Being a general manager for a minor league baseball team has definitely been a rewarding experience for Napoleon native Mike Nutter who has earned the respect as the general manager of the Fort Wayne Wizards, a Class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres and a member of the Midwest League.
Nutter has been involved in various baseball capacities at the minor league level for almost a decade now including being the director of baseball operations for the Nashville Sounds, a Class AAA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1997-99 after spending one season in the major leagues in ticket sales for the Florida Marlins 1996.
After his brief tenure with Nashville, another baseball opportunity came for Nutter where he had a couple of job offers in Fort Wayne and in Long Island, New York to decide upon.
A native of Napoleon, he wanted to come back into the area where he landed himself a position with the Wizards, a move that has turned Nutter's minor league administrative career around.
Nutter 31, who has been the general manager of the Wizards since September 2000, was born and raised in Napoleon, Ohio. He resided in the River City until the eighth grade when he moved to California and later attended California State University in Chico for two years before transferring to Bowling Green State University where he received his sports management degree.
"When I had graduated from BGSU, I had never in my wildest dreams thought I'd end up this close to all my family back in northwest Ohio and now with a team that is really booming, it's just great to be a part of this," admitted Nutter.
His parents, Ralph and Judy Nutter, reside in Mount Dora, Florida, but his grandparents, Ralph and Gladys Nutter and Eileen Leifer reside in Napoleon. His brother, Paul resides in Fort Wayne and his sister Angie lives in Mount Dora.
As a general manager, Nutter puts together an administrative plan where he hopes the Wizards not only compete for the Midwest League title every season, but also promotes and markets the Class A franchise heavily throughout the region with promotions and the best entertainment and product for the average baseball fan.
Being a minor league franchise of the Padres, Nutter pointed out that the coaches and players who play for the Wizards are paid by the major league club. The Wizards have an office staff of 15 full-time employees along with three college interns.
"My job and our job here is to make it as easy on them as possible," said Nutter. "Certainly we want to win games, and everyone knows that. But at the same time with the development here, we know that a player could get called up. In the past, if the Padres hadn't been doing quite as well as they are this year in their new stadium (Petco Park). If a player was doing really well for us, he went up. Now they (San Diego) have improved its own minor league system, so we might keep a player longer." "The most important aspect of being the general manager is to treat the players like kings, so they can respect us and do their best to achieve winning success here in Fort Wayne."
Since 1993, Fort Wayne has been one of the most successful teams in the 14-team Midwest League which includes teams from Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin and as a result, the Wizards were awarded the John H. Johnson President's Trophy as the Midwest League's "Team of the Year" by Midwest League President George Spelius for the 2003 season.
"The focus of Wizards baseball in Fort Wayne is always on the fan," pointed out Nutter. "We try our best every year, every home stand, every game, to provide the best entertainment and product for our fans. To be recognized for those efforts by the other teams in the league is very gratifying. It says a lot about the hard work and dedication of the entire front office staff. This truly is a team award and we are proud to be recognized for the kind of product that we provide for our fans."
Being awarded the President's Trophy also made the Wizards eligible for the National Minor League Baseball "Team of the Year" award, but Sacramento was the eventual winner of the award.
"It was a big honor for our franchise because we haven't won the award before in our 12 years of existence," pointed out the Wizards GM. "In the last three-plus seasons, our attendance has increased by over 60,000 fans and we were recognized for that."
Promoting minor league baseball in the tri-state region (Ohio, Indiana and Michigan) could be a tough sell for Nutter especially with five major league teams (Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs) who are popular among area fans along with several minor league teams including the Toledo Mud Hens.
"Our marketing staff has already reached out to Bryan, Defiance and Napoleon in promoting the Wizards," said Nutter. "We've really taken the region that they used to just draw only in Fort Wayne, but now have expanded it. We already know the Mud Hens are in northwest Ohio. Maybe fans would want to come to a Wizards game."
The Wizards really promote their team very well as some of the promotions that they offer include family autograph day on Sundays, Jake the Diamond Dog, Zooperstars, comedian Myron Noodleman, Birdzerk, and a Christian music concert by Big Daddy Weave.
"It can be a tough marketing sell especially with the Padres being located on the West Coast," said Nutter. "The good news is there are baseball fans everywhere."
As a result, the Wizards were presented with the Larry MacPhail Promotional Trophy which is given to the Midwest League franchise that has done the best job in the area of marketing and promotions.
"We have to market around the minor league experience," pointed out the Wizards GM. "If kids come out here and get an autograph or run the bases after every home game, they'll remember that. It's not always going to be did the Wizards win or lose, but to walk away with a smile and the experience. This is fun, no matter what happens we guarantee a lot of fun and that's how we promote the team. You're going to have good affordable family entertainment."
The Wizards have already sold out nine of their 43 home games this season, including a record-setting crowd of 7,400 who attended the Fourth of July game.
"We think people who want to get together for a few hours and interact with each other and have fun and have some real-life experiences with each other and the game of baseball is very affordable," said Nutter.
Nutter, who is a diehard baseball fan along with his wife Beth and eight-month old son Carson, is enthusiastic about his position as general manager.
"If we had a night game here in Fort Wayne, I'm usually here by 7 or 8 in the morning and don't get home until almost midnight," said Nutter. "It can be a challenge, but the best thing about my job is that we work in a place that all families want to come, but it's a place where my family can also come out and enjoy. Quite often, my wife is here at the game along with my son."
Being a highly successful minor league baseball general manager has its own benefits, but its also a passion where Nutter who has baseball in his own blood, achieving his own mission of providing the best possible game experience for the average fan with the Wizards.
Editor's Note: The writer of this column, John Fryman, coached Mike Nutter when Nutter played as an All-Star Player in Ohio.