MOOSIC — Everyone who has been following the saga of the return of the region’s Triple-A baseball franchise knows about the new ballpark and the new team moniker.
But what may prove to be the best new thing will be the attitude and that starts right at the top.
Rob Crain, the 31-year-old team president, said he will lead by example as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders open the 2013 season Thursday. Look for Crain, the tall smiling guy who will be at the front gate, in all the venues and walking through the stands greeting people and introducing himself to every fan he encounters.
And that attitude, Crain says, will transcend to all employees from the parking attendants to ticket takers to ushers.
“We have an obligation here,” he said. “We’ve been talking an awfully lot for the past eight months — now is the time to act.”
This is the RailRiders inaugural season after having been known as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees in seasons past — including 2012, when the team played every game in other ball parks while PNC Field was undergoing a $43 million renovation. A campaign was conducted to name the team and fans voted RailRiders as the name they wanted. A porcupine was added to the logo to make the team even more fan-friendly.
“We want fans to come out and root for their hometown team in their hometown ball park,” Crain said. “We want it to be about fun — fun for the family and fun for baseball fans.”
Crain comes to Moosic via the Omaha Storm Chasers — the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. He works for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees LLC, a 50-50 venture of Mandalay Baseball Properties and the New York Yankees.
Crain’s mentor is Marty Cordaro, president of the Storm Chasers, who Crain first worked for in Battle Creek, Mich. Cordaro, Crain noted, is not related to the former Lackawanna County Commissioner Robert Cordaro, who is now incarcerated.
Crain was born in Freedom, Beaver County, and he has lived in Burlington, Mass., Mobile, Ala., New Hampshire, Omaha, Battlecreek and Houston. A graduate of Springfield College, he and his wife live in Clarks Summit with their two Golden Retrievers.
“I don’t ever want to move,” Crain said.
Crain said ticket sales are “good,” but he hopes temperatures rise soon because attendance will as well. For opening night Thursday, Crain issued a guarantee. He said if the temperature doesn’t hit 60 degrees, he will give every fan attending a free ticket to another home game on any Sunday-through-Thursday game.
Crain really digs his new job — you can see it as he walks through the stadium. He knows everybody’s first name, even the construction workers who have been working extended hours to get the ball park ready for Thursday’s opener.
“I will be hand-on,” he said. “I’ll be here for every game and I’ll talk to everybody. I want people to see what we’re doing here and have a fun experience.”
Crain said fans should expect to have fun at a RailRiders game, or “event” as he calls them. He wants people to laugh, to have kids smile and enjoy their time at the ball park.
The parent club has a lot of star players opening the season on the disabled list. Crain hopes some of them are sent to the RailRiders for rehabilitation.
Crain said ticket prices range from $7 on the lawn in right center field to $12 for seats between the dugouts. The prices, he said, are lower than previous years.
Crain pays attention to history as well. He saw to it that the ceremonial bricks purchased by original season ticket holders before the franchise’s first season were restored and displayed at the entrance to the ball park.
“I have long said that we as the RailRiders need to focus on the present and look forward to the future,” he said. “But this is a case where the past needed to be appreciated. The money that paid for these bricks paid for this ballpark. Without that first step years ago, we would not be here today. I’m glad we’re able to recognize those folks and we welcome them back as part of the RailRiders family.”
All that’s left is that first shout of “Play ball!”