by Bekah Porter
CEDAR RAPIDS – Jack Roeder needs no beach to enjoy the sunrise.
“Seeing it rise over the baseball stadium is just about the most beautiful thing there is,” he says.
The Cedar Rapids resident stepped down this past week from his long time position of general manager to the minor league baseball team, the Cedar Rapids Kernels, and he will be replaced by the organization’s chief financial officer, Doug Nelson.
The succession is a well-planned one.
Mr. Nelson was named to the position a year ago, and the two men have spent the past 12 months exchanging knowledge in hopes of making the transition as smooth as possible.
Here’s what Mr. Roeder had to say about the business of baseball and how he helped his successor achieve confidence in the new role:
Q: How would you describe your 20 years as the Kernels’ general manager?
A: It was a great, great experience. People have asked me if there’s anything I would change if I could, and the answer is absolutely none. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 30 years in minor league baseball, and I think it’s been a great ride from the beginning to the end. One of the things that always struck me about this job was how fast time moves. It absolutely flies by, which I think shows just how great of a job it is. The worst part of my day is when somebody says it’s time to go home.
Q: What, exactly, does a general manager of a baseball team do?
A: Well, it’s different than at the major league level, where they deal more directly with the players. At the minor league level, the general manager’s role focuses more on the business end of it, which can include everything from selling advertising to selling tickets to the day-to-day operation of the ball park itself. And we have a full-time staff that varies between 10 to 12 people, so obviously I am busy being in charge of that group also.
Q: Do you think sometimes fans get so caught up with baseball that they forget that it really is a business?
A: To an extent. One of the questions I always get a kick out of is when people ask me what I do in the winter. They think that because there are games going on in the summer that that must be the time when you’re the busiest. But I’ve always thought that the time between October and April is just as important — if not more important — than the season itself. A lot of your success is determined during that time, when you’re out getting sponsorships and whatnot. But I do think the perception of baseball as a business has changed. It used to be that minor league baseball was — and I mean this with all respect — more of a mom and pop operation, but as the years went by and the stadiums went up, it became a big business, and that business continues to grow.
Q: What do you think of your successor, Mr. Nelson?
A: Doug’s the perfect person to lead the club going forward. As rich as the history of professional baseball is here in Cedar Rapids, I think its best days are still ahead, and I base that statement on Doug and the staff that’s already in place and the level of work I know they’re capable of accomplishing.
Q: How did you approach the transition period between you and Mr. Nelson?
A: Well, Doug has been part of the organization dating back to 2004, and this past year — 2010 — has really been our transition time. It really gave me a year to work with him, and now we here at the club feel really good about where we’re at in the transition, and Doug’s ready to take over and take this operation to even higher levels.
Q: What have you done to make sure the succession process went smoothly?
A: People have been asking me what this past year has been like, and to some degree, it’s been business as usual. I went about doing my job as I normally would, and then I included Doug in everything I did during that time. A lot of it was meeting people and introducing him to my contacts and exposing him to the baseball operation overall and showing him what goes on during a rain day. And it was showing him how I interact with the ground crew and the umpires and the fans and the managers and the concessions. It gave him an idea of how the club was run during my time so he had that foundation to build upon.
Q: How do you take all of the knowledge and experience you’ve gained during your time with the Kernels and effectively pass it all on to Mr. Nelson?
A: I think that him being there and seeing what happens on a day-to-day basis for the past year is something that really helped. And, of course, there were a lot of files and information that I gathered and gave to him. And then, as well, there were just hours and hours of us sitting together and talking about what he can expect.
Q: What role do you plan on playing with the Kernels organization after your last day?
A: Maybe none. I will be here to answer questions as needed, but I don’t plan on being in the way. They’re going to need a lot of freedom to do things the way they want to. I’ll be around and be supportive if needed, and I plan on coming to a lot of ball games, but beyond that, it’s just a plan to retire.
Q: Do you think succession planning is important when it comes to an organization replacing its leader?
A: I don’t know that it always is or would be, but in our case, it was a natural fit. In our case, it couldn’t have worked any better. When we first decided (on the year’s transition period), I thought it seemed like the right thing to do. Now, after having gone through it, I am positive it was the right way to do it.
Q: What do you consider to be some of your greatest accomplishments in your role as general manager?
A: I think there are a lot of different things that we here at the club are proud of, and I do preface this by saying we because if it wasn’t for the board and our staff and the community and the fans and a lot of other people then these things wouldn’t have happened. But if I have to list things, I am going to say that we’re proud of the two championships we won in 1992 and 1994. And the crown jewel would be building the new Veterans Memorial Stadium. I would also highly rate our community outreach and involvement. We’ve been able to generate $2 million for nonprofit and charitable groups. Also, I would mention that the organization won the John H. Johnson award, which is given to the top minor league organization in the nation, which includes more than 170 teams. We won that award in 2008. So I would say that there’s a lot to be proud of.