Chicago businessman buys Silver Hawks
Posted: 11/23/2011 at 2:07 pm
By: Steve Krah
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Chicago businessman Andrew Berlin has purchased the minor league baseball team and plans to keep the club in town while working to increase marketing and promotion around Michiana and revitalization and economic development in South Bend.
Berlin, who will be the Silver Hawks sole owner of Chicago-based Swing-Batter-Swing LLC, bought the team from a group headed by Joe Kernan, former Indiana governor, South Bend mayor and Notre Dame baseball player.
Berlin said he is paying in cash and there will be no debt on the team.
The formal announcement of the sale was made Wednesday afternoon pending approval of the Midwest League, National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (the Minor Leagues) and Major League Baseball.
Kernan took on a great deal of debt to operate the Silver Hawks and has not had the resources to fully promote and market the team. The club never turned a profit in his six years with the team.
“We are selling the team for less that what we bought it for,” said Kernan.
Many offers have been made to purchase the Silver Hawks in recent years, but Kernan rejected them because the prospective buyers planned to move the team.
“Joe is a great guy,” said Berlin. “He has dedicated himself to his country, his city and his state. Joe kept the team in town. I plan to do my darnedest to make sure it thrives.”
In 2011, South Bend drew a franchise-record low 112,895 fans for 64 openings at Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium, an average crowd of 1,762. The Silver Hawks ranked 13th in the 16-team Class-A Midwest League in attendance.
Berlin is the chairman and chief executive officer of Chicago-based Berlin Packaging, a company he has headed since 1988. Its annual sales approach $700 million.
“I’m a baseball guy,” said Berlin, a lifelong Chicago White Sox fan who is now a limited partner in that MLB team. “It’s been a passion of mine all my life.”
Love of baseball is one of the reasons he is buying the Silver Hawks. But he also sees financial potential in the market. “It makes good business sense to be here.
“South Bend is such a great capital of the region with a great demographic.”
Berlin is confident his business know-how will help the Silver Hawks.
“I know how to turn companies around,” said Berlin. “We want to blanket it with a great customer experience. We want to thrill them every step of the way.”
Berlin intends to be the chairman of the board of the team and looks to hire a CEO to run it. He will be at professional baseball’s winter meetings in Dallas in December and expects to be running the Silver Hawks by the end of the year.
A 20-year lease agreement with the city to use the stadium is in the works A special park board meeting is scheduled next Tuesday to talk about the details.
A father of three girls and two sons, Berlin wants coming to Coveleski — for baseball, concerts and other community events — to be a family event.
“We want to make baseball fun for the city,” said Berlin.
To that end, Ripken Design has been hired to explore ideas for making the stadium even better.
“We have a lot of cool ideas — like outdoor Lazy Boys in the outfield and party pads,” said Berlin. “We want to make baseball fun for the city. Fireworks shows have to be bigger and better. But Coveleski Stadium has to be more than just baseball.”
To that end, Berlin said he hopes to bring restaurants, shops and amusements to the Coveleski area to enhance the overall experience.
“The Cove was always meant to be a cornerstone for redevelopment in downtown South Bend,” said Berlin. “South Bend without The Cove looks bleak.”
South Bend mayor Steve Luecke calls Coveleski to the south and the Morris Performing Arts Center to the north the key anchors for downtown.
South Bend is scheduled to open the 2012 season — its 25th in the Midwest League — on April 5 at Bowling Green. The home opener is slated for April 9 against Fort Wayne.
The team has been affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks since 1997. It was tied to the White Sox from 1988-96.
Mark Haley, who lives year-round in Granger, is returning as Silver Hawks field manager for an eighth straight season in 2012. Pitching coach Wellington Cepeda and hitting coach Bobby Smith are also coming back.
Kernan took the opportunity Wednesday to thank many people, including his staff, vendor, investors and the community.
“We’ve had some ups and downs, but people have continued to support the team,” said Kernan.
Truth reporter Tim Vandenack also contributed to this story.