MacPhail's Presence To 'Boost' Membership?
By Joe Platania
On a snowy evening in late January, newly-elected Sports Boosters of Maryland president Scott Eisgrau stood in a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse private room, regaling a visitor with a description of what the 59-year-old organization does for local charities.
Suddenly, executive director Ron Levine appeared.
"You have to put the logo in front of the podium," Levine said.
Apparently, no job is too big or too small for anyone involved with the Sports Boosters, a group renowned for its local philanthropy, as well as its devotion to Baltimore's past and present athletic glories.
Occasionally, the Boosters will hold dinner meetings like the recent Ruth's Chris gathering in order to spur awareness and membership.
In the past, the Boosters were known to the general public mostly for their high-profile annual banquet that drew the likes of local and national athletes and sportscasters. However, the gradually declining economy has put that event on hold for the last several years.
As vibrant and enthusiastic as the Boosters have always been about their causes -- which have included Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Elrod Hendricks Baseball Camp, St. Frances Academy and the Kennedy-Krieger Institute, among many others -- they would certainly like to, pardon the pun, boost their numbers.
"Always a membership drive. Every day is a membership drive," Eisgrau said.
Considering the intense efforts of both the Boosters and the Orioles to raise their respective profiles, it was appropriate that Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail was the featured speaker.
Just as the Boosters face competition from outside forces in their membership drives, the Orioles have gone up against similarly formidable opposition in the recent past, as MacPhail pointed out to a crowd anxious to ask questions about the team's direction.
"There is no shortcut to winning in the American League East," said MacPhail, who pointed out that the five AL East teams posted a .563 winning percentage outside the division in 2008, best of any division.
"There is a road map in Tampa Bay," MacPhail said, referring to the surprise worst-to-first division champion Rays, who advanced to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. "If there's one thing we do here (in Baltimore), we have to have a proud player development and scouting system. It cannot be adequate and it cannot be just OK.
"We cannot win in this division if we have to rely on free agents or if we trade our way through it."
MacPhail, who was made a Boosters honorary member, seemed to imply that the Orioles will have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and rely on their own talent to get better.
That's exactly what the Boosters seem to be doing for themselves.
The membership drive is aimed at getting younger members to freshen up the base. Memberships for those 25 years of age and younger are priced at $25. They are $50 for those aged 26-35 and $100 for anyone 36 and older.
Besides the drive, a silent auction was held with sports memorabilia provided by Schulte Sports Inc.
The inventory included Baseball Hall of Fame memorabilia from Cal Ripken Jr.'s induction day, including a photo of the six principal Orioles in the Hall of Fame together: Ripken, Brooks and Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver and Eddie Murray.
Also up for auction were various signed pieces of equipment, including a ball from the last game at Yankee Stadium, in which the Orioles were the opponent.
The most eye-catching exhibit was a stunning color action photo of Baltimore Colts wide receiver Raymond Berry catching a pass against the Minnesota Vikings at Memorial Stadium during a 20-17 Colts win Oct. 23, 1966, less than two weeks after the Orioles had clinched their first of three World Series championships on the same field.
The Orioles' 1983 title was also a big topic of conversation at the meeting, as the Boosters were selling copies of the DVD "Baltimore Magic," a look back at the team's championship parade held after it defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in five games.
Shot by local videographer Al Ackerman -- who got up-close access to the parade route -- and narrated by noted broadcaster Jon Miller (whose first season in the O's booth was none other than 1983), the parade footage had to remind anyone who saw it about what was and what can be, for both the Orioles and the Boosters.
However, both entities have never stopped trying to get better.
"We like to work on a variety of different things," said Eisgrau, a national sales manager for Allymac, a mortgage lending firm.
"Last year, we worked on Shoes for Grades, which was a wonderful thing to get behind," Eisgrau said. "(We worked with) 12 different schools, six in Baltimore County, six in the city, and we raised over $25,000.
"The premise was to get the children to increase their grades by one full letter. If they did, we gave them a pair of shoes."
In the Orioles' seemingly-parallel universe, MacPhail pointed out that it will take similar diligence for the team to get better.
"It will require dedication, focus and execution," he said. "You have to prepare yourself, physically and mentally, over and over again. You have to identify what the fundamentals of success are and do them over and over again. You can't be afraid. You've got to try."
If the Orioles get better, fans will benefit. But if the Sports Boosters can keep fulfilling their charitable missions, society wins.
"It's really about the kids," Eisgrau said. "I'm an avid sports fan, there are lots of avid sports fans, but it's a commonality, and that's where it started. Raising money is a wonderful thing to do."
Issue 134: February 2009