After 21 seasons as general manager of the Atlanta Braves' Class AAA franchise in the International League, Bruce Baldwin is overseeing the team's final year in Richmond while getting ready for the first season in Gwinnett County next year.
Staff correspondent Guy Curtright sat down with Baldwin, a Seattle native, after the team unveiled its uniforms and logo earlier this week to talk about the move, his sports background and the long association he's had with the Braves.
GC: How did you get your start as a minor league executive?
BB: I was teaching and coaching in Eugene, Ore., and worked for the Northwest League team there in the summer. I was an assistant to Dean Taylor, the general manager, on what basically was a two-man staff. Dean, of course, later was assistant GM with the Braves, GM in Milwaukee and is now the assistant GM in Kansas City. I enjoyed it and when Dean left I became the Eugene GM, but I still taught and coached at South Eugene High School.
GC: How did you hook up with the Braves?
BB: The team in Eugene was sold and I still wanted to continue working in baseball if I could. I thought I better take the first offer I got. Atlanta called and offered me the job at Pulaski, Va. The Braves were starting a team in the rookie Appalachian League. I asked where Pulaski was and nobody could tell me, but I took the job anyway. That was 1982 and I've been with the Braves ever since, although I certainly wasn't thinking that long-term at the time.
GC: Where did the Braves send you next?
BB: I had my choice of Anderson, S.C., in the South Atlantic League or Savannah in the Southern League. I chose Savannah.
GC: Was that a short stay?
BB: I closed the team down and made the move to Greenville, S.C., the next year. I opened the stadium there in 1984, so this move from Richmond to the new ballpark in Gwinnett isn't something new to me.
GC: You were promoted to Richmond a few years later. After two decades in Richmond, is it hard to leave?
BB: Sure, it's a little bittersweet. I worked for eight years on a new ballpark in Richmond. In the end we created an opportunity for a $300-million development. Then it was sniped down. That was the bitter part. We worked so hard and then it collapsed. But on the flip side, it is so exciting to be coming to Gwinnett and being so close to Atlanta. This is a great opportunity for me and the team. This should be a tremendous Triple-A market.
GC: With the move to Gwinnett from Richmond, will there be a lot of changes in the way the game is presented to fans?
BB: Yes and no. The facility dictates what we can and cannot do. But we will keep the same philosophy.
GC: Minor league baseball seems to be as much about a fun family outing as it is a sporting event now, with so much in-game entertainment. How do you feel about that?
BB: There is a fine line between being trashy and being respectful to the game. We try to walk that thin line. I love the game of baseball. But I also like the antics of the San Diego Chicken or whatever. I think it is important to periodically give away a cap or a T-shirt. I think it is important to have kid zones in the ballpark. I think it is important to do silly things occasionally that you can just sit back and laugh at. A ballpark is a melting pot. We try to strike the proper balance.
GC: Right now, you're balancing two jobs, finishing up the final season in Richmond and getting ready for next year. How often are you down here?
BB: Quite a bit. Next season is coming fast. What is it? Ten months. But everyone is doing a great job. We'll be ready. If not, the blame is on me.
GC: Have you gone house hunting?
BB: I certainly have, but I'm almost to the point where I'll just take anything. Maybe I should just get a Winnebago and park it.
GC: Your wife and family might have other ideas. How many children do you have?
BB: I have a 27-year-old daughter and sons that are 17 and 15. The 17-year-old will be a senior next year and he's a darn good left-handed pitcher.
GC: I'm sure there are a number of high schools in Gwinnett County that would love to have him.
BB: His school back in Virginia would love to keep him, too.
GC: Working in the front office actually wasn't your first job in the minors. Weren't you a minor league umpire for a few years?
BB: How did you find that out? I really don't tell a lot of people that.
GC: How did you become an umpire?
BB: I loved baseball and wanted to stay in the game. Everyone claims that they blew an arm out in high school, but I really did. I was told about a baseball camp and went. I didn't find out it was an umpire camp until I got there.
GC: How many years did you call games?
BB: Three. I made it to the Pacific Coast League, then got hurt. Maybe they were trying to tell me something. I don't know.
GC: Did you play sports other than baseball growing up in the Seattle area?
BB: I played football, a little basketball. My best sport was actually swimming.
GC: I know you coached football in high school. Did you coach any sports in college when you were at Oregon Tech?
BB: Tennis, believe it or not. I still haven't played a game in my life, but I can say I was a college coach, even if it was just NAIA.
GC: Unlike a major league general manager, you aren't involved in trades or player signings. Is it frustrating for a minor league GM not to have any control of the makeup of your team?
BB: I think it is frustrating for some GMs, especially those who have been around for a long time. But if you are in this just for the won-loss record, you're in the wrong job. My role is different than a major league GM, but I love what I do. I've gone from a one-man staff [in Pulaski] to a staff of about 30 or so. I'm more of an administrator now. I can hire people to handle some of the day-to-day details and devote more time to the creative side. Not everything works, but I get to give it a try. I feel blessed. I'm one of those who thinks that the grass is greener on my side of the fence.