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Baseball Giveth

There is a very good explanation for those shattering sounds that have been heard of late throughout the valley. Perhaps not as high numbers as the daily COVID count we’ve been besieged with, but never-the-less many of those well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions that had been made two weeks ago have already been smashed or tossed to the wayside.

Two years ago, one of my first January columns was written about resolutions, but more specifically, about how much more fun it is to make resolutions for others to make than it was to follow them ourselves. At that time, I urged MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to resolve to revoke his stated plan to eliminate 42 existing Minor League Baseball teams across the country that included our very own Williamsport Crosscutters. That Webb Weekly issue must not have made its way to his doorstep. Still, even if it had, Manfred pressed ahead with his plan to deprive dozens of smaller communities across the land with the opportunity to root for the hometown team affiliated with one of MLB’s 30 Big League teams.

In the end, even though the Phillies left Billtown, our community was able to become one of the six sites for the inaugural MLB Draft League concept. Compared to what we had enjoyed for nearly 100 years prior, the Draft League was not quite the same. On the very positive side, we still had baseball at Bowman Field, but the scheduling quirks and rule changes presented by the new league had some diehard baseball fans scratching their heads.

Through it, all local fans can be thankful team ownership decided to keep Williamsport in the baseball game. The Williamsport Crosscutters are owned by Cutting Edge Baseball, LLC, a division of Trinity Sports Holdings, named the Organization of the Year by Ballpark Digest in 2017. The group is headed by Peter Freund, who also owns and operates several professional sports teams and venues throughout North America and Europe.

In addition to the Crosscutters, the company portfolio includes interests in the New York Yankees and Minor League Baseball’s Memphis Redbirds and Charleston RiverDogs. The Trinity Sports group also owns and operates the Memphis 901 FC playing in the United States Soccer League and Dagenham & Redbridge FC located in East London, part of England’s National League.

It is not a stretch to say that Freund’s knowledge, expertise, and influence were among the deciding factors in Williamsport’s inclusion in the new MLB Draft League.

As 2021 drew to a close, employees of the AAA Iowa Cubs became firsthand recipients of the thoughtfulness of another team owner who had long endeared himself to the Des Moines community.

In a recent article in the Des Moines Register, Tommy Birch detailed the generosity of former team owner Michael Gartner who led a group of associates to purchase the AAA farm team of the Chicago Cubs in 1999. Throughout his 22-year run of team leadership Gartner, now 83, was extremely popular among fans, employees, and the community. He added new bleachers, LED lighting around the park and installed a fountain for kids to play in.

Gartner would routinely walk around the park and carry baseballs to hand out to kids he encountered. When the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 Minor League Baseball season, unlike owners across the sport, he didn’t lay off or furlough his staff. Instead, he kept them employed during the work stoppage so they could get by.

Last month Gartner’s group decided to sell the AAA team to Diamond Baseball Holdings, a subsidiary of Endeavor, a global sports and entertainment company. What he did following the sale clearly defines his character and why so many others held him in high esteem.

As one of his final acts before leaving, Gartner gathered all the team’s employees in a sports lounge at the ballpark. With a stack of envelopes in his hand, he told them he was going to hand them out all new business cards. But the envelopes didn’t contain business cards. Instead, a total of $600,000 his group had made from the sale of the team was given away to all 23 full-time employees. Everyone, including the club’s custodian, received a check based on the number of years they had worked for the team. Every employee got $2,000 for every year they had been with the team, even as interns. The longest-tenured employee received a check for $70,000.

Scott Sailor, the team’s former director of communications, explained the move “was totally within his character. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Gartner and his ownership group didn’t give the gesture a second thought.

“Those people really, really could use the money,” Gartner simply explained. “They’ve got mortgages. They’ve got little kids. Some of them probably have college debt and car payments. It helps them over humps. They’re really nice people, good people, and they deserve to share in proceeds from the sale.”

It also goes to show that despite the perceived selfishness being exhibited by the current baseball labor dispute, the game has grown deep roots in the communities it serves. Like many of us have seen firsthand, it is indeed better to give than to receive.