BY MATT LaWELL
ROUND ROCK, Texas | On game days, Dave Fendrick spends something like 14 or 15 or 16 hours at The Dell Diamond. Fendrick is the president of the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, and has been ever since a promotion around the end of the season two years ago.
But his experience goes back decades — to 11 more years with the Express, two with New Mexico State, 18 with the Texas Rangers, three with the Savannah Braves, one with the Greenwood (South Carolina) Braves and one with the Gastonia (North Carolina) Rangers. His work ethic goes back that far, too. In this first installment of First Person, Fendrick tells some stories and shares some wisdom.
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I was one of those kids who did whatever it took.
My senior year of college, I knew five owners in sports — Lamar Hunt, Art Modell, Carroll Rosenbloom, Charlie Finley, and I can never remember the fifth guy — and I wrote all five of them a letter and told them I wanted to work in sports. Four of the five wrote a letter back, said ‘Thanks, we’ll keep your letter on file.’ Steve Rosenbloom, the son of Carroll Rosenbloom said, ‘Thanks for writing. If you’re ever in the Baltimore area, be sure to look us up. We’d be happy to give you a tour.’ I wrote back and said, ‘You’re never going to believe this, but I’m planning on spending spring break in Baltimore this year.’ Of course I wasn’t, but I went to Baltimore. The Colts had just beat the Cowboys to win the Super Bowl that year, and he spent a whole day just showing me around.
A couple months later, I’m building garage doors in Cleveland, he invites me back to training camp at Westminster, Maryland, with the Baltimore Colts, the world champions. I’m in the dorms — a week earlier, George Plimpton had been in the room I was in — and I’m going to practice every day, I’m going to training table, I’m eating with the team. They’re playing the Redskins in an exhibition game and I ride on the bus with the team to the game. Kids are asking me for my autograph as I’m getting off the bus, I’m standing on the sideline during the game. And after the game, I’m leaving, going home to Cleveland the next day, and I’m in the locker room and I said, ‘Steve, I’ll be the mail boy, I’ll do whatever.’ He said, ‘Let me get back to you.’ So I go home, still building garage doors and he calls me up and tells me he has an internship if I wanted to come back. I’m thinking if I get a master’s degree, it’s better than doing this, and I turned him down. To this day, one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. I had my foot in the door, I had a guy that liked me and I didn’t capitalize on it.
I’m leaving for lunch one day and this linebacker is coming up the staircase as I’m coming down it. He literally picks me up, puts me against the wall and says, ‘I want my money.’ — Dave Fendrick
I didn’t have the passion back then to do baseball. I really wanted to do football. There was a minor league football team in Columbus owned by a brewery that was in receivership. They paid guys $50 a game. I go down and meet this GM and beg him for a job. He says, ‘All right, I’ll pay you $100 a week.’ And now I’m working for this minor league football team. They play the first game and the GM gives me the paychecks to pass out to the players after the game. They all bounce. The next week, same drill, he hands me the paychecks and they all bounce. I’m leaving for lunch one day and this linebacker is coming up the staircase as I’m coming down it. He literally picks me up, puts me against the wall and says, ‘I want my money.’ I still hadn’t been paid. The GM writes me a check, I take it to the bank and open my first checking account as a sports administrator. I take out $30 and two days later, I’m notified that I’ve overdrafted my account by $30. Now he’s bounced a check on me.
We had a running back from Detroit. He had four kids and we’re playing on a drizzly, chilly night and he’s running back a punt and he slips. This guy comes over the top of him and breaks his neck. They take him to the hospital, he’s in the halo and I’m thinking, ‘We don’t even have workmans’ compensation. That’s it. I’m done. I’m out. I quit and I didn’t go back.
My budget for Savannah in 1976 was $250,000. That was for everything — salaries, operations, travel, hotels, meal money, everything. It was different back then.
Mattress stacking was big, see how many bodies you get onto a mattress without touching the ground. College kids were doing it. So we decide we’re going to do a mattress stacking contest. We had fans do it, but then players decided they wanted to do it. There’s a picture of me and Tommie Aaron judging and all you see are these two feet sticking out, and it’s Dale Murphy. He’s at the bottom of the pile and there’s all these bodies on top of him. I said, ‘Tommie, I’m gonna send this to The Sporting News for publicity.’ He said, ‘You send that to Sporting News and they find out that’s Dale Murphy, I’m gonna lose my job. You can’t do that.’ I’ve got that picture. I don’t know where it is. I’ve misplaced it.
Bouton's whole deal was this humongous struggle, against all odds, to get back to the big leagues. After the game, they ask him about getting knocked out. He says, ‘Hey, when Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Mount Everest, nobody expected him to build a country club once he got there.’ — Dave Fendrick
I had Jim Bouton for a year in Savannah. He invented Big League Chew in Savannah. He was 39 and he learned to throw a knuckleball, and he picked out the one owner in baseball he thought would be crazy enough to give him a chance — Ted Turner. Ted invites him to spring training and he goes through spring training and Hank Aaron, who was the farm director, releases him. Ted says no and sends him to Savannah. He was doing pretty good and the Braves were terrible. John Montefusco throws a no-hitter in front of 900 people. We’re now going into the playoffs and the Braves and playing the Big Red Machine and then going on this two-week road trip. They decide they’re going to get a gate out of Jim Bouton. He gets through the lineup once with his knuckleball, and then in the fourth, they figure him out and knock him out of the gate. His whole deal was this humongous struggle, against all odds, to get back to the big leagues. After the game, they ask him about getting knocked out. He says, ‘Hey, when Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Mount Everest, nobody expected him to build a country club once he got there.’
I always thought I would enjoy college athletics. I didn’t realize the bureaucracy of it all.
Good place to work. The Ryans and the Sanders are good people to work for.
It’s very sophisticated now, not like when I was in Savannah. I had a secretary and that was it. I had a concessions guy, but he was a school teacher, so he worked during the day and ran the concessions at night. The grounds crew was run by the city of Savannah, so that was always hit or miss. It was very much hand to mouth. It’s light years from the kind of team we run today.
I quit wearing a coat with the Rangers. I just wore a tie. Now I never wear a tie. I’ve worn a tie here professionally maybe three times.
Regrets? What’s the point? I’m a big believer in God. I believe He’s got a plan. I believe the Bible’s a road map for life. It’s a great way to lead your life and make decisions.
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