By TOM KING
NASHUA – Five years ago, Ronnie Wallace pitched the final college baseball game of his career for the UMass-
Amherst, then woke up the next morning and reported to work as the Lowell Spinners/Nashua Silver Knights food and beverage director.
Five years ago Cheryl Lindner was raising two kids and working as an accountant, in health care and manufacturing.
Now, in May of 2017, they form arguably the most potent front office tandem in the Futures Collegate Baseball League, and are preparing to take the franchise to even better levels as the 2017 season begins in less than a month.
“I had no idea,” Knights assistant general manager Lindner, 45, who basically took over as the team accountant on an emergency basis four years ago and never left. “With all of this, I wouldn’t have known what I was talking about.”
At that time, Wallace was in place as the Silver Knights general manager, and he’ll be the first to tell you at the time he wasn’t aware of what he didn’t know.
But together, their knowledge helped the Silver Knights achieve the best financial standing in their six-year history in 2016. Wallace was named FCBL Executive of the Year and the franchise was awarded Small Business of the Year by the Nashua Chamber of Commerce.
Of course, on the field the team won its third FCBL crown in the league’s six years.
For the 26-year-old Wallace, the education of a general manager is ongoing. But the fact the pair, with other front office help, accomplished what it did in the wake of the ownership split with the affiliated minor league Lowell Spinners after Knights owner Drew Weber sold them, makes this even more remarkable.
Several decisions that were made in Lowell, mainly by former Spinners/Knights team president Tim Bawmann, fell in Wallace’s and Lindner’s lap last spring. And while they run things by Weber, he has repeatedly expressed confidence in their work, basically taking a hands-off approach.
It’s their show.
“Since our split with the Spinners, some more of those things that we really never had to give thought to, come to the top of our mind a little bit,” Wallace said.
That included ticketing, negotiations with major clients, lease negotiations and any other matters with the city. A curve thrown them, and the pair hit it out of the park.
“We showed we can be independent and do things on our own,” Wallace said, “and not fall back on another organization for leadership. We had our best season by the books, by the baseball, without the help of anybody else once the split occurred.”
“We were able to do the things we wanted to do,” Wallace said. “We were the boots on the ground up here. A lot of the direction was coming from down south, and you know, some things that work in Nashua don’t necessarily work in Lowell. Some things that work in Lowell don’t necessarily work in Nashua.
“This isn’t affiliated minor league baseball. This is summer collegiate league baseball. As much as the business model stays the same in general, there’s still some different things we see we can do differently that can help us.
“We do what we see fit to keep our clients happy and keep them coming back year to year.”
Lindner’s addition and increased role from bookkeeper to also basically community liaison has been seen as crucial. “She’s really in charge,” Wallace said, only half-joking. “Anybody who handles the financials is in charge.”
Originally from the Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Pa., area, Lindner has lived in Nashua now for 25 years with her husband Dave and two children, certainly an advantage.
“Everywhere we go, people know who Cheryl is,” Wallace said.
“It definitely helps,” Lindner said of her local connection. “I think the growth in the office we’ve seen the last couple of years is definitely because we’ve reached out to the community. … We have made a big push to get out into the community and listen to their concerns.”
Lindner knew Bawmann, now in charge of the Indiana Pacers D-League affiliate in Fort Wayne, as their youngest children are friends. The then-team president asked in 2014 if she could come in and do the books as the team accountant had left, and the season was just weeks away from starting.
“I came in, and I don’t know what Ronnie thought to make of me that day,” she said with a chuckle.
She came in thinking she was just working with the numbers and soon realized she was being interviewed for a job. Asked if she could start the next day, she said, “I haven’t even told my husband yet. This is a big change for my family.”
It became an even bigger change.
Lindner, who before she was hired would celebrate her birthday at Silver Knights games as a fan, asked if she could get involved with sales, and immediate success kept her in that role. Her contacts proved invaluable, and she’s the main chamber contact.
“It’s important to give back to where I live,” she said, and that’s been proven as she’s raising money for Nashua Dodger/Roy Campanella-Don Newcombe banners for the front of the stadium.
Wallace, Lindner and now Anderson all know now the value of an offseason. Lindner brought that idea with her to the organization, and she and Wallace now make themselves as visible as possible during the winter. That has resulted in valuable business designed to put more people in the ballpark come June, July and August.
The learning curve will get even
bigger for Wallace and Lindner with the installment in the next week or two of the new video scoreboard. It will open up a new revenue stream as clients can now have video ads played on it – a resource the organization has begun to already sell.
“We just need to get better at what we do,” Wallace said, “to keep that motivation to send emails and make phone calls during the winter months to people when maybe baseball is the last thing on their mind.”
Wallace says that the organization is on pace in his mind, without looking at the numbers, to be more successful than a year ago.
“I don’t have concrete numbers but just the eye test,” he said. “Just with the amount of new people we have that walk into our office to buy tickets, suites, new advertisers.”
Wallace admits that he wouldn’t have known even how to do that eye test four years ago.
“No,” he said. “I wouldn’t have known what I was talking about.”
His future in the business appears bright. Currently there’s no timetable as to how he wants to advance his career. He feels his work in the sports administrative end may open up doors not only in organized baseball but even on the college or high school level.
“I love working in baseball, there’s no doubt about that,” Wallace said, adding if he isn’t working it he’s watching or playing it. “But (his future) doesn’t have to be in baseball. The idea of being a high school AD or something along those lines sounds pretty good. (The) idea of getting that pension is good if you’re planning for the future.
“There’s a million places you can go. But I haven’t thought about it at this point.”
Lindner says, “Sometimes I’m sad it took me this long to find out what I love to do.”
Onward and upward?
What’s the next step? Seeing attendance numbers go up, Wallace said. New full-timer Brian Anderson, also a Nashua native, has been handling ticketing and there appears to be an increase due to his persistence. The team has basically hovered in the 1,200-1,300 a night attendance range, give or take a couple hundred, for the last four years or so.
“You have to believe that the interest is there more than ever,” Wallace said. “Being there for seven years, just having good stuff going on over here.”
“There’s room,” Lindner said, “for growth.”
Along with Anderson, the trio splits up the duties. But at the top, Wallace and Lindner have worked so well as a tandem that any transition is seamless. Lindner teaches Wallace budgeting for the organization and he teaches her baseball in terms of what the hardcore fan may expect.
“There’s a team out there,” he said pointing to the field, “and there’s a team in here. Everyone has to be on the same page to make it work.”
Both teams appear to be on point.
“As far as it being year five (of his tenure), every day it’s awesome being able to pull up to work at a ballpark, especially Holman Stadium,” Wallace said. “The days are starting to get long but actually that’s when it gets to be more fun. You see your work coming to fruition a little bit more.”
“We definitely know more than we did when we started,” Lindner said, “but definitely lots more to learn.”