02/22/2013 9:15 AM
Adam Ehlert chats with one of the T-Bones coaches, Frank White. (2012 File Photo by Matthew Hicks.)
The name Adam Ehlert might not be completely familiar with T-Bones fans. After all, as professional team presidents go, Ehlert, who co-owns the T-Bones with his dad John and his brothers, generally stays behind the scenes. Away from the field, though, Ehlert is active in the Wyandotte County area – that’s the way it’s been since he moved the T-Bones from Duluth, Minn. (where they were the Dukes), to Kansas City. As the T-Bones have now been in Kansas City for a decade, it seemed like a good time to sit down with Ehlert for this e-mail interview with Matt Fulks of tbonesbaseball.com. The following is Part I.
Matt Fulks: You and I have joked that you and Al Gallagher first interviewed me for a job with the T-Bones shortly before the club’s first season, which was more than 10 years ago. To me, that decade has flown. For you?
Adam Ehlert: Well-bookended question, Matt. I celebrated a milestone birthday before the T-Bones had thrown a pitch in Kansas City, and I just celebrated another last week (Feb. 15). It’s fairly significant, when I think about it that way. It has been a fast decade, and I think that is a good sign. It has not been without ups and downs — after all, we’re a small business, and have weathered a couple of significant recessions. The operative concept, though, is that since time had flown, it has been a great ten years. Some joke that starting or relocating a small business is like childbirth, and you remember the good things, and if you remembered the pain, nobody would do it twice. I can empathize.
MF: As you think about the club’s first 10 seasons in Kansas City, are there one or two things — besides the championship — that you’re most proud of, on and off the field?
AE: I think our reputation is one of the things of which I am most proud. Our reputation for how we do business, with our partners, players and staff, and also our reputation for our product. Our intentionally-simple tagline has been: Fun, Well Done. That only hints at the meat of the story, so to speak. Our product really is: affordable family-friendly entertainment, which happens to be in the form of independent professional baseball. When I meet someone anywhere across the greater KC-metro area, I am almost always assured of a positive reaction, either because their family enjoyed a game, or because they are a potential customer who has “heard” great things about the experience.
MF: You mentioned that “family-friendly entertainment,” which was your goal when you moved from Duluth. Have you accomplished that the way you envisioned?
AE: As mentioned, we are a basic small business, with a whole lot of unique variables mixed in — promotion, public relations and civic engagement, physical plant logistics and maintenance, consumer marketing, business-to-business marketing, ticket sales on several different levels, and on and on…without even touching the baseball side yet! I am taking a circuitous route to answer your question — I am glad we operated in Duluth for two years before moving to Kansas City. I saw a lot of what worked and what didn’t work as that team struggled over the years, and also helped me learn the business quirks of minor-league baseball. Of course, there are things I would do differently, now a decade more seasoned, but overall, we are very proud of the of how we have built the brand and stayed true to our mission. Especially in the sometimes topsy-turvy world of independent baseball — we’ve endured and are one of the country’s strongest franchises. Building from one of the original franchises in the Northern League, in literally more northern (read: Duluth cold?), to one of the top five independent franchises (excluding the Major Leagues) in terms of average attendance is a great source of pride and a reminder of humility from the embrace of our fans.
I am also terrifically proud of our place in Wyandotte County. We took a great leap of faith in investing our business into Kansas City, Kan., and the reception has been spectacular. The Unified Government has been a great partner over the years, and our collective growing pains have really led to a better community. The T-Bones Uncommitted Recreation Fund (TURF) is a perfect example — we have been able to fund more than a half-million dollars of improvements and augmentations to area parks. Recently, seven parks have been made accessible to children of all scope of abilities. Outdoor recreation should be, at its most simple, fun. And that fun shouldn’t be modulated by recession and budget cuts. I am tremendously proud of how we’ve been able to work with the Parks and Recreation Department to create fun for children in our neighborhoods.
MF: Several people have been around the club for several years, but one of the most loyal has been Chris Browne, who’s the Vice-President and General Manager. His background in Kansas City — growing up here, being a clubhouse attendant with the Royals, etc. — has been well-documented through various articles here on tbonesbaseball.com. How much has it helped to have someone like Chris with this organization since, basically, pre-day one?
AE: You’re right — Chris is absolutely invaluable to the T-Bones, and even more so, valuable to the Kansas City sports industry in general. When one of the most astute judges of character (and a character in his own right) and I got to town in October 2002, “Dirty” Al quickly began referring to Chris as “The Mayor.” There was not a soul on either side of the state line that Chris didn’t know. His professional reputation allowed us access that an untried, minor-league product really hadn’t yet earned.
MF: Although we know a lot about Chris and his allegiance to teams in Kansas City, people don’t know a ton about your background. Growing up in Minnesota, were you a big Twins fan? Or, considering there were a few lean years when you were a kid, did you follow another team?
AE: I was a Twins fan growing up in Minnesota. In the lean years, I shifted my hometown enthusiasm to the Vikings. When both teams were lousy, I went snowmobiling. I did a lot of snowmobiling as a kid.
The previous was Part I of II with T-Bones President Adam Ehlert. Part II will run on tbonesbaseball.com next Friday, March 1.