TRAVERSE CITY — Mickey Graham aims to bring his years of minor-league baseball experience to the Traverse City Pit Spitters.
Graham, named the Northwoods League's general manager this week, looks to shoot high in the team's marketing and promotions.
As general manager, he's in charge of everything outside of the baseball team itself, including marketing, promotions, community relations and concessions. Field manager Josh Rebandt handles the team and its player signings.
"If the Pit Spitters win 10-1 or lose 10-1, the fans will enjoy themselves," Graham said. "Hopefully, we'll be winning 10-1."
Changes have already occurred at the stadium, where the large sign by M-37 now has a Pit Spitters logo in place of the old Beach Bums one. The team is also working on expanding the concession areas by taking down some interior walls to make them bigger and expand the food offerings.
"Fun is in everything we do," Graham said. "It's in the logo, the promotions, the experience."
Graham grew up in Columbus, Ohio, going to Columbus Clippers games on a regular basis. Now a Cleveland Indians affiliate, the Clippers were part of the New York Yankees system back then, and the 47-year-old Graham also grew up listening to baseball games on the radio in his grandmother's kitchen.
After graduating from Wittenberg University with degrees in philosophy and Russian studies, he landed an internship with the Triple-A Durham Bulls for a year before working for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators for three years and then joining the West Michigan Whitecaps, where he's spent the last 19 years in a variety of roles, including the last 14 as director of marketing and media.
"I always thought that was fun — cheap food and beverage nights, whatever they had going on," Graham said of going to Clippers games.
Graham led a promotion and marketing team in Grand Rapids that led to the Whitecaps being the first minor-league team to host a Peanut Free Day and Star Wars Night.
Graham joked that one of his less successful promos was a British humor night, where part of the evening included the public address announcer dressed as a knight from Monty Python's Holy Grail and Graham dressed at Patsy, the servant who followed around the knights and clapped together coconuts to mimic the sounds of horses.
"He'd run out into the outfield so I had to follow him around with the coconuts," Graham joked. "A lot of bad promotions, but a lot of fun. Promotions are like baseball; if you're hitting .300, you're doing well."
The Whitecaps also introduced unusual foods during his tenure there, such as a taco with a bacon shell called a "Baco" and the Fifth Third Burger, a monstrous hamburger with five patties and a multitude of toppings that comes in a pizza box. Fans who can eat the entire burger before the game ends received a T-shirt and had their photo put on the concourse wall. That promotion was featured on the Travel Channel's "Man v. Food" show.
“Mickey is the right person at the right time to lead this franchise,” Whitecaps and Pit Spitters CEO Joe Chamberlin said in a press release. “I am confident that he has the experience to reinvigorate the market, creatively use that ballpark for outside events and to bring our organizational core values of providing fun and family-friendly entertainment to Traverse City and Northern Michigan. He has been a huge part of cementing the Whitecaps in the West Michigan community, which will translate well as we work to make Pit Spitters baseball a summertime staple in Northern Michigan for years to come.”
The team seeks host families for the upcoming season. Host families receive a season ticket package and other benefits, Graham said.
The franchise won't have a radio broadcast, although the Northwoods League has a subscription streaming service available.
Graham said the team plans to use the stadium for more than just baseball games as well, including the possibility of a beer festival and concerts. The Pit Spitters have already booked the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference baseball tournament May 8-12 in addition to several high school games this spring.