HILLARY SMITH: RailCats GM takes 'interim' off, for now

2013-12-22T21:00:00Z 2014-03-11T13:51:08Z HILLARY SMITH: RailCats GM takes 'interim' off, for nowHillary Smith Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 22, 2013 9:00 pm  • 

Pete Laven's new office in Gary is bigger than the old one.

The president of Salvi Sports Enterprises took over the role of general manager of the RailCats after the season ended in September. He was the interim GM, handling the duties while a search was conducted to replace Kevin Spudic, who resigned after the 'Cats won the American Association Championship.

As the months wore on and the general manager position went still unfilled, Laven told team owner Pat Salvi that he'd keep the job through the 2014 year.

That means that Laven can fill the walls in his new corner office, the one that looks out onto Stadium Boulevard.

He can start with a championship banner, maybe even two if he dares to bring Schaumburg Boomers orange into the haven of RailCats green. Laven, who in his first 20 years in baseball saw championships only twice with the Arkansas Travelers, was listening to the RailCats win their championship in Wichita on the radio while attending the Frontier League Championship series and representing Salvi Sports for the Boomers.

The RailCats have been his only focus since September, and he's prepping for a hefty season.

Unlike Major League Baseball, where a GM makes more personnel decisions, the general manager of the RailCats doesn't have a hands-on duty with the on-field team.

With the RailCats, the GM makes decisions about setting ticket prices, picking off-field entertainment, creating sponsorship contracts and maintaining a promotional schedule. He's the one that makes sure there are butts in the seats.

This winter, Laven will be helping to pick the new voice of the RailCats, set up a front office that will be there after September 2014, and create a 2014 season.

Thanks to 2013, the job is already a little easier, Laven said.

"One of the benefits of winning the championship is that you can market the team as the 2013 Champions, the shirt giveaway, the championship hat giveaway," Laven said. "We have those in the gift shop already and the sweatshirts have already been real popular."

Laven is the first general manager since Bill Terlecky left after the 2008 season without ties to the region. Roger Wexelberg, who replaced Terlecky from 2009-10, resides in Valparaiso and was the team's first GM when it began in 2002. Andy Viano, who replaced Wexelberg for 2011, is a Valparaiso University grad and had worked for the team as a radio intern and later radio broadcaster. Spudic, who returned for the 2012-13 seasons, is a Highland graduate and worked for the RailCats in their early years.

Laven is from LaGrange, Ill., and while familiar with Chicagoland, was new to Northwest Indiana last season.

He said he's happy to make the region part of the stadium experience, whether through theme nights at U.S. Steel Yard or food offerings at the concession stands.

"Bringing a lot of local flavor is important to me," Laven said. "One of the first things I've learned is Northwest Indiana loves festivals, there will be more festival-type food around the stadium."

While the front office breaks for the holidays, the busy season begins Jan. 6, 2014, when contracts begin to come in for May. The new head of the RailCats will barely have time to pick what will adorn his office walls for the next nine months.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach her at hillary.smith@nwi.com.

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