The Chicago Cubs announced a change to their Minor League system on September 21st. The Tennessee Smokies are now the Double-A affiliate of the Cubs replacing the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx. The Diamond Jaxx had been an affiliate of the Cubs organization since 1998. The Cubs and Smokies agreed to a 2-year player development contract….the Smokies were a part of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization for the past two seasons.
The Tennessee Smokies organization has a long history that dates back to 1896. They were most recently apart of the Blue Jays organization for 22 years before the St. Louis Cardinals made them their affiliate in 2003 and the Diamondbacks took over in 2005….and now they are a part of one of the most storied franchises in the history of the game.
I was on a flight recently with a member of the Smokies staff, Dan Blue. He was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions for the CCO….
Dan Blue – I am a Group Sales Representative.
CCO – How long have you been with the organization? How did you land the job with the Smokies?
DB – I am going into my third season with the Smokies, second in the Group Sales office. I went to the Winter Meetings, interviewed with the Smokies, and started as an intern, which led into a full time position.
CCO – What is your background?
DB – My parents were both raised in Chicago, and then moved to Ohio where I was raised. I lived in Athens (Southeast Ohio) all my life and attended Ohio University before moving down to work with the Smokies.
CCO – How long have the Tennessee Smokies been in existence?
DB – The Smokies have been in Sevierville since 2000, but the organization has been in existent in East Tennessee since 1896. You can read further history of the Smokies on our website (www.smokiesbaseball.com).
CCO – The Smokies play in Sevierville, Tennessee; can you explain where that actually is in Tennessee? What is the name of the Smokies stadium? How old are the facilities?
DB – Smokies Park is actually located 20 minutes East of Knoxville, TN. We are located off exit 407 of I-40, which is the main exit to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park along with the vacation towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Over 10 million people use exit 407 each year to reach the National Park and the vacation area. The name of the stadium the Smokies play is Smokies Park and it was built in 1999 with the first game played on April 20th 2000.
CCO – Last season the Smokies were the Double-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks; how long had that been a partnership?
DB – We were affiliated with the Diamondbacks for two years. Prior to that, we were a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate for two years. The organization has also been affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox dating back to the 1970s.
CCO – How did the partnership with the Cubs come about? What is the process of becoming an affiliate of a new team? Did the Smokies approach the Cubs or was it visa versa?
DB – The Affiliation process in Minor League Baseball is a very private process with Minor and the Major League teams. It is also a very complicated process to explain but it is safe to say when the opportunity arose for the Smokies to affiliate with the Cubs we were very excited. The rules that have to be followed allowed for the Cubs and the Smokies to approach each other at almost the same time.
CCO – When we met, you said you were a lifelong Cubs fan; how did your adventure with the Cubs start?
DB – My parents, both from Chicago, grew up Cubs fans and that influence carried on to me. Plus, I was able to watch them all the time on WGN. I think that is the one of the main reasons the Cubs have a nationwide fan base.
CCO – Have you seen any increased enthusiasm by the Smokies fan base since the announcement?
DB – Being a Group Sales Representative, I talk to a lot of people trying to sell tickets. I always try to get some type of feedback about their opinion on the Cubs. I think many people are extremely excited that the Cubs are coming to East Tennessee.
CCO – Are the Smokies planning any changes for the upcoming season due to the Cubs coming on board?
DB – The only changes that will occur here in East Tennessee will be the players and coaching staff, which all decisions on that come from the Chicago Cubs front office.
CCO – West Tenn has been very successful over the past two seasons. A lot of the young talent that was in Chicago at the end of last season came from the Double-A level and with the organization going through a lot of change more of the “common fans” are starting to pay attention to the farm system. Are the Smokies planning any promotions to take advantage of the possible talent that will be on the field next season for the Smokies?
DB – We have some good promotions in place that we do every year, but we are always looking for new and exciting promotions to attract more fans.
CCO – Why should Cubs fans be excited about the Smokies becoming the Cubs affiliate?
DB – The Tennessee Smokies have quite a bit to offer Cubs fans and the Cubs players and staff. We have a new facility that is one of the best in the Southern League and all of AA baseball. The area is great for fans to come on vacation and catch a Smokies game during the summer.
CCO – What are you excited most about in regards to the Smokies becoming a part of the Cubs farm system?
DB – I am excited to see the future of the Chicago Cubs. I have followed the Cubs farm system as much as I could, and there is a lot of talent. These are the guys that, along with current stars, will hopefully take the Cubs to a World Series in the near future. Guys like Donald Veal, Ryan Harvey, Mark Pawelek, and Sean Gallagher, should be big time prospects in the next couple years.
The Smokies 2007 home opener is against the Huntsville Stars (Milwaukee Brewers) on April 11th.
I would like to thank Dan for taking the time for the CCO…. The future is bright, especially in East Tennessee.