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Fantasy Baseball Made Real
By Robert Strauss

In 1989, though, the whole baseball obsession came alive for Goldklang. While up in his family cabin in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, he would go to the games of the Pittsfield Cubs team in the AA-level Eastern League, in which he had made a small investment. The owner moved it to Williamsport, Pa., and then entertained offers for it, along with two other teams that he owned including one in Charleston, S.C. and a complete mess in Miami. Within a month, Goldklang purchased these teams, along with an AAA, or top minor league level, team in Oklahoma City and, in the following two years, added a team in Erie, Pa. (later moved to the picturesque Hudson Valley) and an independent team in St. Paul, Minn.

At this point, the entrepreneurial spirit awoke in him. He wanted to make the experience fun for fans and profitable for him.

"Twenty years ago, the product of minor league baseball was baseball. There was a problem with that. You are selling an inferior product. It is not major-league," says Goldklang. So he became determined to find a different paradigm. Along the way, he met Mike Veeck, son of an original "fun is good" owner, Bill Veeck, the maestro of baseball-entertainment innovation in the post-World War II era. The younger Veeck had been effectively blackballed from baseball when, after, as promotions director for the Chicago White Sox in 1979, he had Disco Demolition Night. What was to be a silly little stunt, the blowing up of a box of disco records, caused a fire and a near-riot in the stadium, forcing the White Sox to forfeit a game.

But Goldklang hired Veeck to rev up his moribund Florida franchise, then subsequently help him in other cities. He has made Veeck a partner in the baseball firm and he operated the Charleston River Dogs, Goldklang's South Atlantic League franchise, with panache, exemplified by "Nobody Night," where fans stayed out of the stadium until the fifth inning so they could set a record for smallest crowd.

Eric Krupa, the South Atlantic League President. "You mention the name of Marv Goldklang and Mike Veeck and ‘creative' is too weak a word," says Eric Krupa, the South Atlantic League President. "But also, Marv has been extremely generous. He does everything first-class and for the customer."

"At the minor-league level," says Goldklang, "winning or losing doesn't mean that much at the gate or sponsorships, unlike in the majors. What we are selling is the ballpark experience, wrapped around a baseball game. We were among the industry leaders in developing innovative promotional concepts. Now the major leagues are looking to people like us."

"I can't believe I get to have so much fun," he continues. "Oh, it's work, sure, but for an old pitcher, it's like heaven." Goldklang says his sliver of the Yankees gives him only moderate perks — he is, after all, one of 23 limited partners, and the Steinbrenner family is a confirmed majority presence.

"John McMullen (former part-owner of the Yankees) used to say, ‘There is nothing more limited than being a limited partner of the Yankees'," says Goldklang.

He gets to buy better tickets, but doesn't get them free. He has only been to the clubhouse once, to say hello to Darryl Strawberry in the mid-1990s, since he had signed Strawberry to a contract in St. Paul. He also gets four seats in the owner's box, although he prefers his regular seats.

"The good parking spot, though, I do like. That and just being able to be at games, well, I am a Yankees fan, so what could be better?"

He did experience an incredible moment last fall, when the Yankees won the World Championship and he rode down Broadway in the parade. It was his fourth parade, but it never gets old.

"Even people who have been very successful in life haven't gotten to do that," he says. "All those people cheering. Me, a lifelong Yankees fan. It takes your breath away. It really does." PLJ

Robert Strauss, formerly a reporter for Sports Illustrated and The Philadelphia Daily News , is a freelance writer whose works appears in The New York Times , Washin gton Post, and Los Angeles Times . He is also an adjunct professor, teaching writing in the Penn English Department.