Craig Smith has been asked the question a lot: Why did he leave a secure job in the Duluth Parks and Recreation Department to be general manager of the new Duluth Huskies baseball team?
"Because its a good situation for Craig Smith," Smith said, repeating his response to all who ask the question. "Bobby (McCarthy, Huskies owner) made me a nice offer. I can stick with the club for as long as it works in Duluth, if I choose to. And I believe the team will be successful here."
Smith's first official day with the Huskies was last Monday -- when McCarthy, a Vero Beach, Fla., restauranteur, arrived in Duluth to set up an office at 226 W. First St. in downtown Duluth, close to the YMCA.
On Tuesday, Smith and McCarthy had lunch with St. Scholastica baseball coach John Baggs to chat about the club's still-vacant field manager position.
Baggs was offered the job but says he won't make a final decision until he meets again with Smith and McCarthy, possibly as early as this weekend, after Smith returns from Northwoods League fall meetings held late this week in Rochester.
"I am honored that Craig and Bobby would approach me, and that Bobby flew up from Florida to talk to personally explain the situation for me," Baggs said. "We're still at the stage of gathering information so that I can make a decision, to see if it's a good fit for St. Scholastica baseball and the Huskies. If there's a way that it can happen, I will gladly accept their offer."
Baggs has the blessing of St. Scholastica's administration, which he says is an important piece for him to have behind him when considering the two-month summer coaching job.
"The college has treated me extremely well for 11 years and I certainly wouldn't want to do anything without their approval," Baggs said.
Nothing is cast in stone for Baggs, Smith said.
"If it's a good fit for John and the Duluth Huskies, we'd certainly love to have him," Smith said.
Baggs is the logical local and best choice for the job, and he'd do an excellent job for the first-year expansion team, University of Minnesota-Duluth baseball coach Scott Hanna said.
"John Baggs is a good baseball man," said Hanna, who said he's not interested in applying for the job.
Meanwhile, Smith, a Duluth native, is an excellent hire for the club. He has strong ties in the local sports community and in particular to the Duluth Softball Player's Association and youth sports groups. But he'll have to work hard to rebuild relationships in the local business community, a difficult task in the aftermath of the Duluth-Superior Dukes' 10-year downslide in the community.
And will Duluth support college baseball in the summer months when it didn't support the Dukes, which billed themselves as professional baseball?
"I really think that the product that we're going to offer will be a little different (than the Dukes)," McCarthy said. "We've got college kids that have a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of excitement, and they're all very good ballplayers. They all expect to be in the big leagues someday. And they'll dedicate their summer months to playing baseball for the exposure, to be scouted.
"The Dukes struggled here the last couple of years, but it's a whole different operation economically between the two leagues. Their overhead is three times what ours is, and it was really difficult for them to make it on the revenue that they could generate here. But we can flourish with the same revenue.
"We're going to promote a lot better and will draw better simply because it's something new to the area. We'll be very family orientated, and we'll try to do things the right way and have a lot of interest in it. The Dukes sort of lost interest, and things weren't run the way they should have been run."
Unlike the Dukes, which had a higher budget, the Huskies can be successful drawing 1,000 to 1,200 fans a night because the club doesn't pay its players, Smith said.
Local minor league expert Jon Winter of Superior says more than ever promotions are the key to getting non-diehard fans to come out to support the Huskies.
"They may show up once, but to get them back they need to remember something other than a baseball game," Winter said. "The past two years it was hard to tell what the promotion night was most of the time."
Hanna says it will be fun to watch Northwoods League games next summer at Wade Stadium.
"Watching kids on their way up instead of players on their way down should be fun," Hanna said. "There should be a few opportunities for local players."
Smith is impressed with McCarthy, who plans to be in Duluth full-time next summer and be a hands-on owner.
"Bobby's a straight-up guy, a business man who wants to be successful in Duluth," Smith said. "He plans to buy a home in Duluth. I checked him out before I accepted the job, and he has 20- to 25-year employees -- waiters, waitresses, bartenders -- at his Vero Beach restaurant. It tells me that he treats his employees well. He's also well connected with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, which trains in Vero Beach, and Dodgers' players and coaches regularly frequent his restaurant."
Between the Lines
The Average Guys taped an entire show at the Metrodome during the Vikings-Falcons game last Sunday. The show will air on PACT-TV at 11 a.m. and midnight Saturday and at 7 a.m. next Wednesday. The show will feature interviews with Vikings and Falcons players and footage of Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's 46-yard, game-winning touchdown in overtime.
"We found out that the Vikings' locker room is a bad place to be after a loss, especially one like that," said Ken Kalligher, who co-hosts The Average Guy with Jon Donahue. "It was such a stunning loss, and almost everyone in the Vikings locker room declined interviews. Todd Bowman was the exception."
"We also got interviews with John Tice (tight end coach and brother of Vikings head coach Mike Tice), Ragnar and Atlanta Falcons defensive ends Brady Smith and Patrick Kerney. We also have some great footage of the game and other Vikings locker room footage."
- The University of Minnesota-Duluth men's basketball team will play host to St. Scholastica at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Romano Gym. The Bulldogs hold a 14-1 lead in the series, and the Saints are hoping to pull off a major upset.
The Bulldogs and Saints last met in 1998-99, when UMD won 96-76 at St. Scholastica.
"The NCAA has allowed us to add one more regular season game this season, up to 28, and since our schedule was already full with Division II opponents, we thought it would be good for local college basketball to schedule St. Scholastica or UWS," Bulldogs coach Gary Holquist said. "I saw the Saints play last Tuesday, when they played hard. Our focus against them will be more about us than of them, how we perform."
The Bulldogs (3-2) will play host to North Dakota State at 3 p.m. Saturday at Romano Gym. St. Scholastica (2-3) owns wins over Minnesota-Morris (82-78) and North Central (75-62). The Saints play Cardinal Stritch on Friday in the opening round of a two-game weekend tourney at Viterbo College.
Howie Hanson writes a regular column for Duluth Budgeteer News. He can be reached by e-mail at Duluth@aol.com.