Mark Schuster has been in pro baseball since 1989, when he hooked on with the Class A club in Durham, N.C., as director of concessions. But from Durham to Burlington, N.C., to Fort Myers, Fla., to Charleston, S.C. Ñ that's from Bulls to Indians to Miracle to RiverDogs, if you're into minor-league baseball Ñ Schuster hasn't faced a task this daunting.
The general manager of the Portland Beavers is trying to cram six months worth of work into six weeks. And he's trying to get people in this town to understand that Triple-A baseball has actually been a going concern here for the last two years.
'I've never gone through anything like this before,' Schuster said as he tried to tie up loose ends for today's 4 p.m. exhibition game against the San Diego Padres at PGE Park. 'We've had a very late start. There was quite a bit of uncertainty about everything.'
The Beavers were an entity for the past six months. Sort of. They were a Pacific Coast League franchise the whole time. Problem was, nobody knew exactly who owned them, who would operate them and, for a while, if they'd really play in Portland. The city of Portland, the team's former owners and a group of creditors wrestled over those problems while Schuster waited patiently, unable to begin selling tickets or sponsorships.
Less than two months ago, nobody knew about today's game.
In baseball, you do a lion's share of your sales in the winter, hedging yourself against bad weather or a bad team once the season starts.
'From ticket sales, to corporate dollars, to renewals and just about everything ÑÊall were affected,' Schuster said. 'I would say better than 50 percent of your ticket sales are usually done before the season. We're under the gun, obviously.'
The good news is, the Beavers have been a successful operation. The team's financial problems have been due to the debt from the stadium renovation, not because of a lack of interest in the team.
'I think it's an image thing,' Schuster said. 'We put 6,000 or 7,000 in the ballpark and it's a pretty good number, but in a stadium that holds 18,000, there are a lot of empty seats.
'But the numbers we've done here match up pretty well against other Triple-A clubs. We're a successful company moving forward.'
Last season's PGE Park exhibition matched the Padres against the Seattle Mariners and sold out in about an hour. This one, featuring a San Diego team that, quite frankly, is not very good, will not draw as well.
'I expect about 10,000,' Schuster said. 'That would be a nice crowd.'
He's right, considering it's the Padres, and considering that just a little more than a month ago it could just as well have been the Beavers versus the Miracle or RiverDogs, for all anyone in Portland knew.