By Chuck Cohen / Managing Director at Benco Dental
Growing up in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the 1970s, I bucked the Phillies’ trend and became a passionate fan of the New York Yankees.
Most young Yankee fans want to grow up to be Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle. That would have been fun, but I realized pretty early that my future was more George Steinbrenner than Reggie Jackson. Steinbrenner, the Yankee’s managing partner from the 1970s to the 2000s, was brash, outspoken, and demanding. He set high standards, changing managers 20 times in his first 23 years of ownership. He was New York in the days when New York was fighting through years of bankruptcy and crime. He was Donald Trump, before Donald Trump was Donald Trump.
Like most boys, I played Little League baseball, but not very well. My parents, who attended every game, said that watching me run from first to second base was excruciating: I took two steps to accelerate, and ran like I had a load in my pants weighing me down. I was thrown out at second. Often.
So I turned my attention to a version of baseball that was more my speed: Strat-o-Matic, kind of like fantasy baseball in the days before the internet and wins-above-replacement (WAR). In Strat-o-Matic, every player has a card with outcomes based on real statistics. Chair-side managers draft teams, and play nine inning games by rolling dice to recreate matchups between actual pitchers and batters. For many years, I was obsessed, playing for hours. My thousands of Strat-o-Matic cards still sit in a box, in the basement, each team wrapped in a dried-out rubber band, waiting for the day when one of my kids asks, ‘hey, what are those cards?’
A few years ago, my son invited me to play in a fantasy baseball league with a few of his seventh grade friends, and I was totally, embarrassingly obsessed. But it was a little unseemly for a 40-something-year-old father to taunt and beat up on his kid’s friends, so I retired from that league after three years and one championship. Thank God, my son didn’t disown me. At least not to my face.
So, when a friend called about a year ago and offered me the chance to buy a share of our local minor league baseball franchise, the top Yankees farm team, I listened. The amount of the investment was relatively small (I won’t share the amount here, but it’s far from the largest investment I’ve made), and the ownership stake less than 1%, practically a finger-nail clipping. The other partners made it clear that I receive no dividends, and the only way I will get my money back is if the team sells, or I find someone to buy my share. In short, not a smart investment.
They had me at ‘hello.’
In a very minority way, I could be George Steinbrenner, an owner of the Yankees, at least the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre version. I could sit in the owners’ box for a few games a year. Bask in the team’s success. Visit the locker room. Meet the players (actually, they’re just kids, about the same age as my son). Celebrate the wins. Bitch about the losses.
I spoke with my wife Rebecca, a life-long Red Sox fan. (Ask her about the big fight we had a few years ago over the ‘Red Sox Nation’ sign her mother bought for our house. Sign went back. Wasn’t pretty.) I explained that the investment was lousy, but I wanted it. As always, she supported my crazy idea. Just like that, I had achieved my dream to become the owner of a baseball team.
That was back in January. Since then, the team went on to have a stellar 2016 season, winning the league, and then the minor league version of the World Series. My involvement? I attended one game all season — in true fair-weather-fan style, a playoff game that the team won in September. I smiled all the way home.
It felt good, like I had scratched an itch on my back that was there for years, just slightly out of reach. No one noticed my new status as team owner, except me.
Until last week, when the team held a press conference to celebrate the team’s championship season, and introduce the new owners. The announcement went viral, thanks to Linked-in and other social media sites, and all of a sudden people emailed me their congratulations on ‘buying’ a baseball team. Everyone seemed excited, especially fellow baseball fans.
So, yes, I’m the owner of an oh-so-small sliver of a local minor league baseball team. And it feels good.
At our next owners’ meeting, which will be my first, I plan to channel my inner George Steinbrenner and have a complete temper tantrum, demanding that we fire the manager, even though we won the championship. After all, they can’t get rid of me now.
I pledge to make George proud!