PITTSFIELD — It wasn't an ideal way to start a baseball season.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Goldklang Group, which owns the Pittsfield Suns, the city's entry in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, decided to have the Suns sit out the entire season last year. Then, it didn't bring the Suns back into the summer collegiate baseball league until April, a month before the current season was scheduled to start.
The Suns had been completely inactive since the end of the 2019 season, so, everyone who previously had worked in the team's front office was gone. There was no coach and no players. Even the team's local phone number had been disconnected.
Into the breach stepped Sander Stotland, who wasn't hired as the Suns' general manager until May. He had only 26 days to solve all these issues before the team played its first game at the end of that month.
Stotland, a native of the Houston area who originally was a police officer, originally had entered the baseball business through positions he had held in the food and beverage industry. He had served as the general manager of the Futures League's former Torrington (Conn.) Titans in 2012.
Relying on his previous connections in the baseball world and local help, Stotland made things work. Despite the late start, the Suns started their 68-game season on time, and have been one of the eight-team league's top teams this season.
Because of the rainy weather in the Berkshires this summer, the Suns had only played a league-low 15 home games at historic Wahconah Park as of Wednesday, but were in third place, 3½ games out of the first place.
We talked with Stotland, who lives in Iowa during the offseason, about why he took the job on such short notice, how he got the Suns ready, how he became involved in professional baseball, and why he likes the game at the summer collegiate level the best.
Q: Why did you take the job on such short notice?
A: A challenge. I love summer collegiate baseball. I like it better, actually, than pro baseball.
To be honest with you, I was going a little stir-crazy. ... I was counseling with some [minor league] teams on operations and the food and beverage side. ... There are only so many spreadsheets and budgets that you can look at for other teams.
Q: What was it like getting the team ready on such a quick deadline?
A: It was more of a challenge than I anticipated. Nothing had been done. The phone number that the team had had for previous years wasn't rolled over. So, we had no phone number.
I had to redo the website. Our coach [Matt Gedman, who also coached the Suns in 2019] signed his deal a couple of days after I did mine. ... The standard stuff that would have been done previously, like ordering bats, having enough jerseys, all of that had to be expedited.
We're the city's fireworks show on July 4. Trying to find a fireworks company to come out and do a fireworks show in May for July 4 was a daunting task.
The fans that are there at every game, that have been there since they were knee-high, they really helped out. They came and introduced themselves and asked what they could do to help. I relied heavily on them to introduce me to the local culture.
Luckily, we had a former intern who wasn't doing anything, and she loves the Suns and she came on board to help me out on more of a full-time, regular basis because I'm it. There's no marketing department. It's just me. Me and the coach [the Suns have a three-member coaching staff].
Q: That's unusual, even for your league, isn't it?
A: It's very unusual. We only had three host families lined up (the Suns' players stay with families in the area during the season). That's three beds, and I needed 26, approximately. So, that was one of my first tasks — to go out into the community and reestablish those families for these players to come in from out of the area. Knock on wood, we made it.
We've had a lot of very open-hearted and open-minded citizens that have come in to help me out to various degrees. It just proves the point that Pittsfield is really a very baseball-oriented community. They love their baseball and they want to see it successful. Like everyone else, people have been starving for something to do.
Q: Did you have any players when you got here?
A: The coach started building the roster, I guess, at the end of the 2020 season, technically, with the hope of coming back. So, there was a quasi-roster built. He was actually going to coach in the Cape League this year because he didn't know if the team was going to open.
We're lucky enough that Matt Gedman has relationships with a lot of college coaches, so, he was able to pull the team together pretty quick. We actually started with a full roster.
Q: How did you originally get involved in baseball?
A: I fell into it, to be honest with you.
I had been doing sports entertainment on the food and beverage side for previous years. Back in 2006, I had gotten a call from a group [Ventura Sports] that had just purchased three [professional baseball] teams — one in Atlantic City, one in El Paso and one in St. Joseph, Mo. They were looking for someone to run their food and beverage in all three locations.
Through an associate of mine, I interviewed and took the position. We ended up establishing a fourth team, in Grand Prairie, Texas. I helped design all the food and beverage and the concession stands. That was my start. I was based in Atlantic City.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you like summer collegiate baseball better than pro baseball. What do you like about it so much?
A: It's the players. ... They're playing with a purpose; either to enhance their career or to get their education. ... You've got 40 guys from all over the country going to different schools. They're respectful. They're polite. Ninety five percent of them haven't been conceited yet. They're willing to listen to their coaches. ...
Pro players, a lot of times you've got to force them to go out into the stands and give autographs. These kids get a kick out of it. I think we're serving a purpose here. They can be educated. They're here to learn. It's like an extension of their college courses. ... It's fun watching them develop.
When you hit the affiliated ball [minor league teams affiliated with major league clubs], you have no interaction with the players at all because they're owned by the parent clubs. Indy ball [independent league teams not affiliated with professional clubs] is a little better, because you feel good when you sell a player to a major league team. But, for a baseball purist, this is the true form.
Q: What does a general manager do at your level of baseball?
A: It's community relations. It's community involvement. It's making sure the players have the tools they need to be successful, the bats and the balls and the uniforms. ... With a general manager, until you hit Major League Baseball — and people are going to kill me for this — but there's a misconception. A general manager needs to be a great salesman, especially in affiliated ball because you don't control the players. Your primary responsibility is bringing in sponsorships and putting butts into seats. That's your job.
Here, it's a little bit more expanded because you have a little more interaction with the players. Every day it's something different that's going to hit you, especially with Wahconah Park. When I first got here, we had a sewer line break. We had a printer catch fire in the trailer.
Q: Do you have any aspirations at this point to go any further in organized baseball?
A: No. I've got some other things going on that I'm working in. But, I have no aspirations of being a GM at a higher level. I'd like to win a championship. In 20-plus years in sports entertainment, I haven't won a ring yet. ...
People ask me all the time about the hours you work and why do you keep doing it. Well, when you come in the ballpark and open the gate and see a family of four and they're all happy and you've given them a fairly affordable night out, and at the end of the night you see that family and Dad is carrying one of the kids and the other one is in between them, that's what it's all about. That's what keeps you coming back.