By Collin Brooks
Just days before the Johnson City Cardinals start their campaign to defend their 2016 Appalachian League Crown, the frenzy of minor league preseason baseball caught a brief break thanks to a quick rain storm provided by Mother Nature.
But that didn’t mean that members of the Johnson City Cardinals front office were able to take a breather. Instead, they sat in their headquarters answering phones as players arrive for their opener.
The Johnson City Cardinals’ Vice President/General Manager Tyler Parsons, account executive Trey Gilreath and director of ticket sales and community relations David Compton all sat inside an office that was in prime preseason condition with future promotions, jerseys, caps and a few trophies laying around the office, as they returned emails and answered a constantly ringing phone.
All three broke smiles when they were questioned about the past few week of prep as the Cardinals begin to start practices for their season-opener at TVA Credit Union Park on June 22.
“If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what do we do in the offseason, it would be a pretty big chunk of change,” said Parsons, who is starting his fourth season in Johnson City and second under Boyd Sports, LLC.
Parsons and his front office staff handle duties as minimal as ballpark bathroom facilities to making sure that players have transportation and a place to stay when they arrive in Johnson City.
“There are a lot of moving parts with it to get the facility set up to have 3,000 to 4,000 people show up here at the ballpark,” Parsons said. “Also you’re serving a professional baseball team that has a lot of wants and needs as well.”
For Compton and Gilreath these are their first seasons with the organization, but they aren’t strangers to the area, as Compton spent time at Bristol Motor Speedway and Gilreath held responsibilities inside the ETSU athletic department.
“I can’t do anything here and be effective, without them taking a load off my plate and doing their roles, we are one big bicycle wheel here for the most part and you lose one spoke, you’ll start to wobble a bit,” Parsons said. “So everyone chips in.”
He also noted the importance of the staff of interns and the liveliness that they bring to the ballpark everyday.
The job has been a lot of fun for Compton, who grew up in South Illinois just 2-and-a-half hours away from his favorite team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It’s exciting,” said Compton who moved to the area to finish high school and is a graduate of ETSU. “Even though you have a job title that is a lot more that goes into it. But it is fun, especially when you have a good team here.”
Compton has witnessed first hand how much the team has grown.
“There are long nights when you put in your time and you put in effort, but then you look at the finished product and it’s worth it,” Compton said.
Gilreath agreed that the job is a dream come true, but he also said there is a lot of behind the scenes work that requires him to keep quick changes of clothes nearby.
“One minute I’ll be in a sales meeting, the next minute we will be moving a kegerator,” he said. “But if you don’t do it, nobody is going to do it. We have to get setup for this season for things the fans don’t see that we put together and make it happen.”
Parsons found himself in such an experience on Father’s Day when he was the only member of the crew at the ballpark when a rain storm destroyed the pitchers mound before practice. He rushed out to cover the mound, before eventually having to rebuild it.
“Those are the things that just have to get done and we all kind of chip in on that stuff,” Parsons said.
That routine has become common place for Parsons who has racked up a handful of years in minor league baseball spending the past three seasons in Johnson City before coming from Martinsville in 2014.
He is entering his second year working under Boyd Sports, LLC, who entered a 10-year management lease agreement with the city to operate the Cardinals.
Parsons mentioned how the new management team has been able to breathe new life into the team with locker room upgrades and fan experiences upgrades. Improvements like The Perch — a new two-level beer garden built behind the left-field line that opened last season — have made the atmosphere more than just about the game.
“It’s become a very, very effective public-private partnership,” Parsons said.
When the pitch was made — and once rejected — by the Johnson City City Commission, it was hard for the city to see how bringing in a partnership with Randy and Jenny Boyd of Boyd Sports, LLC. LLC. would benefit them.
Now it has turned into a fruitful project for both partners, proved by the offseason addition of field turf in the infield for a city facility and the record setting attendance of over 48,000 fans last season for the Cardinals.
But if it wasn’t for the Johnson City Sports Foundation taking a chance on a Mid-Westerner with a “no-fear” attitude, Boyd Sports, LLC. may have never come calling.
“I firmly believe if we had not done some of the things we did in ’14 and ’15 to sort of get some juice back into the Johnson City Cardinals, we wouldn’t have had this partnership with Boyd Sports, LLC.
“I think the great thing now is that Boyd Sports, LLC. is committed to this for 10 years, probably, if not longer and they’re going to keep finding ways to enhance this ballpark and the fan experience.”