By Nicole Hennessy
The Lake Erie Crushers have a new owner − Tom Kramig − who’s been enthusiastically planning the team’s future while working out formalities between himself and the city of Avon.
Since the city owns All Pro Freight Stadium, it must sign over the lease to Kramig. The transfer is expected to move forward smoothly.
A lifelong baseball fan, Kramig decided to look into owning a minor league team about a year ago. Realizing it was something he could actually do, he decided to pursue a team in the independent Frontier League, which led him to the Crushers.
Also motivated by a desire to relocate from Denver, Colo., back to the Midwest (he’s from Cincinnati), he packed up and made his ambition of being a team owner a reality.
“I’m not George Steinbrenner,” Kramig joked, stating that he would not be managing the team, but the team’s branding and the role of the stadium itself in the community.
One way in which he plans to do that is to hold more events in the space, which he’s commented is underutilized.
Kramig sat down with The Press to discuss his plans.
Q: You hear about people jumping into their dream job. When you found yourself in the position to own a team, how did you know it was going to be a reality for you?
A: I really started researching it about a year ago, and it was sort of, “This would be cool. I wonder if I could make this work,” but I wasn’t really sure I could. The more I researched it, the more passionate I became about it and the more realistic it became. I really locked onto it.
Q: Being familiar with the area, you’re probably aware of some of the struggles faced by Northeast Ohio businesses. Was that something you factored into the decision to take on the Crushers?
A: Not a great deal. Northeast Ohio is an awesome sports market. They support teams through good teams and bad, and so I really wasn’t concerned about the state of the Northeast Ohio economy. I think if we put a good product on the field and put out an entertaining product, and a great fan experience, people will support the team.
Q: I know that the Crushers haven’t had the best record lately. How do you think new ownership can improve something like that?
A: The previous owner was sort of an absentee owner. He lived in Chicago. And he has stated that he felt the team really needed somebody on-site on a day-to-day basis and somebody who was committed to it full time.
Q: You’ve mentioned finding alternative uses for the stadium; what exactly do you have in mind?
A: The city went out and built this beautiful ballpark, and it’s great for Crusher (s) games, but I think it also needs to be expanded for other events. I’m pretty open on what those other events can and should be. Obviously, youth baseball tournaments; I would love to get some concerts in here down the road. The options for other events we can host here at the ballpark are really limitless. I think, again, being here every day and being on-site, will help make some of those a reality … I’m optimistic about what we can do here. It’s gonna take time. We have to get baseball right first, and then branch out into other areas.
Q: What do you think this type of venue can add to a community when it is managed well?
A: It’s something people can identify with. ‘That’s our team.’ It’s not just the city of Avon’s team, it’s really this whole west side of Cleveland, western suburbs of Cleveland, team. Sports are a huge, huge part of people’s lives and they lock on to the local teams. When it’s minor league baseball, and the players are so much more accessible, and the environment is so much more intimate, people get to know who these guys are. (The players) live with host families. So, a lot of people really connect with minor league baseball and the fan experience. A lot of it is about the fan experience. Minor league baseball is obviously much more affordable than going to an Indians game or a Cavaliers game. Those are great − don’t get me wrong − but it’s a bigger-ticket item, so for a lot of people, this is their exposure to professional sports. We want to make sure they have a tremendous experience here in the ballpark for two or three hours.