August 6, 2015
By Mike Killeen
Imagine getting your first full-time job with a brand new baseball team that hadn't hit a home run, turned a slick double play or even sold a hot dog to a hungry fan.
Welcome to the Northwoods League, Nick McCallum.
That's the scenario McCallum and other staff members of the expansion Willmar Stingers faced in the winter of 2009-10. The Stingers were the new kids on the block, trying to sell the idea of the collegiate summer baseball team to the communities of west central Minnesota.
"Looking back on it now, it was pretty cool to be there from all-but-the-ground up, and to see how we've been able to grow things," recalled McCallum, who was hired as the Stingers' assistant general manager. (He became the team's general manager in 2013.)
Let's backtrack a little bit. McCallum graduated from Saint John's University in 2008 with a degree in management. Interested in working in the sports field, he received a master's degree in sports management from St. Cloud State University in 2010.
While attending SCSU, he served as an intern for the Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers during the 2009 Northwoods League season.
His first full-time job was to tell fans in Willmar what exactly the Northwoods League was.
"You explained to people that the guys we were bringing in are from Florida, Texas, California, Kentucky, all over the country. They were playing Division I (college) baseball, for the most part. It's a different brand of baseball both on and off the field t5hat people hadn't had much experience with in Willmar," McCallum said.
"Once we played a few games, fans had a good grasp as to what Stingers' baseball was all about ... fun, affordable, family entertainment," he said.
McCallum, as well as co-owners Ryan Voz and SJU graduate Marc Jerzak '01, knocked on doors and introduced themselves to as many people as possible to explain what promotions fans could expect while attending Stinger games.
"We met as many people as we could and introduced them to what would go on, and then we followed through on what we said we were going to do -delivering on what we promised," McCallum said. "Following through goes a long way, especially in a town like Willmar. It's a small town, and if you treat people the right way, you're going to get treated well back. The relationships we've developed with our fan base are dynamite."
As general manager, McCallum has two distinct job phases.
"My main focus is sales from September to May, and then it's operations from May to the end of the (Northwoods) season," McCallum said. "It's a big-time sales job between myself, our two owners and our assistant general manager. We get out and knock on as many doors as we can, and meet folks and talk about the summer and come up with ways to get as many people involved.
"During the season, I work with ticketing, concessions, marketing and our promotional staff. What got me hooked into this kind of position is we get to wear 15 different hats every day," McCallum said.
"There'll be days where I'll be at the ball park in shorts and a T-shirt, and getting the ball park set up. Then, I'm putting on dress pants and a dress shirt and going to meet with a sponsor, then I'll change back later to shorts. The days are never the same, and that's enjoyable," McCallum said.