By Kevin Kelley
The new owners of the Lake Erie Crushers are promising an improved fan experience for those who come out to watch the team at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon this season.
Blue Dog Baseball LLC, owned by Westlake residents Tom and Jacqueline Kramig, took control of the Crushers in a deal that was finalized Feb. 19. Terms of the purchase from Avon Baseball LLC, controlled by Steve Edelson, were not released. Blue Dog had assumed day-to-day operations of the Frontier League franchise in October with an option to purchase the team, Kramig said.
Tom Kramig said he’s already doubled the team’s front office staff, where Jacqueline Kramig is in charge of special projects, including human resources. The couple has two daughters, one in college and one who recently graduated.
The Kramigs are renting a Westlake house for a year. When they decide on a permanent residence, Tom Kramig said, it will be in or near Avon.
He’s promising fans better customer service and improvements at the city-owned stadium that the team leases year-round. Among the announced improvements are the addition of an awning over the third-base picnic plaza, a new bar along the third-base line, and upgrades to the concessions service and kid’s zone.
Kramig also intends to host other events, such as concerts, at All Pro Freight Stadium.
“We have to have more events out here,” Kramig told West Life. “It’s too good a venue to let it sit empty on a gorgeous day.” Additional revenue from renting the stadium will improve the franchise’s finances, he added.
On the field, Kramig has announced Chris Mongiardo will return in 2016 as the club’s manager and director of baseball operations. In 2015, the team finished in last place in the Frontier League’s East Division with a record of 38-57.
Kramig said he has no intention of changing the team’s name but did not rule out that possibility down the line.
Like many boys, Kramig dreamed of becoming a big-league ballplayer but never played baseball in high school or college. The Cincinnati-area native grew up rooting for the Reds during the 1970s, a period when “the Big Red Machine” won four National League pennants and two World Series titles.
Kramig said he’s thought about purchasing a baseball team for 10 to 20 years.
“It’s been an idea in my mind for a long time now,” he said.
He looked at a number of minor league teams before acquiring the Crushers.
“We really liked the model of the Frontier League,” Kramig said. Unlike the case in Minor League Baseball, in which teams are affiliated with Major League Baseball franchises, a Frontier League franchise owner has much greater control of the team’s on-field operations, he explained. By contrast, the roster of a farm team of the Cleveland Indians is largely determined by the parent club, Kramig said.
Kramig credited Frontier League Commissioner Bill Lee with steering him toward the Crushers. In addition, the Kramigs wanted to return to the Midwest from Denver, where Tom led the multimedia department of a real estate company. Tom Kramig previously worked in local television news as a producer and ran his own video production company.
Kramig encourages Westshore residents to come out and enjoy a Crushers game this season, which opens May 12 with a 7:05 p.m. game against the River City Rascals.
“It’s very affordable family fun,” he said.