(photo courtesy of Lansing State Journal)
Minor League Baseball is pretty cool these days. Across the 160 teams that make up Major League Baseball’s affiliate system used to develop players, there are some unique brands that engage members of their communities at a multitude of levels. In 1996, when the Lansing Lugnuts revealed their new identity, this was not the case. Current Lansing General Manager Tyler Parsons, who grew up in nearby Danville, Michigan says that newspaper articles criticizing the Lugnuts’ identity are still displayed in the team offices. Tyler understands something that many within Minor League Baseball have learned since the Lugnuts blazed the trail for wacky, fun brands in 1996: you have to have the ‘cool factor.’
“I use this for every community I’m ever in. You can tell where your team is viewed in the ‘cool factor’ based on, ‘Do bartenders wear your merchandise and your hat for no reason other than it’s cool to wear?’”
Tyler has fond memories of going to Lugnuts games as well as games at Tiger Stadium in Detroit as a child. He remembers always being a fan of baseball and loved Cecil Fielder growing up. After high school, Tyler attended Central Michigan University, originally pursuing a career as a sports writer, but after one year at CMU, Tyler fell in love with the professional side of sports and changed direction to the Sports Management department. He acquired both his bachelor’s in Sport Management and his master’s in Sport Administration from Central Michigan. After briefly working in collegiate athletics, Tyler took a job with the Forest City Owls of the Coastal Plain League.
The move to North Carolina was a bit of a culture shock to Tyler at first, but he soon fell in love with the South. After one season in Forest City, Tyler took over as the General Manager of the Martinsville Mustangs, staying in the CPL for the same company that operated the Owls. At the time, Tyler was the only full-time staff member in Martinsville. He learned the grit and drive necessary to make a team successful with the help of a small team of interns. The community rallied around the team, and Tyler got his first taste of the feeling of revitalizing a team’s relationship with their hometown fans. This would prove useful on the next stop of his career.
When Tyler was considered for the GM position with the Appalachian League’s Johnson City Cardinals, he went out on the town in Johnson City, Tennessee to gauge the pulse of the city’s connection with the team. He found that most people he encountered had stopped attending games or were unaware that the team even existed. Despite the lack of interest in the team, Tyler fell in love with Johnson City. In a one day visit, he realized that really good things were happening there, and he wanted to be a part of it. His one condition in taking the position was that he wanted to be able to hand pick his Assistant General Manager. Tyler had grown up in the same town as Zac Clark. They even attended the same university and worked together previously in Martinsville. Tyler admired Zac’s loyalty and work ethic, and the duo began to rebuild the Johnson City Cardinals. They advocated for beer service at the park, teamed up with a new ownership group in Boyd Sports to upgrade the ballpark, and became involved in the community. The goal was to prove to the people of Johnson City that the team could be an asset to the community beyond baseball. Tyler believes there is a unique aspect to Johnson City’s relationship with their sports franchise. They seemed to come to games in the spirit of doing something for their community rather than a means of supporting a business. It wasn’t long before the ‘cool factor’ set in. Tyler recalls a trip with Zac to Holy Taco, a local cantina, when they saw a couple bartenders wearing Johnson City Cardinals caps. That was proof that their hard work was paying off and the tide was turning.
Tyler had said he would never take a job back home in Michigan, wanting, like many, to escape his hometown. He also felt that after 4 seasons in Johnson City, a new opportunity would have to be something special to convince him to leave. But, with age comes maturity, and Tyler admits that his priorities had changed. After turning down countless job offers, he took a visit with his beloved Lansing Lugnuts, who were in need of a new General Manager. Tyler was still on the fence about leaving the Cardinals and requested some time to consider the Lugnuts’ offer. On a 2 week trip to Colorado with a buddy, Tyler made his decision.
“Really stupid and cliche, man, I said, ‘I’ll go out there and get a reason, a sign if that’s the right move.’ We were in Aspen, Colorado, hiking the Maroon Bells in the middle of nowhere, and I passed a guy in a Lansing Lugnuts hat. I stopped him and started talking to him. He goes, ‘Yeah, my son goes to Michigan State there, but I’m a Michigan fan, and I hate that school. So, this is the only team I’ll support, but go ‘Nuts!’ … For me, that was something that said, ‘Hey, if you’re going to see a sign, it can’t be much more blatant than that.’”
After successful stops in Martinsville and Johnson City that involved rejuvenating the team, Tyler came back to Lansing, taking the helm of a strong organization with an established brand and amazing facility.
“It was so challenging here because I was used to rebuilding things. Here in Lansing, everyone knows who the Lugnuts are, and the cool factor is definitely here. You can’t go anywhere without people knowing something about the Lansing Lugnuts or having been to a game here.”
Tyler’s reward in moving back home and furthering the success of the Lugnuts has been the rare opportunity to become the General Manager of a team he grew up a fan of. The Lugnuts were one of the first Minor League teams to build their brand around entertainment and family fun. Tyler now has the honor and privilege of sharing the fun he helps create with his own family.
“For me, it was really special to be able to bring my grandmother to a couple games. She was never able to make it down South to see any games that I had, but I got back here to Lansing and brought her out to show her a game, show her what I did.”
While Tyler is missing games during the COVID-19 pandemic, he claims he is busier now than ever trying to keep up with news coming in everyday regarding state regulations and opportunities to utilize the Lugnuts’ facility to connect with Lansing in the absence of baseball being played. He is confident that no matter what, the Lugnuts and the other teams in Minor League Baseball will strive to bring joy to the towns that they each call home.
“If there’s an industry that can find a way to find a light in all the dark of this COVID-19, it’s going to be Minor League Baseball. I think now, more than ever, we owe it to our communities to represent them and be part of the healing process, be an asset, and be a voice for our communities. That’s what has built Minor League Baseball, and that’s why it’s such a strong entity. All these communities, all 160 of them across the entire country, have stood behind each and every team through ups and downs through their entire existence.”
Pretty cool, right?
You can follow Tyler on Twitter @Tyler_C_Parsons and the Lugnuts @LansingLugnuts. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to stay up to date on all the great profiles and articles. If you enjoyed this article or any of the others on Baseball is My Muse, share the site with your friends and family! Thanks for reading.