When Waterfront Park opened its doors in 1994, Will Smith ’96 tapped into his college fund to purchase a ticket and enjoy a Trenton Thunder baseball game. Little did he know he would one day return to the park not to buy tickets, but to set their prices.
In August, the Thunder made Will its new general manager (GM). Will returns to the Trenton area after serving as GM of the Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League. In his new post, he will oversee the franchise operations and supervise all departments with regards to function and revenue stream for the Thunder, the Class AA affiliate of the New York Yankees.
“Compared to the organization I came from, everything is bigger the ballpark, staff, fan-base, market size, revenues,” said Will from his office at the park. “I’m trying to get to know everybody right now because it’s critical to my job that everyone works together. I have to respect that there are a lot of great people in place who have been here a long time and are very good at what they do. I just wish there were more hours in the day.”
Will endured a unique ascent through the ranks to acquire an executive office in a minor league franchise that is renowned as one of the most successful in professional sports. His professional career began not in baseball, marketing, management, or even sales, but as an operations engineer for the North American Electric Reliability Council (NAERC). The engineering graduate flourished at NAERC, earning a significant promotion within his first year. But in his third year with the company he confronted a problem that he could no longer ignore: boredom. Restricted to an office with limited human interaction and scarce immediate results, Will needed a change.
So the former Alpha Chi Rho president and lifelong baseball fan booked a flight to Dallas for the Professional Baseball Employment Organization’s Job Fair. After more than 20 interviews and two job offers, Will accepted a group sales position with the New Haven Ravens in Connecticut. The job meant an initial step back in salary, but the opportunity breathed fresh life into him.
“The engineering degree is something that I will always use and it helps me to this day,” said Will. “But I learned a lot more than that in college. You may not realize it when you’re there, but you’re learning life skills. You’re learning how to be social, prioritize, and organize clubs and organizations. I developed a lot of my leadership characteristics in serving as a community adviser and fraternity president.”
“My personality just didn’t fit the mold of a typical engineer,” Will said. “Going into this field got me more involved with people, and there is more of an immediate response and sense of achievement with daily tasks. I went backwards at first in taking less money, but found myself to be much happier.”
With the Thunder, Will is responsible for almost everything outside the foul lines. Tickets, merchandising, concessions, food and beverages, and sponsorships are the major components of running a successful minor league franchise. Winning teams or a rehab visit from the likes of Derek Jeter never hurt the bottom line, but Will said he’ll focus his efforts on what he can control.
“The baseball end of it is the fun and sexy part of the job, but the ‘meat and potatoes’ of it is the business side,” said Will. “This business is not a perfect science, so we brainstorm ideas and troubleshoot constantly. But at the end of an eight-hour day, it is great to step outside your office and watch a baseball game.”