The International League, which will welcome the Gwinnett Braves next season, is baseball's oldest minor league. This is the 125th year for the 14-team Class AAA league and staff correspondent Guy Curtright met with IL president Randy Mobley to talk about all the changes in the minors and what Gwinnett fans can expect. Mobley, based in Dublin, Ohio, has been president of the league since 1990 after getting his start in professional baseball as an intern with the Columbus Clippers.
GC: You have made a number of trips to Gwinnett County this year. How often will you visit next season?
RM: Not that regularly. With 14 teams, I don't get to every city each year. But I'll certainly be there for the home opener. I can't wait to see the new ballpark when it is finished.
GC: You are based outside Columbus, Ohio, and the Clippers are also moving into a new stadium next year. What if the Gwinnett Braves open on the same day?
RM: I really hadn't thought about that. When the schedule for next year comes out in late July, that will be the first thing I check. I certainly want to be in both places.
GC: Will the Gwinnett Braves open on the road next April?
RM: Yes. That just makes sense in case there are some last-minute things that need to be taken care of with the ballpark. Fans in Gwinnett can expect the home opener to be somewhere in the neighborhood of April 15.
GC: With the new ballparks in Columbus and Gwinnett, there will hardly be an old stadium left in the
International League. You must feel very fortunate?
RM: I certainly do. We have been very, very fortunate. Charlotte is hoping to open a new downtown ballpark in 2010 and then every team will be in a great facility.
GC: What will be the oldest ballpark in the IL?
RM: Pawtucket was completely remodeled in 1998, so the oldest ballpark will be in Buffalo. It opened in 1988, but it is still a great place. It really was the start of the ballpark boom and it is right downtown, like a lot of the new places.
GC: The ballpark in Richmond was considered obsolete after less than 25 years. Do you look at that as a problem?
RM: Definitely. These new ballpark must have a much longer shelf life. We can't keep expecting new stadiums to be built for us. They are too expensive. But I'm confident that the new ballparks we have now will be around for a long, long time.
GC: They are certainly a lot nicer than the old places, aren't they?
RM: No comparison. The changes are amazing. Look at what they even did to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket.
GC: Ernie Johnson Sr., the old Braves broadcaster, played in Pawtucket when he was getting started after World War II He can remember what it was like. I'm sure others can, too.
RM: It was about 370 feet to center field.
GC: When the new ballpark was built in Buffalo 20 years ago, it was built so it could possibly attract a major league team and seats almost 20,000. Is that bigger than needed for AAA?
RM: Most of the new ballparks are about 10,000 or a little more, just like Gwinnett will be. We think that is the perfect size.
GC: The Ottawa franchise moved to Allentown, Pa., this season and the Richmond team, of course, is coming to Gwinnett County next season. That kind of moving around has been rare in your league, hasn't it?
RM: Very much so. We are very proud of our stability. We have a lot of new ballparks, but most of the same markets. We don't take moving a ball club lightly. It is not at all common place, like it is in some minor leagues. We are very excited about coming to Gwinnett, but at the same time we are sorry that things didn't work out in Richmond. We plan to be in Gwinnett for a long, long time. It should be a great AAA market, and we feel the same about our other 13 teams. I don't anticipate any changes in the future at all.
GC: How did you get your start in professional baseball?
RM: I went to work for the Columbus Clippers as an intern in 1980 while I was in graduate school. My job was to stock the souvenir stands.
GC: That is a pretty humble beginning. How did you move up the ladder to become president of a AAA league?
RM: I had the good fortune to work for the Clippers though the 1985 season, then went into the league office, which was based in Columbus. I was the assistant to longtime president Harold Cooper, then took over for him in 1990 when he retired.
GC: You've certainly seen a lot of changes in minor league baseball since you got your start, haven't you?
RM: It's been amazing. Attendance and the value of ball clubs have skyrocketed. The interest in minor league baseball has never been greater. This is the 125th year of the International League and we expect to set another attendance record. I don't think it will last long, though. I expect it will be broken next year.
GC: What is the most difficult thing about being a league president?
RM: Handing out discipline. That is the controversial part of the job.
GC: I understand that you played baseball in college. Where was that?
RM: I went to Otterbein College, a small NCAA Division III school outside of Columbus, Ohio. I wanted to play baseball and that was my level. I didn't have any allusions of being a major leaguer. I know if I wanted to stay in baseball, it would have to be on the administrative side.
GC: Pat O'Connor, the president of minor league baseball, also played Division III baseball. Did you play against him?
RM: Pat went to Wittenberg College, which is also in Ohio. I got to know him through a mutual friend. It's is funny how things work out. Our careers have kind of paralleled since then.
GC: Baseball is such a family game. You have two sons. Did they play baseball?
RM: They both did in high school and one played at the NCAA Division I level briefly in college. My oldest son played on a state championship team. I've seen an awful lot of baseball games at all levels, but that has to be the most memorable moment. I can only imagine what it must feel like for a father when his son plays his first major league game.
GC: What was your dream when you got into professional baseball?
RM: I hoped to be able to buy a little Carolina League team, settle down to raise a family and live happily ever after. That was my goal. Somewhere along the way, it changed a little bit and everything has worked out great. I'm very fortunate. Of course, I wouldn't have the money to buy a team now anyway with the way franchises prices have escalated. The changes in minor league baseball have truly been amazing.