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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Wallace brings enthusiasm to job as Nashua Silver Knights’ GM

NASHUA – He hit fungoes and threw a little batting practice at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass., recently, filming a commercial with Tampa Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.

But that’s as close to a career on the field that Ronnie Wallace will get. ...

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NASHUA – He hit fungoes and threw a little batting practice at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass., recently, filming a commercial with Tampa Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.

But that’s as close to a career on the field that Ronnie Wallace will get.

His life and career path have certainly changed, and to hear him tell it, for the better.

A few years ago, he was a sidearm reliever at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a partial scholarship player out of Tewksbury, Mass., with thoughts of playing after college. His numbers weren’t the greatest his senior year: 12 appearances with a 6.56 earned run average, though he fanned 20 in 23 1⁄3 innings.

Now Wallace deals with different numbers. At age 23, he’s the general manager of a collegiate summer league baseball team that follows the minor league business model to a T.

“There’s nights where I’m laying in bed and I have 10,000 thoughts going through my head about work and about baseball,” said Wallace, the first-year general manager of the Nashua Silver Knights.

“I was talking to ‘Goodie’ the other day,” he said of Silver Knights and Lowell Spinners executive Jon Goode, “and he was saying how it’s crazy all the things you think about this time of the year. You’re just worried you’re not going to get it done, but one way or another everything gets done, you take a deep breath and you say ‘Wow.’ ”

Wallace has seen how things are done. He arrived on the scene his senior year in college as an intern with the Lowell Spinners, and then last season was the food and beverage manager for the Silver Knights. The title was a bit misleading; Wallace did a little of everything.

In October, seeking a strong, steady voice in the community, the Spinners chose him to serve as general manager of the Silver Knights.

Spinners/Silver Knights team president Tim Bawmann wanted a year-round front office presence in the city and at Holman, and felt Wallace would fit the bill.

“He is mature beyond his experience,” Bawmann said. “He’s proven to be a leader with a tremendous work ethic that we need in Nashua.”

“I was pumped,” Wallace said, “to say you’re the general manager of a baseball team. Granted, it’s not high-caliber, but it’s still …

“People ask me all the time, they think of a general manager as Ben Cherrington or Theo Epstein. But it’s the minor league model. No minor league GM does the baseball stuff. It’s the entertainment, promotion.

“Initially I wanted to be the (next) Theo Epstein or Ben Cherrington, but I’ve fallen in love with the minor league business model. It’s unbelievable. I think the model itself is fantastic for families and communities.”

Wallace says he has seen how much fun the fans and the players have, as well as the team’s staff.

“You can’t really be at a baseball game on a nice summer night and not be having a good time,” he said. “I think there’s still so much room for growth. It’s only going to get better and more fun.”

Wallace says he has been given the freedom by Spinners management to make the decisions he sees fit, as long as he can back them up with good reasoning. The biggest move he has made, he says, was simply logistical around the stadium.

“There was such turnover here,” he said. “I love my job. I’m here to stay. Having someone with that demeanor will go a long way. They’re looking toward the future, not towards the end of the day.”

Wallace has learned how to go out into the community and approach strangers about his product.

“I’m talking to strangers all day long to try to get them to trust me, to trust what I’m saying,” Wallace said. “To trust that the product is what I say it is.”

So he has developed as a speaker, enjoying talks at colleges, high school classes and Rotary Club meetings.

“It’s fun to pitch what you do every day,” Wallace said.

Wallace enjoys managing a staff. He got his feet wet last year managing the game day staff.

“It’s clear we’re going to have a ton of fun here, but we’re going to work hard every day,” he said. “It’s good for (the interns) to relate to a younger person. I did what they did, so I can relate. I was just there. So I think they trust what I say at this point.”

Wallace admits he misses playing. He sees some of the games and can pick up signs, knows when players are peeking at the catcher, etc.

Although he isn’t directly involved in the game, he recommended a couple of UMass Amherst players, Branden Walsh and Mike Gannelis, and vice president of baseball operations B.J. Neverett put them on the roster.

He also had to deal with the slow season – from November into early March. Wallace would make 100 calls and send out just as many emails with little or no response. Eight hours would seem like 80.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “I’d go to a weekly meeting and it would be, ‘What happened up there today?’ ‘Nothing.’ ”

But things changed on a dime. Suddenly clients who wouldn’t respond in December were stopping by in April.

“Five minutes, in and out, and I would go to three or four meetings with the same clients before and not get anything,” he said.

He was learning the art of the sale. Ticket sales under Wallace have risen sharply from a year ago. Season tickets have almost doubled. Wallace recalls going on a sales call with longtime Spinners staffer Brian Lindsay. The conversation with the client went for at least 20 minutes before business was even discussed. The two or three minutes talking shop produced a sale.

“I’ve learned it’s all about establishing relationships with these people,” Wallace said. “As we move closer to the season, it’s important to maintain the relationships with those people, not just when you get their check, you cut loose.

“You have to follow up with people, how do you enjoy this partnership so far. That’s extremely important, stuff I didn’t even think about last year. It never even crossed my mind.”

Having to call off last year’s opening night because of weather still rankles Wallace.

“You get all jacked up and then it rains and you go home,” he said.

He hasn’t forced himself to look at the long-range forecast yet. Wallace just knows what he wants to accomplish with his name on the GM nameplate.

“The hard work of not sitting back and waiting for people to come to a game,” Wallace said. “It’s making sure we get out, making those phone calls, hitting those groups and making sure when they come out, they have a great time and follow up with them. It’s just getting more people in the ballpark.”

That’s a general manager talking, not a baseball player.

Ronnie Wallace’s transition now seems complete.