8th of Jul | Story

Crash course


SALEM, Virginia | The extent of Todd Stephenson’s baseball experience was playing and that ended some time during high school after he discovered cars and girls. So imagine his surprise when he showed up for his first job in minor league baseball and he was suddenly the boss.

The general manager and only year-round employee of the Sarasota Red Sox had taken a medical leave. Fresh out of N.C. State University with a master’s in parks and recreation and sports management, Stephenson was named the interim general manager.

“The first year was interesting,” he says, remembering more than a decade back to 1999. “It was a big learning experience as far as what goes on during the game, what works business-wise and what works operationally.”

Stephenson didn’t follow baseball during college. His only relatable experiences were running concessions stands at local parks growing up, cleaning up and moving equipment at Reynolds Coliseum during his college years in Raleigh and internships with golf and tennis tournaments.

“It was interesting getting back into the atmosphere, being around the game and the fans and the people who are involved with the game,” he says.

That first year he ran the operation on the fly. And he did it successfully. He was named general manager for the 2000 season, then followed that in 2003 with a promotion to the Boston Red Sox’s coordinator of Florida operations. In 2007, he received another promotion to oversee the Red Sox’s new team in Salem.

“When the position in Salem opened, I had no intention of applying, but they said, ‘Why don’t you go? We think you’ll be a good fit,’” Stephenson says. “They offered me a dual roll where I’m the GM here and special adviser to Florida operations.”

For now, Stephenson is happy in Salem running a staff of 15-full-time employees and 10 interns. He still helps maintain Red Sox public relationships in Fort Myers, Florida, where the new spring training facility, JetBlue Park at Fenway South, opened earlier this year. Stephenson is unsure where his career will take him, but he wants to retire with the Red Sox organization.

“Some days you want to go to Boston, some days you don’t,” he says. “I don’t know what the future will hold, so I’ll just roll with it.”


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Time for minor league trivia. The Salem Red Sox home opener this season featured what big leaguer on the mound for a rehab appearance? Need a hint? A former Chicago Cub and Baltimore Oriole, he is a sidearming specialist who appeared in 25 games for the Boston Red Sox this year. (Keep reading for the answer.)

Red Sox all-star closer Michael Olmstead committed two throwing errors, threw a wild pitch that advanced a runner and gave up five runs in the ninth to blow a two-run lead and spark the Frederick Keys to a 8-5 win. The erratic Olmstead faced eight Keys before he was pulled after two-thirds of an inning. Red Sox DH Adalberto Ibarra drove in two runs, and center fielder Brandon Jacobs, second baseman Sean Coyle and right fielder Shannon Wilkerson all drove in one. Each member of the Red Sox’s offense reached base and the team combined for 13 hits — but Keys pitchers struck them out 12 times, including twice in the ninth.

When we arrived at LewisGale Field at Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium (what a mouthful), a Ferris wheel, miniature roller coaster, cheesesteak and lemonade stands and dozens of other rides and food carts were set up in the parking lot. The Salem Fair was celebrating its 25th anniversary with two weeks of entertainment. With no open parking spots near the stadium, we wound up parked on the grass behind the scoreboard. Highs in the low 100s kept the game crowd sparse with an announced attendance of 1,169 and forced the fair to stay closed until the sun started to drop in the early evening.

Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium, which has sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is part of the James E. Taliaferro Sports and Entertainment Complex that also includes the Salem Civic Center and Salem Football Stadium. Fans who sit along the third base line can see the light towers of Salem Kiwanis Baseball Field, which opened in 1932, and was home to professional baseball in the city until the team moved to the stadium in 1995.

Want the answer? Rich Hill pitched the first two innings of the season for the Salem Red Sox, giving up one hit and striking out three. Hill’s 2011 season was cut short when we underwent Tommy John surgery on June 9. Working his way up through the minors this season, he pitched well until he strained a flexor tendon and was put on the DL in June. Hill appeared in 16 games (three for Salem) in the minors and 25 in the Majors this season. He ended the season with one win for Boston, a 1.83 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.

And in random statistical news, a young woman sang the national anthem in 1 minute, 39.2 seconds, the first pitch was a strike and the first batter grounded out to second. We ate pulled pork barbecue nachos, which kept us from climbing onto any carnival rides after the game. Probably a good idea.

Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason 

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