The 2012 Fort Worth Cats baseball season opened in May with the smell of hot dogs, the crack of the bat and the leadership of a new general manager. But Chris Hart is no stranger to the game, the fans or the winning tradition. Hart spent 10 years with the Texas Rangers as a senior account executive before joining the Cats. And though he’s got his work cut out for him, this new GM is up to the challenge.
Give us a little background on your baseball career and becoming a Fort Worth Cat? My baseball background goes all the way back to Pee Wee Little League at 6 years old. I am from Albuquerque, N.M., and went to Eldorado High School, where I played all four years with a JV city championship and state qualifier my senior year. From there I went to Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo., and pitched for two years. I came to the Cats after 10 years with the Rangers, 2001-2011. Someone who I consider a great mentor, Jay Miller, put me in touch with Cats President Mike Stone about the opportunity to join the Cats, and I didn’t hesitate when I learned about the chance to be GM of the organization.
Obviously, the experience you gained with the Ranger organization was priceless. What key factors have you taken from that experience to help the Fort Worth Cats? I think the key factor from my experience with the Rangers that has been key with my transition to the Cats is my ability to build relationships with supporters of the organization. One of my stronger attributes with success at the Rangers was being able to bond with prospects and show them the potential of being involved with the organization. My first two suite sales at the Rangers developed into a close friendship even outside of the business world, and I still keep in touch with them to this day.
LaGrave Field is a unique ballpark and an important part of the community. What are you doing to add to the greatness of this historic field and how will you involve the community? I was well aware of the history of LaGrave Field and the Cats before I came on. I want to make sure that is incorporated with all future involvements regarding promotions or sponsorships. Surprisingly, there are still a lot of people who don’t know about the Cats and LaGrave, so when we invite them out to look at the opportunities, they get excited about getting involved and helping the community with making it a family-friendly environment for entertainment.
What is the most challenging part of marketing an independent minor league baseball team? I think 2012 brought a significant challenge due to the state of the organization. Joining the Cats in March with the season two and a half months away posed a challenge with both time and coordination. Our main objective with starting the 2012 campaign was getting the word out that the Cats were playing this season. Local headlines noting the bankruptcy of previous ownership and foreclosure of the property made it difficult for supporters to understand. Now that the season is underway, it’s a lot easier to communicate about the state of the organization.
How do you measure the success of the team? Yourself? I can really tell we have a good product on the field. Coming in, I didn’t really know what to expect with watching the Rangers for the past 10 years. I realized the product that we had on the field was solid after our first two exhibition games where we played a DFW All-Star group that comprised some of the players who were at the tryout camps but didn’t make the ball club. For myself, expectations are to keep the integrity and tradition of the Cats and LaGrave strong and build awareness in the community that this is a multi-faceted facility that is not only home to the Fort Worth Cats but also hosts events such as marathons, charity events, concerts and high school and college tournaments and games.
What has been the most difficult part of being the new general manager? What has been the most exciting? I would say the most difficult part was coming in and learning the whole process with the short amount of time before the season. I wanted to make an impact right away with building attendance and bringing on new sponsors, which we have done but not to the level that we will in the future. The most exciting part for me has been assembling a great support staff. They are very high energy and very excited about being in baseball and, more importantly, with the Cats. I would not have gotten to this point without their experience and ideas.