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Executives of the Year: Dannemiller, Kern, Venuto

Ballpark DigestIn a bad economy, it’s easier to tell the truly great employees from the mediocre ones: they’re the ones who manage to grow revenue and per caps at a time when almost everyone else is suffering. Just ask the three recipients of our year-end award for Ballpark Digest Executive of the Year: Katie Dannemiller, Liz Kern and Amy Venuto. They truly stand out from the crowd, and we’re proud to honor them here.

It may seem a little odd that all three winners for this award are women. We’re not arguing there’s perfect gender equality in baseball, but it seems to us a little anachronistic that Minor League Baseball continues with separate awards for women in its year-end awards: a top-notch executive is a top-notch executive no matter the gender. And that was our guiding principle as we sifted through the many, many nominations for this award. It certainly generates the most submissions from readers, and virtually all the nominations came from other members of the baseball community.

We had a long list of nominees for this award, and there are some great names on our short list: Ryan Gates of the Lake Erie Crushers (independent; Frontier League), Kirk Goodman of the Quad Cities River Bandits (Low Class A; Midwest League), Kurt Landes of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Class AAA; International League), Joe Napoli of the Toledo Mud Hens (Class AAA; International League) Mike Nutter of the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Low Class A; Midwest League), Scott Sonju of the Frisco RoughRiders (Class AA; Texas League) and Vern Stenman of the Madison Mallards (summer collegiate; Northwoods League). No owner would go wrong with any of these people occupying top spots in their organizations. You’ve seen their names on this list in the past, and undoubtedly you’ll see them cited again in the future.

In the end, we went for two front-office veterans and a relatively recent newcomer to the executive suite, recognizing career accomplishments as well as outstanding performances in 2010. Our choices for Executive of the Year in 2010: Katie Dannemiller of the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Low Class A; South Atlantic League), Liz Kern of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (summer collegiate; Northwoods League) and Amy Venuto of Ripken Baseball. Each performed admirably this season in unglamorous, behind-the-scenes tasks, and each led organizations during some difficult times.

Dannemiller is one of our favorite people in baseball: she’s a prolific networker who’s contributed so much to the game with her enthusiastic support of both baseball and the people in the game. For years she’s been an important leader in the Grasshoppers front office and within baseball circles; she and Donald Moore, Grasshoppers president and GM, have put together an organization that’s pretty lean in the front office but is now an essential part of the greater Greensboro community. NewBridge Bank Park is one of the best ballparks of the minors, and the Grasshoppers do a splendid job of giving back to the community – and Dannemiller is a huge part of that.

For Kern, the challenge was simple: put together an expansion summer-collegiate team. Now, she had a pretty decent base, with the successful owners of the Madison Mallards (summer collegiate; Northwoods League) onboard. But the decision was made early on to do things differently in Wisconsin Rapids, a much smaller market than Madison, and one small even by summer-collegiate standards. Some of the things we’ve seen in other ballparks, like limiting outfield signage to eight spots, while others were new to summer-collegiate ball, like establishing all-inclusive season-ticket seats behind home plate, in what’s usually considered prime territory. The crowds were solid – 1,368 per game – and we’re told the revenues outpaced the team’s position in the league market sizes. To say Kern is a hard worker is an understatement – try keeping up with her at a Rafters game (we tried; we couldn’t) — and the hard work paid off. The Northwoods League has already named Kern its executive of the year; she deserves some wider praise from the greater baseball community as well for her accomplishments.

Venuto is the glue that binds the three professional teams owned by Ripken Baseball: the Aberdeen IronBirds (short season; NY-Penn League), the Augusta GreenJackets (Low Class A; Sally League) and the Charlotte Stone Crabs (High Class A; Florida State League). Her job is to bring the Ripken Way to employees in all three front offices, working on sales techniques and augmenting the work done by the three GMs in place. All three teams are successful, and Venuto bears a large degree of credit for that accomplishment. You wouldn’t know it from spending any time with her – Venuto is self-effacing, if nothing else – but the multiple nominations for this award from her peers cements her worthiness for the recognition.

We rely heavily on nominations from peers when determining these awards, and the fact that multiple peers nominated each executive honored here says much for their standings in the baseball community. Congrats to all three.

Each year Ballpark Digest honors noteworthy accomplishments in the baseball world, whether it be Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, independent baseball, summer-collegiate baseball or college baseball. Readers are asked to submit nominations for awards in specific categories; Ballpark Digest editors then go though the submissions (numbering some 300 pages of documentation this year). The awards cover both individual accomplishments as well as team accomplishments. This is the fourth season for the Ballpark Digest Awards. A complete listing of Ballpark Digest Awards can be found at

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