Greg Morrison’s pro career put him on deck to run a team of his own
by Geoffrey Morgan
Baseball has defined Greg Morrison’s career. He played first base for the farm teams of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Los Angeles Dodgers as well as for Team Canada, the Calgary Vipers and the now-defunct Edmonton Cracker-Cats. But at the end of his playing career in 2006, he started getting offers to coach. “I thought it was probably time to start hanging it up,” he says, and he did – for a while.
Photograph Rob Olson
Morrison was planning to work with a chiropractor and build a soft-tissue therapy practice for himself. In the off seasons he had attended the University of Calgary and earned a kinesiology degree, and expected to establish his own practice when he moved back to his hometown of Medicine Hat in 2007. “I was out of baseball,” he says.
But Morrison couldn’t stay away from the game for long. After all, he was an alumnus of the Medicine Hat Big League Baseball (a local high-school league) and had been a key member of the Medicine Hat Blue Jays in 1997, winning the Pioneer League’s Most Valuable Player award. The Blue Jays left Medicine Hat in 2003, but a new baseball team, the Mavericks, moved in. “I knew the [Mavericks] owners and thought I’d approach them about getting involved,” he says. Then he surprised everyone and bought the team outright. He’s now the owner, general manager and head coach of the Mavericks and, as much as possible, the owner/therapist at his soft-tissue practice. “It’s really two full-time jobs,” he says.
“I don’t know how he’s done it,” says Ryan Jackson, a former Western Major Baseball League player and the owner of Rameco Consulting. Jackson has acted as a business coach for Morrison since he bought the team and describes him as “one of the most successful people in the league,” citing improvement in both the team’s on-field performance and its average attendance.
When Morrison bought the Mavericks in 2008, the team hadn’t made the playoffs in three years and the average attendance at home games was 300 people. By contrast, more than 1,400 people showed up for the team’s last playoff date of the 2011 season. Lovell McDonnell, the director of operations for Medicine Hat’s American Legion Baseball program, says he has watched the crowds get steadily bigger since Morrison bought the team. McDonnell has known Morrison since he was a promising 12-year-old ballplayer. “It’s good to see an alumnus player back in the community doing well,” he says.
In fact, the Mavericks are doing well both on and off the field. Morrison says he has not lost any money on the team since he purchased it, and has never had to dip into his personal savings to keep the franchise solvent. “For a college-level [baseball] team to be in the black – that’s a pretty big deal, given that Canada is a hockey nation,” he says. To add to the team’s revenues, Morrison has found 60 business sponsors and still sees room for improvement in attendance numbers.
Part of the team’s success in attracting new fans, both Jackson and McDonnell say, can be attributed to Morrison’s 12-year minor league career. They say Morrison knows what a good baseball franchise looks like, they say, noting that he has upgraded the team’s uniforms, hired a team mascot and found a crew of cheerleaders – the Mav Girls – to boost the entertainment value at the ball diamond. “Playing in the minor leagues all those years,” Morrison says, “I guess I just picked up a lot of this stuff.”
Morrison looks to the Okotoks Dawgs – the team that eliminated the Mavericks in the 2011 playoffs – as the team to beat in terms of attendance. “They’re getting 2,000 fans per game,” he says. This season, he’s projecting average attendance of 1,000 fans per game, which would make the Mavericks a profitable franchise at $12 per adult ticket with 46 games in a season. If the team can get to the second round of the playoffs again, Morrison says he can sleep even better.
But he is getting a lot of help from his family. His mother and his wife run the ticket booth during games and his dad is hawking programs while his in-laws are running the 50/50 draw. His brothers are managing the concessions. “It’s really been a family organization and now we’re at a tipping point,” Morrison says. With attendance growing, he can start thinking about hiring additional staff – maybe even ones that would replace him.
“I’m at a fork in the road,” he says. “I might try to hire a general manager who can really take it to the next level.” That would give him additional time to focus on his soft-tissue practice and his duties as a head coach and owner. Even then, he knows there will come a time to sit on the sidelines. “As the president and the owner, I know that I’ll still want to come and watch these games,” he says. “The tough part for me will be [deciding] when to hang up the uniform as a coach.” AV