Rattlers hat. Right out of the blue. Are you serious? We’re in Appleton, Wisconsin, the middle of nowhere. You expect to see Brewers logos everywhere, but to see our hats all over the place is pretty cool.
The reach of minor league baseball, even from what it was five years ago, 10 years ago, it’s engrained in the culture.
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