Updated: May 21, 2020
Down On The Farm is a series where we go deeper with the Chicago Cubs minor league affiliates. We'll look into operations and cool stories, as we sit down with the people who work there. First up, a look at the Cubs short season class A affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds.
In late April, I was fortunate to spend some time on the phone with the home Radio Announcer and Assistant General Manager of the Eugene Emeralds, Matt Dompe. Matt outlined his path to his current position, some background on the team, the state of minor league baseball, and some of the interesting day to day workings from being with the Cubs class A affiliate, thousands of miles from Chicago. Today, I'll be focusing on Matt's stories from his many years in baseball.
Matt Dompe has been with the Emeralds since 2010, and works an unusual role in both the front office and in the radio booth. He holds a Bachelor's in Business and Economics from UCLA, and has an MBA from the University of Oregon. He has also worked for the LA Avengers, Lake Elsinore Storm, and Perth Heat (Australian Baseball League). Matt grew up in California as a Giants fan, and as you can guess, Barry Bonds was his favorite player.
Matt got into baseball by being in the right place at the right time. He played baseball in high school, but not in college. He graduated college a semester early, inspired to do so after reading a book called "Getting Into The Game: Inside Baseball's Winter Meetings" by Josh Lewin. That book inspired Matt to follow two specific pieces of advice: get sales experience, and go to the Winter Meetings as a graduate. Ultimately this gave him an advantage over his competition when he left the meetings with two job offers. He took the job with the Lake Elsinore Storm as the Director of Game Operations and worked there for 2 years. Next he spent 2 years in Australia as the Assistant GM for Perth Heat baseball team. After his stint with the Heat, he came back to the west coast and began moving up the ladder with the Emeralds.
Matt was a PA announcer for his first two years in Eugene. On the last road trip of 2011, the original broadcaster suddenly left and the team had to scramble to find a temporary replacement. Matt volunteered and did well enough in his tryout to come back. He used to do both home and road games until another need arose. Matt was just getting his MBA and the team needed a Senior Accountant, so he filled that role, and cut back to announcing only home games. He leads a busy life during the season and his dual positions give him much insight into the inner workings of running a team on and off the field.
Matt shared a bit about his typical day-to-day, in-season:
Our front office staff generally gets there around 11am on a game day. I still usually show up and get there around 8:30-9am just because I want to get that accounting stuff done, so I can take a few hours to focus on that night’s game broadcast. I’m kinda fidgety about not having at least 2 or 3 hours to sit and look at everybody’s stats, look at what’s going on, and get the pre-game all ready. I hate anything sort of “show and go," you feel rushed and unprepared. When you’re prepping for broadcast, you’re looking over stats, making sure you know what everybody’s batting averages are, or prepping in general for the night.
A lot of guys have programs, or things like templates to make their scoresheets how they want it to look. I make my scoresheets bigger, like legal sized , the biggest size they can print for me. I have all these different boxes. I like to read off their profiles online and then scribble down in my own handwriting so it makes me have to look at every single number. With the visiting teams I look at what colleges, what did they do there, did they get selected to an All Conference Team. All that kind of stuff. Five percent of that might make it into the broadcast, but as a baseball nerd, it’s really interesting to read all that.
A good chunk of the middle of Matt's day is dedicated to preparation and announcing, and then bookended by accounting as they manage cash flows from each game. As Assistant GM, he has a lot to manage in season, including ongoing promotions, sponsor partnerships, and general operations.
The offseason becomes the foundational building for the season to come. There are ticket sales and finding new partners while also maintaining current partners. But their biggest offseason task is brainstorming, planning, and lining up their promotions for the upcoming year. It's critical to the team's success, because as a Class A short season team in an area that's not really sports-centric, they need to be creative to get fans to the ballpark.
Despite the challenges, Matt is extremely upbeat about working for the Emeralds. He's very fortunate to be able to do both radio announcing and work in operations. His thoughts about what makes Eugene a special environment:
"(Some) People look at it like, you’re the short season, so you’re at the bottom rung of the minor league ladder. It’s really funny, when you’re a minor league employee, that has nothing to do with anything. There’s really no difference from AAA, there's really no difference as to what we are doing. Honestly, the short season is really the life! There are 38 game days instead of 70, but there are people who want the “prestige” of AA or AAA. But we have a great place to live and when the weather gets nice is when we start playing. As a broadcaster and a west coast baseball fan, having grown up in the Bay Area, there weren’t any rain delays. I didn’t brush up on rulings like, when do you call the games, when do you make them up, when do you resume them? Rain delays are not part of my vocabulary. (laughs)"
After talking with him over an hour, a theme started to emerge about how special the front office staff is. Matt had nothing but high praise for all of his employees. Calling them a big happy family might be a bit of a cliché, but it's a very fitting descriptor for the Emeralds' front office staff.
A large turnover in sports is the norm, and the minor leagues are no exception. But, that is not the case at Eugene. The Emeralds have maintained their full regular staff, most having been there at least 5 years. They've grown together, created some great ideas, and have been recognized because of their special contributions to minor league baseball. We'll jump deeper into their accomplishments as a group in it's own article, because a simple bulleted list would just not do them justice. Not only has baseball become a fixture of Eugene, but they've gotten nationwide notoriety from their efforts and creativity.
After the season, you'd expect everyone to kind of split off and take a break, but that's not what they do at all. The end of the year features a staff retreat, where they take over a riverside house for a couple of days. They watch the Wild Card games at a place known as the the Oregon Cliff House. It has a wiffle ball field with a full dugout, scorer's booth, announcer's booth and a full grill, all right on a river. Fitting with the nature of the Pacific Northwest, it's in a very scenic location. Maybe someday I can bring the Cubs DNA staff out there for a company retreat? (Tina: yes please)
That's just one of many cool stories Matt shared with me during our time together. Some of the other highlights:
Matt has caught two foul balls from the radio booth, while on the air. This is significant, because of where the radio booth lies behind the netting, it is next to impossible for fouls to get there. It has to go up and over the backstop and then hook back down into the booth in just the right way. But he's caught two, both while announcing on the radio. The first one was too surprising to get a good radio call. But the second one he saw coming, and was able to do the entire play by play. After making the call, he held the ball out to the fans in the ballpark so they could see his improbable achievement. He of course still has both baseballs in his personal collection. One of them was installed with a sound chip that will play his radio call of the Em's winning it all when the ball is touched.
Matt played a round of golf with the late Bill Buckner, when Bill came out to visit Eugene. As it happened, Matt was the lucky one to pick up Buckner and drive him to the golf course. Buckner openly shared about his infamous 1986 World Series error. The group didn't ask about it, because you figured it would be a sore spot. But he jumped in, talked about his bad legs and the special shoes he was given to try to help his legs.
Matt called a "balk off" for the 2018 League Championship. It's the final game of the season. The bases are loaded, tie game, in extra innings, and the pitcher balked. This win completed a miracle season for the "Bad News Ems," who had a .408 winning percentage during the regular season. They squeaked into the playoffs and then proceeded to cruise to the Championship.
After taking this deeper dive, I'm not sure that it's accurate to say that the Emeralds are "just" a minor league baseball team. That might be the core of what they do, but the team is so much more than just a stadium and players playing ball. It's a fixture of Eugene.