SOUTH BEND — Baseball fans flocked to Midwest League ballparks in 2014.
According to Minor League Baseball, 4,142,818 tickets were sold by 16 teams for 1,068 games.
This is a very positive sign for Dick Nussbaum as he heads into his first season as Midwest League president in 2015.
Nussbaum, a partner at Sopko, Nussbaum, Inabnit & Kaczmarek in South Bend and legal counsel for the MWL since 1993, sees the league at the forefront of a very popular entertainment enterprise.
A total of 42,411,194 MiLB fans attended games in 2014, marking the 10th consecutive year the organization has drawn an excess of 41 million fans across its 176 teams and 15 leagues.
"South Bend has done a lot of really good things right," said Nussbaum, who watched the previous ownership keep the team in town and afloat through some lean years so Andrew T. Berlin could come in as owner.
"What he has done is phenomenal, taking what was a very struggling franchise and making it what is now one of the top franchises in baseball," said Nussbaum of Berlin, a highly successful Chicago businessman. "They are always planning for more improvements at the stadium. Just Andrew's personality and the way he conducts all his businesses, he wants to be the best. It will be really fun for me as a resident of South Bend and the president of the league, the way South Bend progresses in the next few years."
Nussbaum said many factors work in the MWL's favor.
"It's very affordable," said Nussbaum. "We are in the hotbed of baseball fans. The Midwest has always been a great area where baseball has been played and enjoyed. We're in a position to succeed because we have really good owners, a great fanbase, good facilities and they are all good people running these clubs."
It's a family-friendly experience that they are selling.
"I don't know where there's a better opportunity for a family to spend three hours together and quality time," said Nussbaum. "There's a lot to do. There's not a lot of people who leave the game without a smile on their face."
Nussbaum's face has been around baseball in South Bend for more than four decades.
Playing for coach Jake Kline, Nussbaum led the 1973 Irish in batting average as a junior (.333) and totaled just four career errors while patrolling center field. The Pittsburgh, Pa., native wore No. 21 as a tribute to his favorite player, Roberto Clemente.
One of Nussbaum's sons, Matt, was a two-year starter for ND and a senior captain in 2000. He is a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School (2004) and serves as a staff attorney for the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Dick's connection to professional baseball got rolling when he became city attorney for newly elected South Bend mayor Joe Kernan in 1988. Kernan, also a former ND baseball player and later Indiana governor and part South Bend Silver Hawks owner, made Nussbaum facilitator and liaison between the city and South Bend White Sox franchise. Nussbaum went about learning about the business of baseball and forming relationships around the Midwest League.
He counts former Peoria Chiefs owner Pete Vonachen as a mentor.
The MWL hired Nussbaum as its legal counsel in 1993 and has served in that capacity ever since. He is also the league secretary. He took over as league president from George Spelius, and the league office found a home in South Bend on Jan. 1, 2015.
Working out of a satellite league office in Beloit, Wis., Spelius is still involved as president emeritus and director of umpire development and Holly Voss serves as league administrator.