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Beyond baseball: Rome Braves strive to be part of the community

Especially when it comes to farm teams owned and operated by their big league club, Minor League Baseball is less about making a profit and more about giving back to the communities they call home.

“It’s my job to make sure we don’t lose money,” said Rome Braves vice president and general manager Jim Bishop. “If we can break even or turn a little bit of a profit, then we’re going to turn around and give that back to the community.”

That relationship got new life recently as the Braves renewed their soon to expire contract with Floyd County that keeps the team in Rome through at least 2025 with an option to extend through 2030.

“This is Braves country. We’re happy to be in the community,” Bishop said.

Since moving from Macon in 2002, the Rome Braves have played 16 seasons at State Mutual Stadium, a venue owned by Floyd County tax payers. Contractually, the Braves handle day-to-day upkeep and routine maintenance at the stadium, while the county is responsible for major repairs, renovations and facility improvements.

The 2017 SPLOST included $2 million in funds to be used for major upgrades at State Mutual to be completed by the 2020 season opener. These will be the first major county-funded renovations since the stadium first opened.

A lot of work has already been going on this offseason, including brand new padding on the stadium’s outfield wall and extended foul ball netting for fan safety. The net now extends to the end of each dugout, an upgrade that will protect fans as well as mascots and team dancers and other game day staff.

“The building is going into year 17. We’re trying to be proactive and make repairs and keep up with the times in relation to facility needs,” Bishop said.

Some of the other facility upgrades will go unseen by fans, such as new paint and carpet in offices and updates to the stadium’s clubhouse facilities, but those same types of basic updates will also be happening in the Three Rivers Club restaurant and the suite level.

Besides the new outfield wall padding, the stadium will switch over the entire stadium to LED lighting, an upgrade that will give players a closer game experience to the Braves’ new big league home SunTrust Park.

The area around the stadium will be getting a facelift as well with new striping for the parking lot as well as some landscaping upgrades.

“It’s going to be an exciting time for the next couple of years,” Bishop said.

Bishop, who has been in the Braves organization since 1992, was named Rome Braves vice president and general manager following the 2017 season when Mike Dunn was promoted to head up operations at Atlanta’s new Southwest Florida spring training facility. He comes to Rome from Atlanta’s double-A affiliate in Mississippi.

“I was at the double-A level for 26 years and had a blast, but I’m probably having more fun at the low-A level,” Bishop said. “The kids are younger and we assist them in everything from housing to English classes for international kids and even help with their taxes.”

Bishop said he enjoys seeing how much the young players appreciate the help.

In the Atlanta organization the players are expected to pay all that help forward by giving back to whatever community they happen to be playing in. Bishop said that aside from talent, willingness to give back is definitely a factor in the Braves prospect evaluation process.

“The Braves, in my opinion, are the greatest sports organization,” said Bishop. “They put a major importance on the players and their community involvement.”

From the moment they join the team for their first spring training, players are expected to do community appearances and charity events, Bishop said. That process continues as soon as players assigned to Rome arrive prior to the season.

“Players work with kids at Miracle Field starting from the first Saturday the team is together in Rome,” said Bishop. “Throughout the season we visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, churches and our business partners. Those visits include players, mascots and brigade team members.”

Getting willing volunteers for community outreach isn’t a difficult task in Rome, according to Bishop, who says volunteer signup sheets fill up rapidly as soon as he sets them out throughout the season.

“The Braves are excellent at stressing that message and they’re also good at scouting those types of kids that already want to do that type of thing,” said Bishop.

Aside from full-time office personnel, the Rome Braves are also a relatively large seasonal employer, keeping a game day staff of around 200 from spring to fall every year. Those jobs include press box staff, video and sound production, tickets, ushers, food and beverage workers and security.

Throughout the season, nonprofits and school groups also work several of the concession areas to earn money for their respective causes.

Rome starts its 2019 campaign on the road with a seven game road stand beginning April 4. The Braves will be back in town for their home opener versus the Greenville Drive on Thursday, April 11, at 7 p.m.

“If it will go ahead and warm up and stop raining, we’ll be excited,” Bishop said. “After the cold wet winter we’ve had, spring fever will hit and Braves baseball will hopefully be on everybody’s mind.”

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