30th of Jun | Story

First person: Shari Massengill


LAWRENCEVILLE, Georgia | Shari Massengill was overwhelmed the first time she pulled up to Coolray Field. For nearly 40 years she lived in Kinston, North Carolina, a town of fewer than 22,000 people and the home of the former Kinston Indians. Now she was living and working in a suburb of Atlanta larger than her hometown. Massengill landed here in large thanks to Gwinnett Braves general manager North Johnson, who brought in a handful of front office staffers from his previous stops. Here, Massengill is the assistant general manager.

That initial rush of emotion, of surprise at the dimensions of her new park in comparison to her old park, wasn’t because she was afraid of the challenge — she had experienced multiple league championships, and in 2007, she was named league executive of the year and Rawlings Woman of the Year — was mainly disbelief. Her career in baseball started with a fluke job.

I was just a regular 9-to-5. I didn’t work games. I was going to school and working for Cam McCrae in his Bojangles’. I went to work answering phones in his office and then they needed help at the Indians’ office answering phones when the season started. Honestly, I never planned to stay there.

I wound up staying home with Reagan, but it only ended up being 18 months. I called North one day and asked, ‘Hey, do you have something for me to do? I need to answer some phones. I need to get out of this house with this child.’ I go back and I started the same thing, except for I started not only answering phones — I was booking groups, picnics, birthday parties. Then it was like, ‘How can I not stay for the games?’

"Wilmington, Delaware, was coming to town and John Hopkins called me and said, ‘Shari, I have your first big problem, let’s see what you can do with it.’ I said, ‘What is that?’ ‘Well, the team is on the bus, they’re driving to Kinston, and they think they have food poisoning.’" — Gwinnett Braves assistant general manager Shari Massengill 

Everybody booked picnics or sold single-game tickets. Everybody did everything.

I was the director of sales at one point. Then I was the assistant general manager. When North left, he asked me about wanting to be the GM. I was like, ‘No. Heck, no. No. No. No. I’m comfortable where I am.’ They brought in a guy. He didn’t last the season.

I was the interim GM and we won the championship that year. That was ’04 and I was pregnant with Miles. I honestly had him two hours after I left work one day. Then two days later, I came back. There was no general manager in place.

Another guy comes in, he works the year. He didn’t like baseball, really didn’t like sports. Nice guy. I always compare people to North, which is probably not fair to people, but I’d always worked for him. North was always out and about in the community, and in the stands, and meeting fans and greeting ticket holders. At the end of the year, he got another job. Then I was like, ‘I’m going to raise my hand this time.’

Honestly I’m still an Indians fan. I was there for 15 years. How can I just change over to the Braves?

In Kinston, our office and clubhouse shared a door. I remember Eric Wedge one night. North had to go back there and say, ‘Just to let you know, these walls are paper thin.’ And he said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.’

Wilmington, Delaware, was coming to town and John Hopkins called me and said, ‘Shari, I have your first big problem, let’s see what you can do with it.’ I said, ‘What is that?’ ‘Well, the team is on the bus, they’re driving to Kinston, and they think they have food poisoning.’ We had fireworks scheduled that night. We had 4,000 people coming. They got shots, went to the hotel, got to the park around 5, but they were still getting off the bus throwing up. We didn’t tell anyone. We were selling tickets, people were coming into the game. We said, ‘We’ll wait it out and see what happens. Let’s get the people in here and what can we do to entertain them.’ We did a home run derby and a couple other things with our players. For the most part, we probably saved a couple thousand people. There were at least 2,500 people in the park. Half of it was a success.

I never went back to school. There was a point in one of those years where I thought, can I take a couple classes here and there. But I just couldn’t ever figure it out. Then North said, ‘You’ve been doing this for how long? I really don’t think that’s going to help you. It would be great Shari, but you reach a point where you’re learning it in your job.’

Here it’s more managing. I like it, but I miss a lot of things I was able to do in Kinston. If the ticket lines were busy, I went in there and helped. If the concession lines were busy, I went in there and helped. Here our concessions are owned by Aramark. We can’t get in there to help. We do call them and say, ‘Did you know that ice cream only has two people and the line is backed up for 40 minutes?’

This place is the freaking Taj Mahal.

The fun part about this job is meeting people. People you always remember, you always have ties with.


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Time for minor league trivia. Now in their fourth season in Lawrenceville, the Braves played almost four decades in Richmond, Virginia, though they have been around — playing under one name or another — for more than a century. Where did the team play its first game? (Keep reading for the answer.)

Not all skids are equal. Lose three, four, five straight games? Well, just about every team stumbles some time over the course of a season. Lose seven, eight, nine straight? A week of losses always hurts for a while. When you lose a dozen or more games, though, players push and fans jeer and the gallows humor starts to show up every game. The night we watched them at Coolray Field, the Gwinnett Braves lost their 15th straight game, a 5-3 loss to the Charlotte Knights. Felix Pie pushed home Jose Constanza in the bottom of the third and Eric Junge limited the Knights to a run over seven quality innings. The game was tied into the eighth. Then the bullpen gave up four unearned runs. When you lose every game for half a month, you do not rally from that sort of blow. The best part of the loss? It at least ended an awful month of June when the Braves finished 5-25. The worst part? The Knights arrived well in advance of their equipment, which pushed the start time back more than an hour and eliminated batting practice for Charlotte. Gwinnett lost to a team that was swinging the bats cold all night.

The radio voice of the Braves will sound familiar to anybody who watched professional wrestling during the glory days of superstars like Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Sting. Now a little more gray and a little more sartorially relaxed (polo shirts and shorts have replaced suits and ties), Tony Schiavone has called just about every Braves game since their move from Richmond, Virginia, four seasons back. Schiavone is famous for his work with old World Championship Wrestling and older Jim Crockett Promotions. His delivery is toned down now, his hyperbole replaced by more classic storytelling and an even delivery (he is a grandfather of two, after all). His move to baseball shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, either — almost 30 years ago, during his first stretch out of college, he called five seasons of minor league baseball.

Almost two decades after they helped the Atlanta Braves win their lone World Series championship, David Justice and Javy Lopez returned to the metro area for an “all-star weekend” of sorts. Justice and Lopez walked around the field for pre-game festivities, signed autographs for fans in suites and on the concourse, and took in another wave of cheers for their seasons with the team. The whole weekend was filled with big names — Ryan Klesko and Dale Murphy, one of only four outfielders to ever win back-to-back MVP awards, came out the next day.

Want the answer? The Braves played their first game as the Firemen back in 1902 ... in Atlanta. The team changed its name after a season to the far more iconic Crackers, which had been carried by Atlanta’s old Southern Association and Southeastern League teams from 1895 until 1897. The moniker hung around a little longer the second time, all the way until 1965, when the team move to Richmond, replaced by the the Braves and their Major League move from Milwaukee. (FUN FACT: The cap Matt has worn to every game this season is a replica of the 1939 Atlanta Crackers, available online from Ebbets Field Flannels. In a surprising turn, not one person at Coolray Field even asked about the cap.)

And in random statistical news, the national anthem unfurled over 1 minute and 33.5 seconds, the game started one minute late after that announced 70-minute equipment delay, the first pitch was a strike and the first batter reached on a fielding error. We ate fish and fries before the game and enjoyed a SweetWater with friends afterward.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason 

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