Lou Schwechheimer was an unpaid intern with the Class Triple-A Pawtuckett Red Sox baseball team at age 19.
Six years later, he’d become such an integral, hard worker in helping turn the team’s fortunes that owner Ben Mondor gave him a small interest in it to ensure Schwechheimer remained.
Schwechheimer, announced Monday as manager and controller of a company that has bought 50 percent of the New Orleans Zephyrs, said that type of diligence, dedication and now experience will be used to turn around this city’s Triple-A team.
The Z’s have languished near the bottom of the Pacific Coast League in attendance for years. Schwechheimer will run the franchise.
“I promise you (Zephyr Field) will come alive,” said Schwechheimer, who was chosen Minor League Executive of the Year seven times. “We’re about building a dream factory … for the players who are coming up through (to the Miami Marlins) and a dream factory for this community to sink your teeth in and support.”
Schwechheimer’s company purchased its stake from Don Beaver, who also has a percentage in the Pittsburgh Pirates and owns the Triple-A Charlotte Knights and Single-A Hickory Crawdads. Beaver, the Zephyrs’ sole owner since 2002, said it became difficult trying to run the Zephyrs as an out-of-town owner.
“It’s not a secret the team has had economic problems,” Beaver said. “I made the decision two years ago that I probably ought to sell the team. We really didn’t do a good job of managing it from a corporate standpoint. We were in other businesses — health care, mainly.”
Four or five people approached Beaver about buying the Z’s, including one major league owner, the Houston Astros’ Jim Crane.
Beaver said he met Schwechheimer a year ago at Major League Baseball’s winter meetings. Schwechheimer said they were able to reach a handshake agreement.
The Zephyrs’ new six-year lease with the Louisiana Sports and Expedition District, which will take over maintenance of the stadium, was major in facilitating the sale.
Schwechheimer is accustomed to working to have a stadium surpass minor league baseball standards. The PawSox played in McCoy Stadium, which was built in 1942 during the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Over the years, with first having the stadium spruced up then having it undergo a multi-million renovation, it became a model in minor league baseball. McCoy was expanded to 10,000 seats in 1999 and drew more than 600,000 fans per season.
In 1979, while as an intern, Schwechheimer met former Tulane player Barry Butera, who was with the PawSox. They have been best friends since. After Butera’s baseball career ended, he visited Pawtuckett every year during the 30 years Schwechheimer was part owner of the team. The transformations Buter saw are big reasons he urged Schwechheimer to become interested in having a team here.
“What (the three owners) did in that community was unbelievable,” Butera said. “McCoy Stadium, they turned it into a jewel. People in New Orleans are going to be blown away when they see what’s going to happen here with Lou Schwechheimer running this operation.”
The PawSox received minor league baseball awards for best exemplifying the standards of a complete baseball franchise, for demonstrating long-standing excellence of operations in the ballpark and front office, and for their ongoing commitment to charitable service.
The LSED has said capital improvements will be made to Zephyr Field at some point. For now, Schwechheimer wants to focus on the basics, such as cleanliness and general maintenance.
“We want to present (great baseball) in an immaculate stadium,” he said.
He said the Z’s will expand promotions to include such events as Boy Scout and Girl Scout sleep-overs on the field, among other things.