Rawhide calls up new owner
Former Minor League Baseball announcer Sam Sigal is close to purchasing Visalia ballclub from Seidler-O’Malley family’s Top of the Third, Inc.
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – After 17 years of pitching Minor League baseball in Visalia, Tom Seidler is calling up a new talent to take the mound of management at Rawhide Stadium.
Seidler, whose family has owned the Visalia Rawhide since 2002, announced his company, Top of the Third, was close to selling the team to a new ownership group called First Pitch Entertainment. He made the announcement during the Sept. 3 Visalia City Council meeting.
“They’ll be great owners for years to come,” Seidler told the council.
First Pitch Entertainment is also a family company run by father-and-son duo Elliot and Sam Sigal. Elliot, the elder Sigal, retired as chief scientific officer of research and development for pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. After growing up in the Midwest, Elliott said he and his wife now live in the Monterey area and have spent the last two years looking to fulfill their son’s dream of owning a Minor League Baseball team. Their search covered teams in a dozen cities but began and ended with Visalia.
“Visalia is impressive with its support for baseball,” Elliott said. “We see a lot of neighborhoods with a lot of pride in ownership.”
Sam was a Minor League broadcaster for seven years calling more than 200 games including the New York-Penn League Championship Series, three different playoff series and a no-hitter. During that time he called games for three different franchises as the voice of the Tri-City ValleyCats, a Single-A affiliate of the Houston Astros in Troy, N.Y., Johnson City Cardinals, a Rookie-Level affiliate of St. Louis Cardinals in Tennessee, and Hickory Crawdads, a Single-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers in North Carolina.
Since beginning his search, Sam said he felt a connection to Visalia and agreed that he would relocate to the city where his team was located with a mission to become involved in the community.
“I’m looking forward to learning more about Visalia,” he said.
The Council welcomed the potential new owners before renewing the Rawhide’s lease of the stadium at Recreation Park in downtown.
“I like that you won’t be an absentee owner,” Councilmember Brian Poochigian said.
The council approved a 10-year lease under the current terms and conditions, including $300,000 per year for utilities, maintenance and capital projects, contingent on the closing of the sale to the new owner. First Pitch Entertainment retains naming rights of the stadium but the licensing and name must be approved by the city council. The council also approved a consumer price index increase, normally about 3% per year, on its $300,000-per year subsidy following a request by the new owners.
Councilmember Greg Collins was the only no vote cast on the lease. He said he didn’t want to approve the $300,000 subsidy because of the previous ownership’s unwillingness to increase ticket prices to lower the cost to the city after the city has spent more than $11 million over the last 16 years. Collins pointed out that all of the operations costs of the stadium are covered by the city but the team gets to collect all of the revenue during the offseason and from naming rights.
“As in the past, I will be voting against this,” Collins said with a qualifying that his vote had nothing to do with the new owners.
The Seidler-O’Malley family announced last year that it was selling its only Minor League franchise to focus their energies on the family’s major league investment in the San Diego Padres. Top of the Third’s 17 years of ownership is the longest in the Advanced A ballclub’s history and brought unprecedented stability to minor league baseball in Visalia and invested more than $1 million into the city-owned ballpark. That tenure includes the second longest MLB affiliation as the ballclub will enter its 13th season with the Arizona Diamondbacks after recently signing a two-year extension. The Rawhide has also enjoyed on the field success under Top of the Third. Since 2002, Visalia has sent 122 players to the majors, the most of any Class A franchise in that time, including All-Stars like Evan Longoria, Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer, Adam Eaton, Paul Goldscmidt and Mark Scherzer. They have also won the California League Northern Division four times in 2006, 2014, 2016 and 2018. Since rebranding as the Visalia Rawhide 10 years ago, the team broke a 62-year-old attendance record in 2009 and again in eight of the last 10 seasons.
Top of the Third, which has owned the club since 2002, is just the eighth group to operate the Visalia minor league team since its inception in 1946 beginning with the Chicago Cubs and including the New York Mets, Don Drysdale and the City of Visalia.
Mayor Bob Link and Vice Mayor Steve Nelsen both thanked Tom Seidler for years of quality minor league baseball in the community.
“You’ve given your sweat, tears and put a lot of money into the community,” Link said. “We are going to miss you and what you contributed.”
Sam said he will not serve as general manager and plans on retaining the current management of the Rawhide, including General Manager Jennifer Reynold, Assistant GM Charlie Saponara, Director of Groups and Ticketing Markus Hagglund, Merchandise Manager Jake Davis, Community Partnerships Coordinator Joe Ross.
Reynolds, who has been with the Rawhide for 12 seasons, said the ballclub are already moving forward on the 2019 season announcing four additions to the front office staff this week. Hagglund previously worked with Sam’s old team, the Hickory Crawdads, as well as the Stockton Ports, Portland Sea Dogs and Quad Cities River Bandits. Prior to his work in MiLB, Hagglund was involved with the University of Iowa Athletics Department focusing on ticketing and NCAA compliance. After majoring in Sport Management & Political Science at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, Davis spent one year as the Merchandise Assistant with the Tulsa Drillers.
Ross is a Tulare County local who was born and raised in Lindsay. He graduated from Lindsay High School in 2004 and has spent time living in Southern California & the Bay Area. He comes to the Visalia Rawhide with a background in Real Estate, sales, marketing, and event planning.
The Rawhide will open their 74th year of play and 14th as an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks next April. For more information on the Visalia Rawhide go to rawhidebaseball.com, or follow them on Facebook (TheRawhide), Instagram (@VisaliaRawhide), or Twitter (@VisaliaRawhide).