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executive with baseball in her blood

Naomi Silver: A business
executive with baseball in her blood

Naomi Silver does not think her late father, Morrie, would mind that the Rochester Red Wings’ stadium no longer carries his name.
“If my father thought the health and well-being of the team depended on whether or not his name was perpetuated on the stadium,” she says, “he would have said, ‘Are you kidding?'”
Silver, chief operating officer of Rochester Community Baseball Inc., is referring to Monroe County’s contract with Frontier Corp., granting naming rights for the new downtown stadium to the telecommunications company. The Red Wings moved from Silver Stadium, the team’s home since 1929, to Frontier Field in 1997.
The old stadium on Norton Street was named after Morrie Silver in recognition of his push to buy the Red Wings from the St. Louis Cardinals. He organized a communitywide stock sale in 1957, raising enough money to purchase the team for $500,000. In 1968, the stadium was renamed in his honor.
The contract with Frontier was driven by numbers, Naomi Silver says.
“If we had not figured the $2 million in naming rights into the scenario when we were planning (the new stadium), I don’t know if we would have done the deal,” she explains.
The club signed a 20-year agreement with Monroe County, which owns the stadium.
Morrie Silver died in 1974, not long after Silver Stadium was named for him. Twenty-five years later, his daughter is working hard to carry on his legacy.
“There are two reasons I do what I do,” she says. “One is for my family and its legacy. The other is because I care about how the fans feel. It just means everything in the world to me that we try to make people happy and that they enjoy baseball and they have an opportunity to see baseball.”
Silver’s office at Frontier Field is an unmistakable reflection of its occupant. The wallpaper, couch, chairs and desktop are all the color silver.
And then there are the numerous images of her son, Morrie Thomas Silver. Photos of him occupy every book shelf in the office and he is the star of the wall calendar. When Silver’s computer monitor switches to its screensaver, her son’s face appears.
In fact, being away from her son seems like the only thing about her work that Silver dislikes.
“That’s the worst part of the job, to leave an 18-month-old at home,” she says.
The move to Frontier Field–which cost some $33 million to build–has meant great things for Rochester Community Baseball Inc. Silver says the new stadium doubled attendance for Red Wings home games. Last year, the team ranked seventh in attendance among Triple-A teams nationwide, the Baseball News reported.
“We were bursting at the seams (at Silver Stadium),” she recalls. “Our staff was twice the size their offices should have allowed. We moved in here and it suddenly became extremely easy.”
Because of her family’s long involvement with Rochester Community Baseball, it might be thought that Silver was destined to work for the team, but that was not her plan.
“I never thought I would be involved with the team,” she says, adding that while she was growing up, she really had no idea what she wanted to do with her future. “I guess that went away, and I knew at a fairly young adult age that this was going to be my focus at some point.”
At age 24, Silver married a minor-league pitcher. During their seven-year marriage, he played for five different teams.
“I had an opportunity during my 20s to visit most other Triple-A cities,” she recalls, “and that’s where … I started to get the idea that when I came back to Rochester to settle down–which I knew I would eventually–that working in baseball was going to be my goal.”
Silver joined Rochester Community Baseball in a volunteer capacity as a director when her mother stepped down from the board in the late 1980s. She remained an unpaid board member for some five years, taking on more and more responsibilities and becoming an increasingly integral part of the organization.
In 1994, the board created the position of chief operating officer for her and she became a salaried worker. Nathan Robfogel was a member of the board at the time. At first, he says, many people saw Naomi as simply her father’s daughter and did not expect her to achieve any level of success.
“I first met her in the early ’80s,” Robfogel says, “and right away I perceived her as being talented and committed.”
He describes Silver as a good listener with a keen eye who grasps details and has the ability to “sort out the trees from the forest.” Robfogel also credits her with attracting a strong staff to work for the organization.
Randy Mobley, president of the International League, echoes Robfogel.
“The biggest area she deserves credit for is the staff she has assembled,” he says.
In Silver’s view, Rochester Community Baseball’s staff is the organization’s top asset.
“The thing that sets us apart (from other teams in the league) is our staff,” she says, praising especially their dedication.
Daniel Mason, the general manager of Rochester Community Baseball, was named International League Executive of the Year in 1997. Silver was responsible in part for Mason becoming GM; she recommended his promotion to the other board members.
A large portion of Silver’s work day consists of meetings with her staff, which currently numbers 25. In addition, her position entails numerous responsibilities–meeting with county officials, keeping tabs on concessions and the Red Wings’ retail store among them.
Silver says she has devoted a great deal of energy to concessions at the stadium, and some changes are in store this season.
“We’ve brought in some new products to replace like products, (and) the quality of everything is being turned up a notch,” she notes.
New for 1999 are Pizza Hut and a barbecue stand that replaces Kenny Rogers Roasters.
Upgrading the food and beverage offerings at Frontier Field is one more way to attract people to Red Wings games, which, Silver says, is more difficult today than it was when she was a girl.
“The business of baseball has changed dramatically over the last 25 years,” she says. “Now (there is) just an absolutely perpetual marketing program that you have to have in place. … You have to keep people’s interest and remind them we’re here because there are hundreds of other things to do.”
Boosted by the move to Frontier Field, the Red Wings have enjoyed strong growth financially. Last year, Rochester Community Baseball posted after-tax income of $815,000, compared with $326,735 in 1996.
Revenues are drawn primarily from four areas: baseball operations ($2.57 million in 1998, up from $1.27 million in 1996); food-service operations ($3.5 million in 1998, up from $1.03 million); advertising sales ($1.22 million in 1998, up from $564,143); and souvenirs and royalties ($406,000 in 1998, up from $232,370).
Silver, whose first marriage ended in 1992, married Thomas Friedl, a network systems engineer with Xerox Corp., four years later. Their son was born in October 1997.
When Morrie was born, Thomas Friedl took Naomi’s surname. The reasoning behind that decision was simple.
“First and foremost, I did not want to have to explain to my son why his name was different from mine,” he says. The couple had agreed their son would take the Silver name out of respect for Naomi’s father.
Thomas Silver says it is fascinating to watch his wife walk through the Frontier Field stands at a Red Wings game because she is stopped so often by fans who want to talk with her.
“She always takes the time to talk with people,” he says.
Naomi Silver also is very devoted to local charities. She is vice chairman of the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Greater Rochester, a member of the Wesley-on-East board and a Rochester Rotary Club member.
Next year, Silver–who in addition to being the team’s COO is the largest shareholder of Rochester Community Baseball, with a nearly 20 percent stake–is slated to become chairman of the board. She does not anticipate that her duties will change, however.
Also on the horizon is the 2000 Triple-A All-Star game, which the team will host at Frontier Field. Silver credits the move to the new stadium with helping the organization land the high-profile event.
For Silver, baseball is much more than carrying on her family’s legacy.
“Many people still can’t make the leap between baseball as a sport and baseball as a business,” she explains. “Baseball truly is a business. What happens on the field here at Frontier Field 71 days a year, that’s the focal point, but it’s a full-time, year-round operation.”
But, she adds, Red Wings fans, who are eagerly awaiting Saturday’s home opener of the 1999 season, need not view baseball as she does.
“It should be nothing more than fun and a little summertime entertainment for (the fans),” Silver says. “And what happens and how we go about it shouldn’t ever enter the picture.”

4/9/99

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