FutureBacks.com Q&A: Sidewinders GM Rick Parr

Rick Parr is the President of the Tucson Sidewinders, and he is absolutely happy about it. He's easy to talk to, easy to listen to. He gets you excited about the season, about the non-profit work he's doing, about baseball in general. It's obvious there are other things he could be doing, but he knows that media is the way you build up the club. Managing Editor James Renwick talked with Parr about the 2004 season, the 2005 season, and just how good Chip Hale is.

James Renwick:  Tell me a little bit about your background.  Where did you get your start in baseball, when did you come to the Sidewinders?

Rick Parr:  My baseball career started in 1975 with the El Paso Diablos, who were the Double-A affiliate of the Angels when I started.  They eventually moved to the Milwaukee organization in '81, but I started when they were with the Angels.  I was just a summertime employee when I started, then I went full time and ran the nighttime crew, and in '79 I became Assistant GM, the next year I was promoted to GM, and then became President of the Diablos in 1986.  I came to the Sidewinders in 2002.  I got my start in sports at the University of Texas at El Paso, where I was first a player and then a coach at UTEP.

James Renwick:  We'll move on to baseball now, how involved do the players get in the community?  Does the uncertainty of the players tenure with the Sidewinders change how you do that?

Rick Parr:  Community involvement is a major part of the program.  One of the reasons why is that Major League Baseball players get a bad rap on signing autographs.  People don't understand that these guys get shredded during an autograph signing.  There's just such a crowd that develops, it's almost impossible to put these guys at a table for an autograph signing, because they'd be there forever.  What we try to do in the minors is give the players, and the fans, a chance to give back to the community, and establish a relationship with the fans before they go to the majors.

James Renwick:  That's assuming they haven't already been to the majors.

Rick Parr:  Absolutely.  It's tough because a lot of guys were getting moved on a daily basis.  Just look at last season, when 24 guys were moved up.  We lost Alan Zinter, Lance Cormier, Casey Daigle, Jerry Gil, that makes it difficult for us to operate, but it is just part of the deal.  I really feel, and the whole organization agrees, that the community outreach we do is vital to our existence.  I talk to a guy who loves going to the D'Backs games, but his kids don't care.  On the other hand, his kids love going to Sidewinders games, because the seating is so much better, and they really are within arms reach of the players.  Up in Phoenix they're in the third tier, and here in Tucson they're in the third row.  It's just so much more intimate, so much more exciting.  I understand because I come to every game, but I'm just like everybody else.  I just think one of the biggest advantages we have is that these guys can be high profile in our community, and not just on the field.

James Renwick:  What's new for the Sidewinders in '05?

It may not be new, but we are re-upping our commitment to the caravan tour of autograph sessions with players and managers.  I wanted to target the rest of the community with clinics, especially some of the poor sections of town.  These kids don't have enough money to meet the players, their parents can't bring them to park.  What we're doing is  partnering with Big Brother and Big Sister programs, and going to these sections of town.  Players are really good about it, and these are just some of the things were doing with the Sidewinders.  We are working with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, all sorts of groups, and giving them fundraisers with player involvement.  It's not only fun but it gives them the opportunity to make money for their organizations too.  I'm really trying to push that angle, the idea that the Sidewinders can be entertainment and a source of income for the community.  Last year we raised more than quarter million dollars helping the community of Tuscon.  This year we are expecting $250,000 this year for non profits.  I'd really like to increase that number even more, but only as long as we can handle it.  I don't want to agree to something we can't handle.  

James Renwick:  What about the Sidewinders themselves?

Rick Parr:  This is really set up to be a spectacular year for us.  The schedule is great, because we start on the road for first time in seven years.  A lot of people don't realize that we're one of the only Triple-A clubs that are also a Spring Training site for our big league club.  When you've got people coming to games for Spring Training, it's hard to get people pumped for the Triple-A team after spring.  This year we start on road, and it sort of gives people a break, separates them from the Diamondbacks, and especially if we start well on the road, we can get people pumped up, looking forward to the Sidewinders.  This year we've also got a home series July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.  That's a huge deal because we have a big fireworks display planned.  We've got memorial day weekend, and the biggest thing is that three-quarters of our games are before July 4th.  After the 4th we have monsoon season, a lot of people don't know that.  With most of our home schedule we've already cleared all the bad weather.  Down here people tolerate heat, but once the monsoons start, they just can't tolerate humidity.  Schedule is big key from last year to this year, we don't have Easter series, which is good, we do have a Father's Day game and that is a big deal, Flag Day and our Military Nights have been successes, and we just ended up with a lot of weekend dates.  All those things transition into a strong bottom line for us.  

James Renwick:  How have the moves the Diamondbacks have made this offseason affect the Sidewinders?

Rick Parr:  It's going to be huge for us.  With the veterans the D'Backs signed, it means they are stacking up their Triple-A players.  You sign some of these guys, like Troy Glaus and Tony Clark, and now they don't need our first baseman and so we will have them all year.  Some of these guys who struggled at the big league level are Triple-A All Stars.  We do much better when we keep the team together.  Last year was a poor schedule year, those things that we talked about earlier that are good this year just weren't happening last year.  We new we going to take a 10-15% hit, but we actually had a flat attendance in 2004 from the year before, so I looked at it as actually a big increase.  We started strong, that team was winning and winning big early in the year.  Winning brings fans.  Press follows, we get more in the newspapers, more TV coverage, the team becomes a bigger deal.  

James Renwick:  What role to the Sidewinders play in Spring Training?

Rick Parr:  We really take a backseat.  The majority of our players play during Big League Spring Training games, over half of the players at camp will be our guys, but otherwise there's not much for us to do.  It's a catch-22, we need the D'Backs support to exist, but at the same time we have to cater to them during Spring Training.  A lot of our box seat owners will cash in with the D'Backs in March.

James Renwick:  Talk to me a little about the Sidewinders' Manager, Chip Hale?

Rick Parr:  I'm going to say this in all honesty.  I've been in this business for 30 years, watching Double-A, Triple-A players and managers all the time.  I've seen some big time guys, guys who became major league guys, and Chip's going to be a major league manager, just like Al Pedrique was last year.  He's a great guy, Chip's a great guy, they have different styles, the thing that makes them both great is they deal with changes effectively to keep their team in hunt.  That's what Triple-A guys really learn how to do.  It was just short of a miracle for Chip.  We were the best team in the Pacific Coast League for two months in April and May we were well on our way to blowing everybody else out of the water.  Then we had 24 players leave our club.  That's the whole roster, not half, or a third, that's the whole team.  You're Chip trying to manage when you're getting guys moved at home, on the road, now you've got to win with inconsistency, you're trying to win with guys who got moved down from the Big League club and have bad attitudes.  Some aren't happy because they want to move up and haven't been.  Some aren't that good, and you've got to win with guys the big club says 'Play him in right field,' who maybe has never played right field before.  You end up with no unity, and you know what, we were 11 1/2 games out in July and we finished three games out at the end.  Chip is the best I've seen in 30 years, and it is only a matter of time before he gets a break and gets a Major League job, and he's going to be one of the best ever in the game.

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