Ron Lucia's welcome to the Kenai Peninsula was somewhat chilling -- his pipes froze during a cold snap last month -- but things have thawed out since then, and the new general manager of the Peninsula Oilers has been able to dive headlong into his job.
"There's just so much to do," Lucia said. "I've really just started making sponsorship calls. I'm not really thinking about (the season) yet."
Indeed, Lucia has been focused on the behind-the-scenes work of running a ballclub, and his top priority has been to build the organization's sponsorship base -- something he said was different than simply raising the funds needed to operate the team.
"The biggest thing is to make the Oilers more attractive to sponsors, to give them the most return on their dollar," Lucia said.
Sponsors should feel like they're getting something in return for their support, Lucia said, rather than just writing a check with no expectations of a return on their investment.
Lucia knows of what he speaks: Before signing on as the Oilers' general manager, he owned three businesses, as well as a baseball team in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
Lucia already has put together a marketing presentation to share with potential sponsors, and he's been to chamber of commerce meetings to get to know the peninsula business scene.
"I want to branch out from just Kenai, to Seward and Homer, Soldotna, Nikiski -- the whole peninsula," Lucia said. "It's about building relationships, and those things aren't done overnight."
Of course, Lucia hasn't been completely oblivious to the reason the team exists -- the summer baseball season. Head coach Aric Thomas, the director of baseball operations at the University of Oklahoma, has assembled much of the team already, and Lucia, who has done plenty of recruiting in the past, is looking forward to working with Thomas as the season approaches.
"I'm still really getting to know Aric," Lucia said. "The business end of things demands most of my time right now."
Lucia came to the Oilers after serving as the president and general manager of the Middletown, Conn., Giants of the NECBL, a team he owned for two years and sold in September of 2003.
Dennis Smith, president of the Oilers board of directors, said Lucia was selected from a pool of about 40 applicants.
"I liked his calm demeanor on a personal level, then of course, his baseball contacts and his knowledge of business and baseball," Smith said of the attributes that set Lucia apart.
Lucia, 38, said he played baseball in high school, then went into the military following graduation. Following his time in the service, he got back into baseball as a coach, working as an assistant at NCAA Division III Westfield (Mass.) State College as recently as 1997.
Lucia's past business ventures include owning a restaurant next door to the Giants' home field, and he said his move to Alaska was just a matter of good timing.
While Lucia was familiar with the Alaska Baseball League, he had never been to the Great Land prior to interviewing for the position last November.
Lucia said he has uncles and cousins in Anchorage, and it's been nice to reunite with his extended family.
"I grew up fishing with my dad," Lucia said. "My dad came here and fished on the Kenai River. It's a little strange -- here I am in Kenai after my dad passed away in '95, but I've been catching up with my dad's side of the family."
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The Oilers home opener is scheduled for June 10, when the California Victory Dons will visit Coral Seymour Memorial Park. Lucia would like to generate some buzz before the season starts.
To that end, the Oilers will have a new mascot this year, a big fuzzy red bear, and Lucia will be visiting schools as part of a name-the-mascot contest.
Lucia has some other ideas for promotions, as well as for things such as a family pack, which would include tickets and a trip to the concession stand for a set price. All these things are intended to attract more fans to Coral Seymour Memorial Park on a regular basis.
Other ideas are far-ranging and leaguewide -- things like how to keep the ABL as one of the premier summer collegiate leagues in the country as others do more to market themselves.
Smith accompanied Lucia to the American Baseball Coaches' Association convention last month in San Antonio and said he was struck by the number opportunities the league was missing out on to promote itself.
Smith said some folks visiting the ballpark one summer commented that the atmosphere reminded them of what baseball was like back in the 1950s.
While nostalgia is nice, Smith likes to believe the Oilers and the ABL are a little more progressive than that.
"We had a lot of discussions with other leagues and organizations, and we're starting to get some ideas," said Smith. "We want to take baseball into the 21st century."
Lucia has familiarized himself with the history of Alaska baseball, partly by reading Lew Freedman's "Diamonds in the Rough." He said he sees some real possibilities for leaguewide cooperation. Future endeavors could include everything from staffing a booth at the coaches' convention to possible sanctioning of the league by the NCAA in the future.
"There are some interesting opportunities for people to work together," Lucia said.
Smith said Lucia's past experience will be beneficial to both the team and the league as they look to the future.
"He's got some experience in other leagues and dealings with other leagues that he brings to not only our organization, but the whole league," Smith said.
"Being in college summer baseball, being familiar with the Cape Cod League, and the Alaska league, and being familiar with their reputations, I see opportunities to bring the Oilers and the league to the next level," Lucia said.
"... I'm looking forward to remaking the face of the organization."
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