A DAY IN THE LIFE OF … A minor league baseball General Manager

Photo By Rick Snizik
Story By Randy Gross – rgross@harrisburgmagazine.com

Name: Randy Whitaker

Born in: Wellsboro, PA

Raised in: Northern & Southwestern Virginia

College(s): Arizona State, Virginia Tech, University of Tennessee 

Job Title: General Manager, Harrisburg Senators (AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals)

Job Description: “The ‘general’ is not just a title, it’s descriptive. It’s generally anything. And that’s pretty much what everybody else does, too. We may have our specialties, but then … like yesterday afternoon, we were out moving tables. It’s what you gotta do to get it set up. I park cars, I direct traffic, I dance, and I sell … so it’s all kinds of different things.”

How long with Senators? Since November of 2007.

Career before Senators? Sales, marketing, & research at ABC 27 (for nearly 20 years).

Biggest misconception about his job: People believing that he can “wheel and deal” and trade players like GM’s do in the major leagues.

“I don’t have a baseball job,” Whitaker explains. “I work in a ballpark, but the baseball is just an aspect of what we do here. This is absolutely the entertainment business. This is hospitality and entertainment. That’s 100 percent of what we do. In affiliated baseball, the minor leagues are where they send the players to play. We run the operation here. Give them a place to play, but everything else is pretty much us. Ticket sales, advertising sales, any kind of community relations, that kind of stuff … that’s just Harrisburg based. When the players come, we help them with a little bit of living stuff, we make sure they’ve got a bus to take them from town to town, we handle some of the business aspects when they’re on the road … but it’s operations more than anything.”

Favorite thing about his job: “I have never, after all these years, had two days that are the same. I guess certain aspects may get repetitious, but there’s always something that goes and completely throws it off. Never boring, and very creative. With all the partners we work with, with all the organizations we work with, with all the people we work with, we try to think through everything. Okay, what are we going to do to make this memorable for people? What are we going to do to make this something that this business partner is not going to just want to buy but is going to get benefit from so that they’ll say ‘I wanna do that again. I wanna work with them again.’ So, we’re constantly coming up with cool little quirky ideas. That’s fun. We write the script for 69 parties!”

Favorite 2022 Promotion: Saturday, July 23rd, Gregg Mace Hall-of-Fame Bobblehead Night, with induction of the late great ABC 27 sports anchor’s bobblehead into the Life Size Bobblehead Hall of Fame. (Says Whitaker, “The two biggest Senators fans I’ve ever met in my life are Gregg Mace and Steve Reed.”)

Favorite stadium food: The Rendell Burger (from The Spot), which consists of a 6-ounce steak burger served on a pretzel bun with Swiss cheese, fried onions and peppers, tomato, and spicy mustard.

Story behind the popular All-Male Dance Team (which Whitaker is a member of): “We went to a joint seminar with two other teams, up in Allentown with the [Lehigh Valley] IronPigs. And on their wall they had a photo of … guys dressed up as women, dragging the infield. And it was the older members of the staff that were there [in the photo]. And we thought, ‘hey, that would be cool to do something like that.’ And then we’d also been trying to think of ways to get buy-in from the rest of the staff, because with participation and the real immersion in the whole game experience, the more we can get our staff into that and having fun with it, the more we can kind of project that to the fans. So, the senior management said, you know, if we get out there, and we dress up, and we dance, and we do all this, and then somebody says, ‘I don’t wanna do something,’ say ‘look, we do it, you do it!’ If the big bosses do it, then anybody can do it. So, that was the start of it.”

Hour-by-Hour Typical Game Day:

10 A.M. – Staff meeting to review that evening’s game.

Whitaker: “We bring all the full-time staff in and go through just the general steps. ‘Okay, this is today … gates open at this time … game starts at this time … these are the shirts you’re supposed to have on … and this is what time this happens.’ Get down to the game operations, review all the events that are going on during the game, to make sure we’re all on the same page. ‘If we’re doing something that involves getting a pie in the face … who’s getting the pie?’”

11 A.M. – Future event planning and management; reaching out to partners to finalize plans.

Whitaker: “That’s kind of thinking about ‘if this is Wednesday on this week, I’m looking at the list for the next homestand in two weeks.’ This company’s gonna be here … now, do we have them scheduled for what time they’re gonna get here? Do we have parking passes to them, do we have tickets to them, do we have all the graphics that they need to get up …? If I’m calling somebody for graphics on a Tuesday for a Friday game, then I’m not doing it right. So, I’m trying to work ahead to get everything prepped and trying to pace those things for down the road.”

12 noon – Minor stadium repairs & signage adjustments; setup for the night’s event.

Whitaker: “Every once in a while, you have to replace a zip tie, or repair an umbrella … I mean, Todd [Matthews] and I do surgery on umbrellas all the time. And if it’s a giveaway night, at noon we might be pulling the stuff up like the hats or the bats or whatever from the bins getting ready to set those out. It just depends. Everything from like 11 until parking starts is ‘whatever’s appropriate.’”

1 P.M. – Logging contact with partners for short and long-term relationships.

2 P.M. – Follow-up correspondence concerning present and past events.

3 P.M. – Final set-up for stadium event.

Whitaker: “That’s going through and maybe putting up umbrellas [along the boardwalk] … I mean, that could be anything. That’s hanging last-minute signs if it’s something you need for that night, getting tables set up … just setting up general prep around whatever the event is.”

4 P.M. – Final coordination with staff for the night’s event; game meal at desk.

Whitaker: “We work with a variety of different partners, that we trade tickets or marketing or whatever, and we get meals in. So, I’ll just go down there and grab pizza, or Arooga’s, or whatever. Some people hang down there, I work better here. I can do some last-minute computer things. And then I gotta go through “the process” … I gotta put on this, and the radio goes up here, and the hat goes on … and the sunscreen goes on ears. The parking vest goes on and the Stop sign comes out, and it’s like ‘okay.’ Turn the radio on, and ‘test, test, test,’ good, and it’s go time!”

5 P.M. – Set up cattle guards for fan entrance; pre-game entry parking & fan greeting at “top of the hill” (something which Whitaker has done for 12 years!)

Whitaker: “That’s another case of ‘if I can do that kind of thing, you can, too.’ It’s a real good meeting point for folks. I greet people as they come over the hill, have conversations with them, show my staff that everybody has to roll up their sleeves and do stuff around here and, frankly, take somebody off the clock that we’d have to pay otherwise to do the same thing. Plus, it gives me a real good feel for who’s here, who’s coming, just kind of the flow of things … I can get a good idea about the kind of night we’re gonna have.”

6 P.M. – Entry parking continues and flow of traffic into the stadium ceases; cattle guards broken down on way into stadium.

Whitaker: “The guards are set up so that the people walk on one side of the road, and the cars go down the other side of the road.  We just push those to the side so that, while the game’s going on, whatever little bit of traffic there is can flow through.”

START OF GAME – The “Suite Sweep,” followed by (time permitting) walk-through of stadium to touch base with fans and staff.

Whitaker: “In the first or second inning we make the ‘suite sweep’ … Go up and say hello to my clients that are up there, and some other clients that are up there. Just checking to make sure ‘is everybody here that you are expecting … is the suite attendant and food all good.’ Sometimes it’s just one suite, sometimes it’s eight. I can get caught up there if I get caught up in conversation sometimes.”

3rd INNING – Go to office to change into “dancing suit” for the night.

4th INNING – Report to 3rd base field access gate for the “All Male Dance Team Performance.”

Whitaker: “It’s not just ego, but when we dance, it gets as good a reaction as anything else that we do. We’re in the entertainment business, so if people want to cheer, we’re gonna do the performance. Since 2015 we’ve been dancing, and we’re gonna keep doing it!”

5th INNING: On the field for T-shirt launch into the stands; afterwards, speak with fans & pose for photos.

Whitaker: “Will be nice to have it [T-shirt launch] back. We didn’t have that last year.  Not that we couldn’t shoot shirts … it was more that we worried about people climbing over each other to get them.”

On the photo ops: “That’s usually on the walk back in our suits … it’s like ‘hey, can we have our picture with you?’”

6th INNING: Final walk through of stadium.

Whitaker: “Check to make sure everything is running right, again, just checking with the staff. Seeing people I haven’t seen for a while.” 

7TH INNING: Reset cattle guards for exit parking (fans on the right, cars on the left). Direct traffic as people leave the stadium and keep the cars from the VIP/handicap lot and people flowing smoothly. “Exit greet” folks as they walk by while waving my light saber.

Whitaker: “The same thing as pre-game, just with people going on the other side of the street … and with my Darth Vader light saber. I’ve had several. I’ve had the Skywalker, I’ve had a Mace Windu, and I’ve got a Vader right now. I really like the Mace … but nobody knew what the purple one was. So that took too much explanation.” 

Editor’s note: be on the lookout for impromptu “light saber” battles between “Darth Whitaker” and kids wielding novelty light sabers, especially on a fireworks night.

POST-GAME: Twenty to thirty minutes after the game, break down cattle guards; bring in teardrop banners from entry sidewalk; join staff in picking up trash (“that some fans decided was easier to leave on the floor rather than drop into trash cans on their way out!”); drop umbrellas around the park; return to office to complete post-game reports while drinking a glass of “box” wine.

Whitaker: “I kind of look back at any clients that I need to send emails to and say, ‘hey I didn’t see you tonight,’ or ‘I saw you, and I thought about this,’ just that kind of follow-up thing to wrap it up.”

The Harrisburg Senators open their 2022 season in Altoona on April 8th. Their Home Opener will be on Tuesday, April 12th, with a 6:30 p.m. game against the Portland Sea Dogs. Tickets and information at https://www.milb.com/harrisburg.