18th of Jun | Story

How old is Eric Edelstein? Guess


SPRINGDALE, Arkansas | Yes, Eric Edelstein is as young as he looks. And in case you want to mention it to him, don’t. He knows. There is a reason why his chin is disguised with a goatee at times and why he used to wear his 2003 Marlins World Series ring, since replaced with his Northwest Arkansas Naturals Texas League championship ring. They make him look older and more credible.

Edelstein hasn’t updated his resume since he was a Buffalo Bisons intern in 2000. But if he had, his positions and responsibilities and accomplishments would render any issue of age totally moot.

He has been a minor league general manager for 10 seasons now. He has moved a team, built a stadium and meets quarterly with David Glass, the former president and CEO of Wal-Mart, and owner and CEO of the Kansas City Royals, the Naturals’ parent club.

His career started during his senior year at Brush High School on the east Cleveland suburbs. Brush allowed students to work an internship rather than take classes and finals the last month before graduation. He called the Cleveland Indians and wound up on the phone with the public relations department. They asked him to write an essay about why he wanted to be an intern. He did, and he beat out two other candidates. After that month, he just kept going back to what was then called Jacobs Field, volunteering with any department that would take him. Those connections helped him land an internship in Buffalo after college.

“I set out to be a minor league GM. To say there’s something else, I almost feel like is for someone else to tell me, not for me to decide.” — Northwest Arkanasas Naturals general manager Eric Edelstein

“All Buffalo gave me was the chance to come,” he says. “There was no compensation. There was no expectation. It was, ‘Yeah, if you want. We guess we’ll give you a Polo. Here you are, one of 25 interns. Good luck.’ It’s kind of a dog-eat-dog world. In this industry especially, you’re not going to be handed anything. I relished in that.”

Edelstein’s time in Buffalo might work its way near the bottom of his resume. But this definitely would: After rising to sponsorship sales coordinator for the Bisons, the ownership, Rich’s Baseball Operations, sent Edelstein to the Jamestown Jammers, its Low-A short-season team, to take over as general manager. He was 24 and running his own team. The next season, he was sent to Wichita to run the Wranglers.

“I remember my boss saying, ‘I don’t think you’re ready, but I don’t really have any other great options, so if this is something that you’re interested in, we’ll fly you out there, take a look at it, see if you like it,’” Edelstein says. “I was going to like it. There was no way I was going to pass up that opportunity. I was going to go out there and make an opportunity out of it.

“Going back, I got through that with just sheer force of will. I didn’t know anything.”

Edelstein challenges himself every day to learn something new. He repeats the phrase “constant improvement.” He expects it from himself, his employees and his organization. He reads Jack Welch and Jon Spoelstra and Malcolm Gladwell.

Edelstein honed his philosophy and dedication to learning when he was still in Wichita, even among the rumors and eventual announcement that the team would be moving to Springdale, Arkansas.

“I can’t sit on a line and just move from point A to point B and go home,” he says. “It has served me well. I don’t think it was a job most people wanted when I went to Wichita, but by taking it, I got the job a lot of people would have wanted.”

Now it’s near the top of Edelstein’s resume. If he ever bothered to update it.

He drives every morning into the parking lot at Arvest Ballpark. He helped make every decision to build the park and start the Naturals the right way.

“If I didn’t push go,” he says, “it didn’t go.”

Edelstein moved to Springdale in October 2006 and set up his office – just a laptop and a cell phone at first – in the basement of the Chamber of Commerce building. He met with members of the business community, local organizations and architects. He sold sponsorships, decided what type of grass to purchase for the field and said yes, definitely yes, to air conditioning in the bathrooms.

“Looking back, there were some things we nailed, there were some things we missed,” he says. “I wish there was a way to avoid some of the pitfalls we made. We knew what we were doing and we had enough people telling us what wasn’t going to work. So when someone said, ‘Well, people aren’t going to like that,’ we just kind of said, ‘Well, they do it everywhere, we’re going to be fine.’”

The first day that Naturals season tickets went on sale, the team sold more than the Wranglers had sold for the entire previous season. Edelstein told his employees to immediately wipe that comparison from their minds. They had set a new bar.

Since that first season in 2008, the attendance has slipped. It happens to almost every team as the honeymoon period wanes. While Edelstein looks to boost attendance, he knows there are plenty of other areas to also focus on and improve. He plans to be here, in Springdale, subconsciously working on his resume, until the Naturals sell out every night or until the team stagnates and he has no other answers for growth.

“I set out to be a minor league GM,” he says. “To say there’s something else, I almost feel like is for someone else to tell me, not for me to decide.”

There is one achievement, though, that Edelstein wants to put on his resume.

Minor League Baseball hands out an Executive of the Year award at the Winter Meetings. Year after year, Edelstein would quietly moan because it would go to a general manager running a team in a new ballpark. Sure enough, he won the award the Naturals first year. “I embodied that exact remark,” he says. “I want to be the team that, in Year 10, is meeting or exceeding where they were in the first few years. To me, that would be a far more meaningful accomplishment than being good in a new stadium.”

He has time. He’s only 33.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

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