The boys of summer have returned to the Capital City – and as luck would have it, it’s an all-star summer for the Lansing Lugnuts. The club is set to host the Midwest League All-Star Game on Tuesday, June 19, at Cooley Law School Stadium. The game is presented by LAFCU.
“It’s a chance for us to not only showcase our organization and our team, but the city of Lansing,” new Lugnuts general manager Tyler Parsons said while overlooking the playing field from one of the team’s 20 luxury suites. “We’re excited about it.”
Tuesday nights are challenging for Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams, with weekends typically more convenient for families planning a trip to the ballpark. Nevertheless, the Lugnuts prepared to pull out all the stops to entice fans and Lansing residents to attend the event, which will be the first of its kind in the city in 16 years. Not only will tickets be available to Lugnuts Ballpark Pass holders – the club’s membership ticket model that allows fans to pay by the month, which Parsons summed up as “Netflix for tickets” – the team also has a full day of activities planned to celebrate.
In the hours leading up to the All-Star Game, fans and residents will have an opportunity to enjoy a festival atmosphere downtown as the Lugnuts host a block party along Michigan Avenue, which will be shut down in front of the stadium to accommodate an assortment of games, vendors and tents open to. There are even plans for a Ferris wheel. Inside the stadium, attendees will be treated to a classic home-run derby, featuring Midwest League All-Star sluggers.
“I hope all the windows out there are shatterproof,” said Parsons, pointing to the Outfield Ball Park Lofts overlooking the stadium.
The first residential development built inside a professional baseball park, the modern, brightly colored building certainly won’t be the last. Parks in Greenville, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia, are among the early adopters according to Parsons, and Midwest leaguer rival South Bend is also jumping on board to continue the trend of downtown revitalization projects using the minor leagues as a major component.
“It’s crazy to think about: Five years ago, there were only 100 residential apartments within walking distance of this ballpark, and now there’s 4,000,” Parsons said. “Downtown keeps cultivating around it, and we’re really starting to see the fruits of the labor of why the stadium was built here and what it was meant to do downtown.”
Five years ago, Parsons was far away from Lansing. A native of Dansville, Michigan Parsons attended Central Michigan University and worked as a ticket sales coordinator before leaving the state for his first job in baseball.
“I told people I was leaving Michigan and I was never coming back,” he said with a laugh.
Parsons worked for the Forest City Owls, a collegiate summer league team in North Carolina, holding the job title “director of fun.” He later took a position as the general manager of the Martinsville Mustangs in the Coastal Plain League. After two years, Parsons moved to the Johnson City Cardinals, a rookie-level affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
While running the day-to-day operations of the club in Johnson City, Parsons saw the community embrace outdoor recreation and finally allow beer sales at its ballpark in a measure approved by a narrow 3-2 vote by the city commission. Parsons helped the team set its single-season attendance record in back-to-back years, as well as set its record single-game attendance in 2017.
Minor league baseball is a small fraternity, and front-office executives from one team are often friendly with others. Parsons and Lugnuts President Nick Grueser have known each other well over the years. When they ran into each other at the MiLB Promotional Seminar in Greenville last fall, Grueser was in the midst of a talent search for the managerial role with the Lugnuts.
“He had never really given any thought at looking for someone that was a No. 1 at a lower level. He and I sat next to one another at a seminar and just started talking, started to connect the dots a little bit, and he started to recruit me,” Parsons said.
Grueser convinced Parsons to visit Lansing with fresh eyes.
“I was blown away by how much this area has changed,” Parsons said. “I saw an opportunity with a staff and leadership here to take on a larger role and reconnect with some family. We have an amazing stadium here with a ton of potential and a town that gives me the quality of life I’m looking for.”
Convinced, Parsons signed on for the GM role. He also opted to live downtown, which allows him to walk to work and provides a wealth of options for entertainment in his free time.
Those same options and opportunities are available to fans who attend Lugnuts games, Parsons noted, pointing to the nearby museums, trails, bars, restaurants and shops as destinations for fans before and after games.
“The day and age where people just come to a baseball game is over,” he said.
So, too, is the day and age where a baseball club only offers baseball. In addition to the games, the Lugnuts have a promotional schedule packed with theme nights as well as the largest number of giveaways in team history.
Among the activities the team is hosting is Harry Potter Night on June 23, sponsored by MI Student Aid. The evening features a Tri-Wizard Cup giveaway followed by the LAFCU fireworks. In August, the same sponsor will help the team host Backyard Baseball Night to honor the popular “Backyard Baseball” video-game series and its standout character, Pablo Sanchez, who will be immortalized in bobblehead form. Fans will also have the opportunity to rechristen the Lugnuts with a“Backyard Baseball” team name for the evening, and then root, root, root for the Mighty Melonheads, or perhaps the Super-Duper Socks.
Plus, Cooley Law School Stadium hosts a long list of events that have nothing to do with America’s pastime. Earlier this year, the Lugnuts hosted the fifth Beerfest at the Ballpark, which featured dozens of brewers from around the state. In October, the ballpark will be the new site for the 23rd annual BWL Chili Cook-off. Other events on the schedule include a food-truck festival and a Michigan State University rugby match against the University of Michigan.
The stadium doesn’t shut down during the year – even in the dead of winter. Parsons said the Lugnuts plan to host a Christmas lights show and will turn the field into a winter wonderland with everything from sledding hills to Santa Claus.
“We’re not just a ballpark,” he said. “We’ll do just about anything – within reason. We’ll do anything that doesn’t make my groundskeeper quit.”
That open mindset extends to corporate partnerships. Nearly every weekly promotion, theme night, giveaway and outside event at the ballpark is made possible with help from businesses that support the Lugnuts. The club has 26 corporate partners, 18 of which have been with the team since its first season. That longevity is a point of pride for Parsons and his staff, as is the fact that the sales force doesn’t rely on prepackaged options when working on new partnerships.
“Every partnership we have here is different,” Parsons said. “We don’t have an A, B or C package we pitch people. Everything we do is customizable and it’s all goal-oriented. We’ll sit down with businesses and say, ‘What are your goals? What are you trying to achieve?’ … Developing those relationships and hitting their goals is the No. 1 goal we have.”
All-star summer is in full swing in Lansing. And while the Midwest League All-Star Game presented by LAFCU is the most prominent event on the calendar in 2018, it’s just one of countless opportunities for the Lugnuts to showcase the city.
“What we really want to convey to local business leaders is that we do everything in our power to use our facility and our venue to be a community asset,” Parsons said. “We want to bring as many people here to this ballpark as possible and pack the stands and have a great time here and help ourselves, but we also know we have a duty to the city of Lansing and to the businesses around here to bring people here to see downtown Lansing, to see other parts of Lansing, and to support it and spend their money, enjoy it and build this entire community up.”