Beyond Left Field with Norm: Jennifer Pendergraft

Jennifer thanks for taking the time to chat with 9 Inning Know it All.

Please tell us more about yourself.

Well, let’s see, I’m the oldest with a 25 year-old brother and a 14 year-old sister.   I was born and raised outside of Amity, OR.  Attended Amity High School.  Played 2 years of softball at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, OR before transferring to Lee University in Clevelend, TN.

Played my last 2 years of eligibility there with a great group of girls while getting my BA in Business Administration, minoring in Religion, and studying abroad in Europe for a summer.

I stumbled on career opportunities in Professional Baseball while perusing (professonal baseball employment opportunities), figured I’d give that a try & see where it takes me.

Wound up in Visalia on an internship, fell in love with the work, the community & the vision the ownership group had for this ballclub, and I’ve been here ever since.

My hobbies…which I more or less claim, but don’t participate in regularly, are reading, traveling, 4-wheeling, being involved with Rotary Club activities, cigar smoking, and roller derby.

GM_JenniferPendergraftWhat has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?

Honestly, the re-branding of the team was a really fun process.  I’m a creative person, and I’m very detailed, so the whole thing was right up my alley. We had to do everything without the public catching wind of it, but we needed their input all at the same time – there were a lot of surveys, back-and-forth with the designer, ordering all of the merchandise and team uniforms, re-branding the whole website, printing materials, banners, etc.  And all off this was happening either early mornings or late at night.

Lots of long hours, but the end result was well worth it.  It was really neat to see the brand we had created, take shape & come to life – especially in conjunction with the ballpark renovations.  The community embraced it all very quickly, which means we did a good job.  🙂

What’s it like being a GM in Visalia? Is baseball a tough sell there?

Baseball is a rich part of Visalia’s history.  This franchise was founded in 1946, the same year our current ballpark was built.  Visalia is well known in the baseball community – you’ll hear it mentioned in classic baseball movies like ‘Bull Durham,’ and most recently in ‘Moneyball.’

It’s sureal to be part of such a historic ballclub.  But it’s (in California standards) a reasonably small town, and it used to be much smaller not that long ago, so the people here are very community oriented.  That fits in perfectly with the type of person I am, so it works out well.  I try to give back to the community in any way that I can – myself personally – and I have a great ownership group who feels the same way.

The ballclub & staff are constantly supporting the community in all kinds of ways.  And they support us right back.  That’s what makes this whole opperation successful – it’s truly a community team, facility, and point of pride for people in this area.

Me and Dorris_2013Visalia had a change of nicknames a couple of years ago. How did that come about? I miss the Oaks by the way. 

The ‘Oaks’ nickname was a well-recognized baseball name nation-wide because of it’s longevity, but the brand had become flat here locally.  An Oak tree is a great symbol for a City, but it was tough when we were trying to sell the fun and minor league-ness of the team.  Especially since the ballpark hadn’t seen a nickle of fan or team facility improvements nearly the entire 30-year span of the nickname.

So for the people here, the brand was affilitated with a crappy run-down facility with no shaded seating, and outhouse-like restroom facilities.  With the major ballpark renovations coming, we needed to really shake things up, and a new brand that would be embraced on a regional-level was very necessary.

Like I mentioned briefly before, we did a lot of research & wanted to go with a country-western name/brand.  The site where the ballpark was built used to be a rodeo grounds.  The big annual High School football rivalry in town is called the “Cowhide” where everyone dresses up in cowprint.  This county is the Dairy Capitol of the World.  We also wanted the name to be unique & one-of-a-kind (not like Broncos or Stallions).

The name Rawhide had been a popular western song (which we play at games), and had been the name of a TV show featuring a character played by Lou Gehrig.  It also has a direct baseball tie-in because baseball gloves & balls are made from rawhide.  The whole masculine branding packaged, coupled with the playfulness of our mascot ‘Tipper’ (yes, making a nod to the myth of cow tipping), was the perfect package.

You have a few challenges with Recreation Park. It’s an old ballpark opened in 1946 and it is the smallest of any MLB affiliated ballparks in the US. What kind of upgrades have been made and what is in store for the ballpark?

Yes, it’s very challenging – the small size, no parking, no suites, no video board – a lot of amenities that are standard at MiLB ballparks across the country.  But the City and the community at large have been great partners.  We invest in the ballpark together, and continue to make improvements each year to keep fans coming back to see what’s new.

The first phase of major renovations were done for the 2009 season – that was all fan facilites, so the public saw a big change very quickly.  The changes that were made were only about 1/3 of the ballpark, but it came with a gorgeous 2-story building, new main entrance, the first air-conditioned facility the ballpark has ever had, and all with an old-fashioned brick facade.

For the 2014 season the City’s Park & Recreation Department and local Rotary Foundation are partnering to build an interactive splash park that will be fenced in just outside of the ballpark, but will have a gate butting up against the ballpark perimeter so we can have access to it during hot games.  Summers temperatures get up into the 100’s here, and that is the biggest challenge we face – the heat.  Anything we can do to combat that is a plus.

What makes Visalia a perfect fit for you?

When I was going through my interview process for the ballclub, my now-boss, Tom Seidler, wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into and gave me a list of things about Visalia that most people balk at:  It’s a small town (Visalia is the biggest City I’ve ever lived in).  It’s an agriculture-based community (I’m from Oregon….come on now…).  It gets hot during the summers (my ideal temperature is 95 degrees).   Then there are the easy pros: it’s a community-minded City, and it’s centrally located within the state so you can get anywhere in just a few hours.  And let’s be honest, I go to work at a ballpark….just that alone is a perfect fit for me.

What has been the best advice anyone has given you?

For me personally – “take time for yourself” is about the best & most-needed advice that I get.  It’s something that is hard for me to do, but I can definitely see an increase in productivity and efficiency when I do take small breaks.  That’s kind of boring, and un-poetic, but it’s the truth for me….

What advice would you give someone looking to become a GM someday?

Never let anyone out work you, don’t complain, stay organized, and have the ability to go with the flow when-needed.  Everyone is drawn into this industry for the “sexiness” of working in baseball.  But it’s really the business knowledge that will make you rise above the rest.  You have to remember that there is always someone willing to take your place – just like the players on the field have another year of draft picks nipping at their heels.  You have to stay focused and stay passionate about what you’re doing.

Are you content in Visalia? Or would you like to move up in baseball?

I’m content as long as I’m learning something new and progress is being made.  There is always something that can be done better – and that’s where the competitive side of me comes out.  Right now I’m in a position where I’m needed, and I’m happy.  As soon as that is not the case, I’ll look to learn something new at the next level.

Do you have a favorite D-Back player or coach?

I try not to pick favorites, but there are 2 guys that jump to the top of my mind: Adam Eaton & Bill Plummer (our current manager here in Visalia).  Adam is a class-act both on & off the field, and plays with all heart.  Bill is someone that commands respect by just being in his presence. He’s been great to work with this year – he’s an old school guy with a long history in this game, and I knew working with a young female GM was probably not his ideal situation, but we get along great.  He’s a big family guy, and his heart is always in the right place.  I admire him very much.

Jennifer, we’ll end on this. Please give us your top five songs of all-time.

Hahaha  Great question!  Let’s see – I’ll give you a nice random assortment…  Slipknot: Duality.  Johnny Cash: Ring of Fire.  Cascada: Every Time We Touch.  Tom Petty: Free Fallin’.  Pistol Annies: Hell on Heels.

Thank you for chatting with us.

Thank you!  If you’re ever in the Visalia area, please let me host you at a game.