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Breeders' Cup BOD member TOM LUDT said that the organization has "received 'at least 40' inquiries to fill" its CEO position, "just days after the resignation" of former President & CEO GREG AVIOLI, according to Matt Hegarty of the DAILY RACING FORM. Ludt, whom the board appointed Monday to serve as Chair of a "five-member search committee," said that the "response to the open position has been overwhelming since Avioli informed the board Friday that he was resigning to take a position overseeing the racing assets of MI Developments." Ludt said that the BOD "plans to meet Wednesday or Thursday to determine whether the organization will hire a search firm to identify the best candidates." He added that the BOD "has not determined the criteria it will use to rank candidates for the position." Ludt: "We're not just going to look internally or inside the racing industry. We'll also be looking outside of the racing industry" (DRF.com, 3/8). Hegarty also noted the Breeders' Cup Monday appointed COO & CFO MATTHEW LUTZ and VP/Sales CARTER CARNEGIE as interim co-CEOs "while the organization searches for a replacement." The two will be responsible for "jointly overseeing the Breeders' Cup's operations." Joining Ludt on the search committee are BOD members HELEN ALEXANDER, ANTONY BECK, JERRY CRAWFORD and RICHARD SANTULLI (DRF.com, 3/8).
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the newest ballpark in the Cactus League, opened to overwhelming praise this year. Overseeing operations at the new home of the D'Backs and Rockies is ballpark GM DAVID DUNNE, who moved to Scottsdale from Mesa, Ariz., where he was the manager of the Cubs' Spring Training operations at Hohokam Stadium from '96-09. The Chicago native recently took time to speak with Staff Writer William Cooper about what attracted him to Spring Training and what has changed over the years.
Thing you miss most about Chicago: In the summertime it is one of the best cities in the country. There's so much to do -- the museums, the parks, the events, the concerts.
Favorite outdoor activity in Arizona: I love riding my bike. I can ride my bike almost any day of the year here.
Morning must reads: The Diamondbacks and the Rockies' websites and feature stories. I pick up the news clips from each team and go through them. I check the Cactus League attendance pretty much every day.
Biggest difference between Florida and Arizona for Spring Training: The weather and travel.
Favorite Chicago baseball player of all time: RON SANTO.
Q: What is your favorite part about the Spring Training experience?
Dunne: I think the number one thing is the accessibility, the availability for the fans to interact with the players. Spring Training's always had that kind of a feel where you can get up close to the players and get up close to the action a little more than you might at a bigger, regular-season ballpark.
Q: What inspired you to work in baseball facilities, and in Spring Training in particular?
Dunne: I grew up in Chicago and grew up around Major League Baseball, going to the White Sox games at Comiskey, the Cubs games at Wrigley. I knew I always loved it. I always wanted to be a part of it somehow, someway. The Cactus League down here is like a mini-Major League Baseball market for six to eight weeks and there's also the Arizona Fall League, so there's baseball 10 or 11 months out of the year down here. I just always thought if you could get somewhere where the weather is great like it is here and they have baseball almost year round that would be a perfect fit. I remember when I was a little kid growing up in Chicago, WGN used to show a special from Spring Training every year. ... I remember turning on the TV and watching the special from Mesa, Arizona. The sun was out, the palm trees, the green grass, and I look out my front window and there was a couple feet of snow in the yard and it was a grey day. I thought as a little kid, "I've got to find a way to get down there and do that."
Q: How much of your year is typically spent on Spring Training-related issues versus other ballpark ventures?
Dunne: We do get away from the main focus of Spring Training for quite a while, but we'll spend a couple days a week talking about ticket plans, what should we adjust, what should we do and getting collateral materials ready. But we really don't kick into gear like that until late August, September, and once the Spring Training schedule comes out usually in November we'll start keying on the schedule, getting that out to people. There's kind of a long break, but it's never totally out of sight because it is the anchor of what we do.
Q: Do you suffer from a letdown once Spring Training is over?
Dunne: There's always mixed feelings. You're kind of glad you got through it and it went well, but you miss it. It's like when the circus comes to town and then it leaves (laughs). Here with two teams we have 33 games in 32 days, so it's like a 33-game homestand. There's not a day off, everybody's up and running. So when it does end, everybody will have some relief, you can get back to a little bit more of a normal life. But there is nothing like when the major league teams are here. You definitely do miss it.
Q: What are some of the major differences between starting at Salt River Fields and starting at Hohokam back in the mid '90s?
Dunne: These facilities just keep ramping up. In 1997 when (Hohokam) opened, that was the crown jewel of the Cactus League. And then you come here and you see this facility and it's just mind blowing. Each clubhouse is 85,000 square feet, and in '97 nobody ever thought that would happen. But you look at how each team uses it, and it's used very well, it's planned out. Here we are a decade and a half later, and it's almost mind blowing the progress, how much this is ramped up.
Modell's Sporting Goods President SETH HOROWITZ is stepping down from his position. Horowitz was named President in '09 after previously serving as Exec VP/Merchandising, Marketing & Allocations. Before joining Modell's, Horowitz served as President & CEO of Everlast Worldwide (CRAINSNEWYORK.com, 3/8)....The AFL Arizona Rattlers named MIKE GALLOWAY Managing Partner, replacing BRETT BOUCHY. Rattlers President DANNY WHITE also has left the organization (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/9)....The Eden Club of St. Andrews has hired former Rockets VP/Ticket Sales & Business Communications SELIECE CALDWELL as VP/Business Development. Caldwell will serve as a membership purveyor and club liaison for Eden Club members who live in Texas (Eden Club)....Little League Int'l has hired BART SOCHACKI as Assistant Dir for Little League's Europe, Middle East & Africa Region, based in Poland (Little League)....Rising Star Management Group has hired JIM THOMAS as VP/Business Development. Thomas previously worked for Triad Racing Technologies (Rising Star)....The collegiate summer Prospect League Slippery Rock Sliders have hired Redskins Sales Account Rep ROBERT DILLS as GM (THE DAILY).
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ESPN Int'l Exec VP & Managing Dir RUSSELL WOLFF was honored yesterday as UJA-Federation’s sports for youth honoree of the year at a luncheon in N.Y. As Chair of UJA-Federation's Sports for Youth Division, Wolff leads a group of sports-industry execs in the allocation of more than $300,000 annually to agencies in N.Y. ESPN's JEREMY SCHAAP emceed yesterday's event, which was attended by ESPN/ABC Sports President GEORGE BODENHEIMER, NBA Deputy Commissioner & COO ADAM SILVER and former WNBA President DONNA ORENDER. The event raised more than $400,000 and had more than 320 people attend (THE DAILY).
CAUGHT STEALING: In Miami, Adam Beasley reports Hendricks Sports Management agent RODNEY FERNANDEZ "pilfered more than $300,000 from a bank account belonging to his client," Angels 1B KENDRY MORALES, "over a two-year period." Fernandez was "jailed on grand theft charges" on Monday, and was "released Tuesday evening on $10,000 bond." Hernandez also was fired by HSM, which hired him in November '08. HSM officials "provided a sworn affidavit to police that Fernandez acted on his own when he fraudulently removed a total of $305,574.29 from Morales' personal bank account with several illicit transfers" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/9).
KING'S RANSOM: In Atlanta, Rhonda Cook reports Atlanta's Opera nightclub is suing Heat F LEBRON JAMES and fellow Atlanta nightclub the Gold Room "over an appearance James is scheduled to make later this month" at the latter club. Opera "accuses James of reneging on a promise to appear for one hour on March 17, for which he was to be paid $25,000, or $417 a minute." YASHA HEIDARI, an attorney for Opera, said, "We want to make sure LeBron doesn't show up any place else." A hearing on the "request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction is set for Thursday in Fulton Superior Court" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 3/9).
SPECIAL VISITOR: MUHAMMAD ALI yesterday visited the White Sox' clubhouse to raise awareness for his Athletes for Hope charity, whose "focus is on time, not money." Ali "didn't speak," but Athletes for Hope CEO IVAN BLUMBERG "moderated a thought-provoking discussion with players about giving time." White Sox manager OZZIE GUILLEN said, "Of all the meetings we've had in spring training, that was the best one in 30 years" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/9). White Sox Senior VP & GM KEN WILLIAMS presented Ali with a jersey "that read 'Champ' with No. 40 on the back ... on the 40th anniversary of his 'Fight of the Century' championship bout against JOE FRAZIER" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/9).
LOT TO OVERCOME: In Dallas, Mark Davis notes ESPN college football analyst CRAIG JAMES might "enter Texas' U.S. Senate race," but he "may be one of the most disliked people in the state." The "narrative that has been spun and adopted across Texas is that James used his clout as a noteworthy public figure to push for" former Texas Tech football coach MIKE LEACH's dismissal after Leach "put James' son, wide receiver ADAM JAMES, in a darkened shed following a concussion diagnosis." James "will have to face this issue repeatedly until this problem goes away, if it ever does." Davis: "Only then will skeptics be willing to hear the messages he may want to bring to the campaign trail" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/9).
MY HOMETOWN: Red Sox President & CEO LARRY LUCCHINO is featured as part of BOSTON magazine's "Why I Love My Town" feature. Lucchino writes, "I've come to love Boston and New England, and I proudly consider both my adopted home." Lucchino lives in Brookline, Mass., where he gets "all the charm of Boston and its environs." Brookline is "bucolic and rural, yet just minutes away from the best features of a world-class city." Lucchino: "I walk with my dogs on quiet streets. ... I can be at Fenway Park in 15 minutes." Lucchino added the "essential beauty of Brookline is in its trees -- all varieties, sizes, colors, and ages" (BOSTON, 3/ '11 issue).
NAMES: Texans CB KAREEM JACKSON's agent, TONY FLEMING, said that Jackson "knows he used bad judgment when he tweeted cockfighting pictures from his vacation in the Dominican Republic." Jackson was "on a tour when the guide stopped at a cock fight," and he posted photos on Twitter, which "created a controversy on Tuesday." Fleming: "He realizes it was bad judgment to put (photos) on Twitter and that it was insensitive on his part" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/9)....Nike Chair PHIL KNIGHT last night attended a company-sponsored exhibition tennis match between ROGER FEDERER and RAFAEL NADAL, which attracted a sellout crowd to Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore. (Portland OREGONIAN, 3/9)….Nets investor JAY-Z has “partnered with luxury charity auction site charitybuzz.com to give two deep-pocketed fans a chance to join him courtside at an upcoming Knicks game” at MSG (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/9)….Celtics G RAY ALLEN “surprised kids at the Tobin K-8 School” in Roxbury, Mass., yesterday with a “brand new computer lab.” It is the “first official Ray of Hope Foundation computer lab and features flat-screen monitors” and Internet access (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/9).