SBJ/August 14-20, 2017/Opinion

Chaotic baseball life fits fine for Haas family

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Danny and Katie Haas are a baseball family. They met over baseball, had their wedding reception at Fenway Park, raise their children around the game and dedicate countless hours to their organizations — Danny, 41, special assistant to the general manager for the Baltimore Orioles and Katie, 36, vice president of Florida business operations at the Boston Red Sox. They have four
World Series rings between them, kept in a safe deposit box, not bad for two young baseball executives. On a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon, the two check in to the Renaissance Inner Harbor in Baltimore. They flew up separately from Florida, a habit stemming from Katie’s grandparents and aunt dying in a plane crash over the Mediterranean Sea, leaving her mother without her parents and sister at age 14. It was seven hours before the Red Sox­-Orioles would play at Camden Yards, and was their first night alone in eight months.

I’ve known these two for more than 13 years, ever since a then-Katie Kirschner began working for the Charlotte Bobcats in 2004. I’ve seen them date, get married, relocate, have children, raise a family and build their professional lives around baseball. When the Red Sox and Orioles were trading barbs almost nightly in one of the most exciting rivalries in baseball earlier this season, I pictured dramatic images of a split household and the angst that came with it. What a story! So, I pitched the idea about meeting them for a game and watching how they react and interact around one of the most intense matchups in baseball. Their response was simple, yet not surprising: “We’re very boring! But, yes, because we’d love to see you!” What I learned during that day together was that their life was far from boring. But it’s also less about the emotional ups and downs of baseball games, and more about how two young professionals balance jobs, distance and demands to create a happy life for themselves and their children.

■ ■ ■ ■

Danny Haas greets me with a hug, and we sit under an umbrella table outside the hotel along East Pratt Street in Baltimore. It was two weeks before the MLB draft, his busiest time of the year. Sporting a three-day growth of a beard, he was dragging, and wasn’t relishing answering questions from me. “I’m just warning you, I’m pretty fried,” he said, rubbing his eyes. A head scout is a road warrior, and he had already spent more than 60 nights in Marriott properties during the first five months of the year, away from home virtually all of March, April and May. Danny and Katie’s one night together in Baltimore would be fleeting; she left first thing the next morning and he would remain in the hotel for the draft. While I thought this Sox-O’s series would create high anxiety over which pitcher would plunk which batter, the two were more focused on their rare time together.

Katie, Danny, Georgie and Hunter swing for the fences when blending family and baseball.
Photos: COURTESY OF HAAS FAMILY
Katie acknowledged the nerves from earlier in the season, when each game featured heated words or a beaning, leading MLB to tell the teams to cool it. “Those games were so intense,” she said. “They felt like a September or October game in my gut. I just want everyone to get along!”

But while baseball dominates their work life, it doesn’t dominate their life.

Their demanding schedules mean they only watch a few games together on TV all year. “I catch mostly highlights and read play-by-plays, especially before the draft,” Danny said. “I watch more after the draft.”

Katie admits to flipping back and forth between games and “Real Housewives” during the season, and shoots me a dirty look, “Don’t laugh!”

She has no interest in mobile game alerts. “I have two kids under 8 coming into my bed at all hours of the night. I can’t have my phone going off at 3 a.m. when the Red Sox beat the A’s on the West Coast!” she says comically.

The two first crossed paths in 1999. As a high school senior, Katie became assistant director of gameday operations for the Red Sox’s Florida State League Class A team in Sarasota.

“It was a fancy title, with a $6 an hour salary. For an 18-year-old, it was a great job!” she said of working at Ed Smith Stadium.

It was there that she became familiar with Danny, a 23-year-old outfielder on the team.

She went on to Northeastern University in Boston, and began working for the Red Sox under longtime team executive Larry Cancro in 2001. In 2003, she was doing full-time gigs at school and for the Sox, and recalls finishing a paper for her public policy class, taught by former Gov. Michael Dukakis, late at night at Fenway Park on Patriots’ Day while her coworkers were celebrating the Boston Marathon.

One day, coming out of Cancro’s office, she saw a familiar face. Danny was an area scout for the Red Sox while living in Kentucky. “I know you,” she said. They began dating, and after a brief stint in Charlotte working for the expansion NBA Bobcats, she moved back to Boston to be senior manager of business affairs for the Red Sox in 2006. Danny moved to Boston a year later and they were married in 2008, their reception at the EMC Club overlooking the field at Fenway Park.

It’s been a wild ride since then, as both have made difficult career decisions while they’ve relocated and started a family. They moved to Fort Myers in 2009 when Katie took over the spring training operations of the Red Sox and oversaw construction and development of JetBlue Park that opened in 2012.

Georgie, holding a Buck Showalter gnome, and wearing items from the annual box of Orioles goodies.
After two World Series titles, Danny left the Red Sox to join the Orioles in 2012. There was the birth of Georgie, today a serious and studious 8-year-old girl, along with their son Hunter, a playful 3-year-old.

But a life in baseball isn’t easy on the home front nor for the faint of heart, and as we sit outside at the floating dock bar at Phillips Seafood in the Inner Harbor, they share how a relentless schedule can challenge any family.

Danny, a Marriott Platinum Premier member, is on the road roughly 200 nights a year, leaving Katie, herself balancing spring training and a year-round facility, at home with the two children. It’s a lifestyle Danny is familiar with, as his father, the well-respected Eddie Haas, spent more than 50 years in the game.

“It is fresh in my mind what it feels like to have your father leave the next day,” Danny
A 15-month-old Hunter, wearing both Sox and O’s gear, lends a hand to an Orioles staffer holding a “how may I help you” sign at Camden Yards.
says, sipping a beer and recalling as a 6-year-old plotting with his brother to slash the tires on the team bus in the hopes of keeping his dad at home.

It’s a trait he sees in his own children.

Before leaving for the road, Hunter implores, “Daddy, stay home!” Or when he returns from a long trip, Hunter demands, “Daddy, you stay home with us now!”

The quieter, more emotional Georgie is so blue when he’s gone that she chooses not to even Facetime with him.

To ease this, Danny is rarely on the road for more than 10 days at a time, and stays home at least two days before going out again.

Katie is used to her husband not being home from February through October. “I don’t ever count on Danny or include him in any plans, as I never know whether he will be home or not,” she said. “If he ends up home, it’s a bonus.”

After nearly 10 years, the two have settled into the realities of their lifestyle.

“We don’t know any different,” Katie said. “Neither one of us has ever had a 9-to-5 job. So, our kids don’t know any different. We are both so busy that there isn’t a lot of time to think about it. I get in my routine and sometimes when he’s here, he messes it up. I’ll tell him, ‘OK, time to go back on the road!’”

But when they are together, the focus is on family, not baseball.

“We both really try to focus on being home when you’re home. Being present. Being engaged. It’s a focus on the family,” she said.

■ ■ ■ ■

The hot day turns into a perfect summer evening in Baltimore, and once at the park we stop by a reception celebrating the 25th anniversary of Orioles Park, as key executives involved in the ballpark’s construction gathered for a reunion. Katie chatted with Larry Lucchino and Janet Marie Smith, who she called a role model: “A professional and a mom. A woman who balances it all.”

We watch the first few innings in a suite, as David Price pitches out of some early inning trouble, before going to our seats, under the press box behind home plate. During the game, Danny shares some inside baseball scouting tips while Katie keeps closer watch on the fan experience.

After more than four years in the minors, Danny was hired by then-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette as a scout in 2002. Duquette had a longtime relationship with his father, Eddie, both in Montreal and Boston, and has been a mentor to Danny and his brother, Matt, who also works for the Orioles.

Duquette, who attended Danny and Katie’s wedding, is clearly fond of them both. “I feel like I’ve seen both of these two grow up,” he told me when we visited him during the middle innings.

After 15 years playing and scouting for the Red Sox, Danny sensed a new challenge in joining Duquette in Baltimore. “I learned so much from Theo [Epstein] and his team of managers,” Danny said. “It was always a highly competitive environment, but they really made the job fun. I wouldn’t have been prepared for this job without the training that I received during my time with the Red Sox. But this was an opportunity to work with Dan and help to try to build a winning organization.”

He joined a team that had suffered 15 straight losing years, but since then, with one of the smallest front offices in baseball, the Orioles have played .500 or better baseball with three playoff appearances.

Loyalty vs. tickets and

apparel: What to do?!


    Working for two different sports organizations causes many dilemmas — from balancing family allegiances to tickets to even what apparel is worn. Katie Haas admits to being more mindful of sports apparel than she ever hoped she’d be. When her side of the family went to an Orioles-Rays game in Florida last year, she made sure no one was in Red Sox garb, as all were decked out in O’s gear. While there is more Red Sox apparel in the house, every September the family receives a box from the Orioles of giveaway items — shirts, hats and all other sorts of novelties. “It’s one of the kids’ favorite days of the year,” she laughs.
    Danny Haas collected reams of Red Sox apparel over his 15 years with the team. “We have a whole closet of Red Sox gear that he can’t wear anymore,” she said, noting it’s been given away to friends and family members.
    Careful consideration is also given to what the children wear, and they split allegiances, for example, with Hunter sporting a Red Sox jersey and Orioles shorts. “They are Switzerland,” Katie said.
    Danny talks to his father, Eddie, virtually every day, and while the elder Haas worked for the Red Sox for 10 years, he is a strong supporter of his sons and their team. On Katie’s side of the family, it’s less about longtime fan passions for either team. “My family roots for whoever got them their tickets to that day’s game,” she laughs.
                                              — Abraham D. Madkour
While he has aspirations for advancement, Danny, like many, remains on the constant quest for the perfect storm: Work with good people and have a voice at the table when decisions are being made, balanced by being a good husband and an active presence in his children’s life. “That’s what’s important to me,” he says.

At JetBlue Park, which has been sold out for every Grapefruit League game since it opened in 2012, the fans and frenetic nature of game operations keeps Katie dialed in.

“She is scanning tickets to directing parking,” Danny said. “It’s everything.”

The only woman to hold such a position for an MLB club, Katie has a high profile in Fort Myers, and is often the only woman in the room. She wonders about her career growth, balancing the desire for more responsibility and leadership with the realization it would mean less time with her family.

“I think about that every day,” she said, before Danny interrupts, “Her upside is way higher than mine.”

As the Red Sox take a 2-0 lead, Katie cares less about the outcome and more about the big picture.

“No matter who wins, it benefits our family in some way. But I have to be realistic; if the Orioles do well on the field, it’s good for Danny and his career. It’s a reflection on his hard work, and good for our family. That’s the most important thing.” She said. “Danny has a personal investment in these players. He’s followed them as they’ve become major leaguers and he knows these guys. That’s far different from what I do on the business side.”

Toward the later innings, we tour around Oriole Park and take in Eutaw Street before going to get a late dinner. As we walk into the restaurant, Danny checks the score on the TV, with the Sox holding onto a 2-1 lead heading to the 8th. “You’re still winning, honey,” he said to Katie.

Over dinner, Katie says she doesn’t let the daily ebb and flow of the season affect her. “I honestly don’t live and die by every pitch until September. But let’s be honest, September is a tense month,” she said. And her worst nightmare: A Red Sox-Orioles playoff matchup.

“I would leave the country if we played the Orioles in October and would come back only when the series was over,” Katie said, only half in jest. “It would be too hard. There would be no way I could watch a game with him if we met in the playoffs.”

The game ends, as the Red Sox picked up a tidy 5-2 win without a peep from either team. We leave the restaurant to head back to the hotel, and Katie and Danny to their regular lives.

Both seem nonplussed by the game’s result, and Danny is pragmatic when asked how he deals with defeat.

“Everyone deals with it,” he said flatly. “Just have to roll with it.”

But before walking hand in hand into their hotel, they acknowledge it’s a lot easier with Georgie and Hunter in their lives.

“Losing is far easier now with having kids,” Danny said. “It puts things in perspective. Losing hurts, but seeing your kids laugh and play reminds you that tomorrow is another day for a win.”

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com

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