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The cost of a potential division title

Ever wondered what it costs a team to prepare for a potential division title? One minor league GM answers that question.

Johnny Giavotella lifts broadcaster Mark Nasser in celebration
Johnny Giavotella lifts broadcaster Mark Nasser in celebration
Mark Kuhlmann / Omaha Storm Chasers

Ever wondered what it costs a team to prepare for a potential division title?

That's the question I had on my mind as I headed to the ballpark to cover the Omaha Storm Chasers (the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals) final regular season game on Monday.

What if the Storm Chasers were to lose to Round Rock or what if Memphis defeated Oklahoma City? (Either scenario would have given Memphis the Pacific Coast League American North Division title.) How much would the team have shelled out making preparations for a potential division title they may not win?

Were the plane tickets the team had already purchased to Oklahoma City for the American Conference Championship refundable? What sort of process was in place to disperse the division championship t-shirts proclaiming the incorrect champion? How big of a hit would this be to a minor league club in a city in which weather hasn't exactly cooperated for them this season?

Conversely, if the Storm Chases won the division, I wondered how much it would cost to clean up the clubhouse afterward.

Brett Pollock, a radio broadcaster for the Storm Chasers, is responsible for overseeing the team's travel arrangements and he has been agonizing over the answers to most of these questions for the past couple of weeks as Omaha and Memphis battled for the division.

"We bought our plane tickets to Oklahoma City with about 13 games left in the season," Pollock said before the game on Monday. "We had won the first three in Memphis to go up five. We lost the next game, so we were still up four with 14 and figured, ‘If we go about .500, Memphis would have to go about 12-2 to beat us,' which we didn't think would happen since all their games were on the road."

Pollock stayed in constant communication with team president and general manager, Martie Cordaro, and assistant GM of business operations, Laurie Schlender, as the season drew to a close. Pollock also had to be in constant communication with the team's travel agent who was feeding him updates about how many seats were available on specific flights, as well as the cost that went up each day they waited to make the purchase.

Cordaro's staff knew that when they pulled the trigger and ordered the tickets, they were on the hook for the expense, win or lose, since he says group orders of that size are non-transferable and non-refundable with Southwest Airlines.

Even by ordering the tickets as early as they did, 26 players/coaches would end up on a Southwest flight and five would end up on an American Airlines flight - both arriving in Oklahoma City at the same time. If they had waited, not only would the cost have gone up, but it would have created a logistical nightmare with players coming in on three or more flights, maybe at different times.

So they ordered the tickets, as well as the t-shirts, and hoped for the best. Memphis ended up going 8-6 over their final 14 games, while Omaha went 5-9 to win the division by one game.

"As the lead started to dwindle, I started to get a little worried," Pollock confessed on Monday before knowing if Omaha would indeed be playoff bound. He was able to breathe a sigh of relief after Omaha finally won the division later that day.

But before that, Cordaro's staff had to prepare the clubhouse with libations as well as a protective plastic covering. The alcohol was on standby and they made final preparations for receiving it on the morning of the final regular season game.

"We starting putting the plastic up after Oklahoma City went up 1-0 (over Memphis), just to be prepared," Cordaro said.

A Memphis loss, coupled with an Omaha win meant the celebration was on. Players sprayed and dunked one another in a makeshift tub in the clubhouse. When Omaha manager Mike Jirschele walked in, he warned his players in his wry sense of humor sort of way.

"Anybody sprays me, it's $100.00," he said.

Pitcher Buddy Baumann didn't even hesitate. He dumped his beer on Jirschele's head and everybody else follow suit.

When Pollock entered the clubhouse, Johnny Giavotella picked him up, put him inside the tub and the team doused him as well. Pollock's broadcast partner, Mark Nasser, was next (see the video below).

Cordaro and his staff are becoming accustomed to accommodating such celebrations since the team has won three straight division titles and have gone on to win two conference championships and one league championship.

A cleaning bill for the clubhouse is the price of success.

"It's about a grand each time it happens, just for the clubhouse," Cordaro said.

If the celebration spreads to the field, he says there could be field damage and that would need to be fixed as well. Jirschele tries to keep it contained to the clubhouse though and has been successful in doing so the past few seasons.

So, what's the bottom line? How much did it cost the Storm Chasers to prepare for the possibility of winning the division?

"Had we not won today, we would have been $15,000 to the negative with no opportunity to make that up," Cordaro said. "But now we can look at that as $15,000 to the positive."

And where would the t-shirts have ended up if Omaha had finished second?

Cordaro says his staff would have contacted a former group sales director who is now on the mission field and the team would have sent him some of the shirts to disperse. They have other contacts as well and children in Belgium or Belize would be walking around with shirts that would have proclaimed the second place Omaha Storm Chasers as division champions.