Additionally, with their affiliation contract up for renewal with the Padres, there was concern in San Diego that the Wizards would elect to find a major league team a little closer to home, even though a very strong relationship had developed between the two organizations.
In the end, the personal relationships developed over the 10-year period that Fort Wayne has been involved with the Padres won out and the soon to be renamed Wizards elected to stay with San Diego.
We caught up with longtime Fort Wayne general manager Mike Nutter for the reasons behind the decision.
What was the main reason that you decided to re-up with the Padres?
Mike Nutter: You have to remember this was an internal process; we can’t solicit other major league or minor league teams, it’s a $50,000 fine if we do, and we just had to find out where were were at internally. The Padres have been a great partner with us for 10 years, and even though we are moving into a new stadium downtown with a new name change, stability is very important to us. A lot of guys here have been with us for a very long time, over 10 years, and the Padres are like that too, so we have had relationships with these guys for a long time.
The Padres have always been very supportive of us and wanted to be back here regardless of whether or not we had a new stadium. I’ve been talking to Grady (Fuson) at least once a month, and we started to crank it up three or four weeks ago. He wanted to know when the ownership was going to come out here so we could get everyone in one room, both sides could let everyone know where everybody stood. Since Grady has been in control of the organization, we’ve really been impressed by the quality of athletes that has been coming out here and overall just the quality of the system has really picked up.
It’s funny, Gary Jones, who used to be a manager here and now is the Padres minor league infield coordinator, has said the system is a lot deeper. It’s unfortunate that last year was a tough year, but this year has been better. We really enjoy working with Tim Katzman, who runs the community program for the Padres, and, for us, we just think it was a win-win situation for both sides.
What were some of the topics that everyone talked about when you guys were in one room?
Mike Nutter: You know we were asking them to agree with us, but we were throwing out some concerns. We didn’t get some of the bigger names that the Padres have drafted in recent years like Khalil Greene, Cesar Carrillo, Tim Stauffer and Jake Gautreau. Obviously not all of those guys made it, but when our fans read about the Padres drafting a big name they would like an opportunity to see him so if one day they are watching a major league baseball game on television they can say, “I saw him play.” Things like that are always very important to a minor league franchise.
It’s a big deal to us, even if they are only here for a month, our fans wanted to see them. Grady heard it and understood it and said the Padres plan is to send players through Fort Wayne.
What are the reasons behind the name change?
Mike Nutter: With the new stadium we thought the time was right. The name never loaned itself to Fort Wayne, there was just no connotation that when you think of the region you think of a Wizard. We are the number one minor league market according to Street and Smith’s and so it was just time.
We went out to the public and asked them if they had any suggestions to change and in two and half weeks we got back over 2,700 responses. Then we went out to our fans and asked where they thought the name should come from? Should it from television or calculators, which were invented in here, or characters which are famous from this area, like Johnny Appleseed, they responded again. Right now, we are in the internal process of talking to minor league baseball and their trademark division, and we should make an announcement sometime in September.
How is the new stadium shaping up?
Mike Nutter: It’s coming along great. Everyone who’s with the Padres that has been by just loves it and can’t wait for it to be built. It’s on schedule, under budget and the next big benchmark will be the field itself which should go in late September.
If you want you can monitor what is going on at the website.
There is going to be Wrigley Field style seats in right field and quite a few other things so it’s going to be awesome. If you go back to why we stuck with the Padres, one other reason is that they have been such a good partner to us and willing to work together to solve problems – a relationship has really grown. To have that type of relationship and then kick them to the curb right before the new stadium opens just wouldn’t have been right.
Finally what players have you enjoyed watching the most this year?
Mike Nutter: While he was here, Drew Cumberland was a lot of fun to watch, but he just got injured during his rehab assignment in the Arizona League. He was sliding into home headfirst and dislocated a thumb. We’ve had two starters, Wynn Pelzer and Jeremy Hefner that I’ve really enjoyed watch getting better. Both of them are great kids who have really worked hard. Lance Zawadzki is also a pretty unique player, a lot of talent who is starting to come on. My favorite event of the year may have been watching Felix Carrasco put on the display he did at the Midwest League All-Star game home run hitting contest. He nearly doubled his nearest competitor.