I met Justin Cole at the Naturals Luncheon not too long ago and he agreed to do an interview with RFR. Cole has been with the Naturals since the beginning when the team moved from Wichita. The Naturals should be an exciting team to watch this year and I feel have a chance to compete for a Texas League championship. They open on at home on April 4 against the Springfield Cardinals.
RFR: What are some of the things you need to do to prepare for a minor league season?
Justin Cole: Mainly we are working to get all aspects of our side of the operation ready. That includes finalizing our promotional schedule for fans, getting the facility up to par for our Opening Day, and of course, trying to get as many fans to attend as possible! There are many other nuances involved but we are always just working from the last pitch of our previous season until the first pitch of the next to fine tune every area we can and be 100% ready in all aspects when our fans starting coming back to see us on Opening Day.
RFR: What are some of the things you are trying to do this season for the fans of the Naturals?
JC: Continuing to provide a great venue at Arvest Ballpark to come watch the Naturals play. We have invested annually in the facility to maintain and improve it and believe it holds up as one of the best in all of baseball. Outside of that, we are always working on the fan experience. That includes food service; the quality, variety and pricing; kids zone entertainment (we have 3 new inflatable games for the kids this year), and coming up with innovative promotions while building upon current fan favorites. We have 16 fireworks shows in 2019, and numerous fan giveaways headlined by our Whit Merrfield Bobblehead on Saturday, May 18 and our Adalberto Mondesi Bobble-Legs Giveaway on Saturday, August 17
RFR: What are some things you are looking forward to this season for the Naturals?
JC: I always look forward to the season just to arrive! We spend a lot of time to get everything ready and it’s very rewarding to have a new Naturals team and get to see all of our great fans again after a long off-season with no baseball. Opening Day is always one of, if not my favorite, day of the year when we get to welcome our new team officially and start off a new season. I’m also looking forward to seeing some of our new theme night promotions – including Christmas in July (July 26, 27) and our Mystery Weekend (August 9,10) of which more will be announced in June!!
RFR: Sounds like you have some awesome giveaways and promotions. How do you decide what items (for example bobble legs) you will give out and what promotions to add?
JC: A lot of it based upon fan response from previous seasons, as well as research on other teams in Milb, MLB.
RFR: What advice would you give to a high school kid who wants to work in professional sports?
JC: I think a combination of schooling and work experience is key. You can, and will, learn a ton in the classroom but it is very beneficial to pair that with some experience with a team, or athletic department. You’ll be able to learn from your peers, and those at that organization, to develop your own path if you want to continue forward in sports/events.
RFR: What kind of impact does the major league team have on an affiliate?
JC: A winning team never hurts, but at the end of the day, the players usually have a larger impact than a collective team. Of course the guys that become MLB All-Stars (Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer) are well regarded but many others become fan favorites and help build our team’s story within the community. Our affiliation with Kansas City has been, and will continue to be, a great asset to our team.
RFR: What’s the hardest part about running the Naturals?
JC: The only bad days at Arvest Ballpark are rainy days. And by rain days, I mean rainy at and during game time. Outside of that, I enjoy the challenges of what we do and it’s what continues to motivate me on a daily basis. I also think living up to the standard our community has for us, while I don’t consider that a hard part of the job, is something that continually drives me to enhance what we are doing.
RFR: How does a guy from a small town on Lake Ontario in New York end up in Springdale, Arkansas?
JC: Mainly it was just the great combination of good luck (and I think) some good work. I grew up in Western New York and attended the University at Buffalo. I was always a huge sports fan so I wanted to determine how to turn that passion into a career. Luckily I was able to get an internship while in school with the Buffalo Bisons, owned by Rich Products. I really enjoyed that experience and thought eventually I would love to get hired there and make that my career. I took a detour for a year and then my former supervisor (and former Naturals GM) Eric Edelstein called me with a job opportunity in Wichita (also owned by Rich Products). I accepted that job, moved there and then moved to Springdale with the team from Wichita in 2007. Going on 12 years later, I’m still here and very thankful to have received the opportunities I have and to live in Northwest Arkansas.
RFR Bonus Question: Give us the best advice for having the best experience at Niagara Falls.
JC: Just going and see them is enough in my opinion. I grew up 45 minutes from there and have never been on the Maid of the Mist or Cave of the Winds Tour, but I know many people that have and love that.
Special thanks to Justin and the Naturals for allowing us some access into what goes on behind the scenes in the Royals system.