Full time guy exemplifies entrepreneurial spirit
Dennis Baxter and Jim Short are partners with McCrath in Blue Cap, and the upcoming event is Rock the Rapids, the city’s first weeklong downtown music festival that will run Aug. 8-13.
The new baseball endeavor is called Living Baseball Cards, and the sales targets for the half-hour video interviews currently in production are the teams the players were on, the TV stations in those markets, the thousands of memorabilia shops in the country, and, of course, the Internet. The site, livingbasecallcards.com, will launch in the immediate future.
“We like to be busy, both Denny and I, and Jim does, as well. Doing entertainment, doing music, the boxing, all the stage productions, consulting for other venues and finding sponsorships — they all seem to lead us to new and more exciting things on a regular basis,” McCrath said.
He said a longtime friend — artist, author and storyteller John Mooy — qualifies as the inspiration behind the new venture. After McCrath played golf with the late and beloved pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych a few years ago and set up a few public appearances here for the Tigers’ former Rookie-of-the-Year and all-star, Mooy asked if he had interviewed The Bird. McCrath said Fidrych did an interview on a local morning radio show.
“He said, ‘No, no, no, I mean a real sit-down interview, an interview where you talk to them about their life, because you meet so many retired ballplayers as they get older and question if they’re documenting things.’ I thought that was interesting, but I’m a sales guy. He then came back to me one day with an idea, and the idea was to make living baseball cards to preserve the life of the players long after they’re gone,” he said.
“Not to compete with the baseball-card industry, but to be the souvenir items at the ballparks that fans line up for. It would be a creative and unique card that has photographs that are more personal — family photographs and moments of their lives. Then a real, down-to-earth interview that didn’t have as much to do with ‘Tell us about your greatest play’ — everybody has done that — but talk about the things people might not have known about them, like Phil Regan and that he actually boxed,” he said.
McCrath said his biggest career break came when he was driving a truck for S. Abraham & Sons Inc., a local food distributor. Although he made a good living at it, he really wanted to be part of the sales team. The human resources department didn’t think McCrath had the qualifications to sell for the company, but that perception ended when Fred Olert noticed him. At the time, Olert was the firm’s vice president of sales and had noticed how well McCrath related to clients.
“He pretty much marched me into the HR office and said, ‘If there are openings, this guy fits those in the sales department. I want to see him in there.’ … I had a pretty good run of sales for Abraham & Sons, and that sparked my career in sales,” he said.
“You know, I don’t know if I always wanted to be in sales, or if I wanted to be in the type of business that I could feel entrepreneurial, feel that I was moving something, helping something grow. Out of high school, (truck driving) was a good enough job, but my mind was always on how can I be on the front end of it and be responsible for the growth of the organization.”
The year McCrath moved into sales was 1990. He stayed with the firm for a few more years and then joined the sales team at Spartan Stores. He then directed sales at Michigan Media Radio Broadcasting and at Federated Media Broadcasting. After that, he spent 10 years as director of business development for the West Michigan Whitecaps, the successful single-A baseball franchise founded by Baxter and Lew Chamberlin in 1994. He recently resigned that post so he could devote more time to Blue Cap Promotions and Living Baseball Cards, but he remains active with the team.
“After five years of having Blue Cap Promotions, we decided for us to get to that next level it might be beneficial for one of the three of us to be the full-time guy with Blue Cap. We were doing it at first as a hobby, and we had a lot of fun at (promoting) boxing, and as a supplementary income hobby because we enjoyed it so much. But, eventually, it dawned on us that somebody needs to be there every day if this company is going to move forward,” he said.
McCrath was born in Grand Rapids but grew up in Caledonia, where he lives with his two adopted sons. Landon is 12 and Noah is 8. Both are from South Korea. He described Landon as a science and biology nut who attends the Van Andel Institute’s Science Academy. “He loves it and he goes to a lot of the Odyssey of the Mind events, does the Science Olympiad, and he plays baseball.” McCrath said Noah is a math whiz and the family’s athlete. “He wants to have everything to do with sports and activities on a regular basis. He is my little guy to watch boxing with, and it’s really kind of fun to watch him during a fight on television when he stands up and shadow boxes what the fighters should be doing. He’s a ball of energy and he’s like me — a chatterbox.”
McCrath shares custody of the boys with Gayle, his former wife. “We’re friends. We agree that we’re better parents for the kids separately than together, and we’re there for each other,” he said.
Now that production for Living Baseball Cards is underway, McCrath can turn his full attention to the firm’s next really big adventure: Rock the Rapids. The outdoor concert stage and festival village will go up in a few weeks on an Oakes Street parking lot behind Van Andel Arena. McCrath is eagerly looking forward to pulling off what will be a first for downtown.
“Excited is an understatement. We’re really, really excited about it because it’s the first time Grand Rapids has had a music festival of this sort. We have nationally known artists all week long with very, very affordable six-day passes for $79. You just don’t see something like that,” he said.
“That pricing concept, which came from Denny, is now being adopted by festivals and other promotional events that are multiple days. All over the place, they’ve taken a look at our pricing structure. I’m sure it’s not unheard of to have a cheap festival ticket, but this one certainly is very inexpensive. We’re excited.”