In the Press Box with the Evansville Otters

After losing the 2020 season due to the global pandemic, the Evansville Otters are hungry to take the field at Bosse. As the oldest organization in the Frontier League with the third-oldest ballpark in America, the Otters have a history of success and are looking to continue into 2021.

Despite missing out on playing last season, the Otters made a few changes within the Front Office. The organization welcomed the arrival of Travis Painter and Brittany Skinner.

“We are so excited about welcoming Travis Painter and Brittany Skinner to our front office staff,” Director of Communications Preston Leinenbach said. “Travis, our General Manager, brings with him plenty of MiLB experience, and Brittany, our Director of Marketing and Community Relations, already has great connections with the Evansville community and a sense of Evansville’s market tendencies.”

Painter served the last five years as General Manager of the Hagerstown Suns, Class-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals in the South Atlantic League. During his time in Maryland, he helped the organization to increased attendance and revenue sales from sponsorships and tickets.

With 12-years experience in Minor League Baseball, Painter has had the opportunity to spend time with the Potomac Nationals, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, and the Quad Cities River Bandits before joining Hagerstown.

“We cannot wait to see the fresh ideas they will contribute to our organization. We are also excited about something else we have planned in the coming months at the Otters, but we will have to keep that a secret for now.”

Skinner will serve as the Director of Marketing and Community Relations — overseeing marketing, promotional, and social media efforts as well as relationships with sponsors and non-profit partners.

As a resident of Evansville, Skinner previously interned with the Otters before COVID-19 took away the chance of a 2020 season. Being from Evansville not only benefits the organization, but gives her the opportunity to market her team and give back to the place she calls home.

How COVID-19 affected the Otters

In a typical year, the Otters would welcome diehard fans and the future generation of baseball fanatics with mascot Evan gleefully greeted each and every single person.

“I can’t describe enough how weird it was to work from home at the beginning of the pandemic,” Leinenbach stated, speaking with Dugout Dish. “Then it was even more strange to go to the ballpark late in the summer last year, not having the players around, games being played, or having the day-to-day tasks of a baseball season.”

The cancelation of the 2020 Frontier League season halted baseball at 106-year-old Bosse Field for the first time since the game returned to Evansville in 1995. There were no hotdogs sold, the OtterBelles weren’t able to entertain fans, and children did not have the chance to interact with their favorite players.

Like many organizations, the Otters felt the financial repercussions of the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic did have its effects on the Otters, but fortunately, not as harsh and negative as other organizations across baseball,” Leinenbach said. “Obviously, not having a baseball season had its effect on the financial side of things by not having the same amount of revenue coming in from games, partnerships, etc.”

While many fans were upset by the decision made by the Frontier League to cancel, they didn’t realize the burden that was so heavily placed on their favorite organizations.

“Our financial planning had to be restructured a bit, as of course no one saw a pandemic coming and affecting sports the way it did,” Leinenbach said. “However, we were able to squeeze in a few small outings and events before the lockdowns and spikes in the fall, because some revenue is better than none.”

Unfortunately, like most Americans during the pandemic — the Otters had to reduce hours for some employees. And in a time when fans — who had hours cut and lost jobs — needed baseball the most, the Otters kept fans engaged through social media and the main website. Which included an interview with myself and Leinenbach.

“For our staff, we did have to reduce some’s working hours,” he added. “Thankfully, I was not one and got to keep my full hours, which was mainly focused on keeping on our fans engaged through our website and social media, reminding them that the Otters are still here even though there was no baseball at Bosse Field.”

He continued, “Plus, we were fortunate enough that we didn’t have to make any full staff cuts or lay offs. “Those who have recently left the organization did so by their own choice and on good terms, finding other opportunities.”

This included the departure of former Assistant General Manager Elspeth Urbina-Roos. Urbina-Roos spoke with Dugout Dish last season for A New Frontier — a piece on the Frontier League which included the Evansville team.

“I know some of our players found regular jobs, played baseball in other areas of the country where restrictions were not as strict, and some took the time to finish their college education,” Leinenbach went on to say, acknowledging the abnormal summer for his club. “Our coaching staff took the time working at baseball instruction facilities and spending more time than usual with their families. Again, the Otters organization was more fortunate than other baseball organizations from the effects of the pandemic.”

What fans can get excited about

“From an Otters standpoint, we are anticipating having fans at Bosse Field but probably at a specific capacity limit to start. Of course, we will follow health and safety guidelines to provide the best, safest environment for the fans,” he said. “We are currently exploring new ways to limit contact within our ballpark, such as ticketing, concession stands, and payment methods.”

For now, the Frontier League is set to kick off on May 27th. The Otters and Southern Illinois Miners will play their annual exhibition games on May 21-22. If regulations allow, the game on May 22nd will be played in Paducah, Kentucky.

The Otters will have their first regular season home game since September of 2019 on June 1st against Gateway.

“Fans can look forward to the enhanced ambience and atmosphere at the ballpark with our new videoboard and lighting,” Leinenbach stated. “Plus, our sound system is just a couple years old, so the overall presentation at the ballpark is better and makes for a more exhilarating experience at Bosse Field.”

The 106-year-old field is one of the baseball fields from the era in use — only Fenway and Wrigley come before it. Used in the 1992 classic A League of Their Own, fans can walk through the entrance and be transported back to a time when baseball seemed a little more down to earth and simple.

Bosse received a bit of a major upgrade last year for the first time since 1958. Per an article from last April, Bosse Field’s upgrades were expected to cost between $4 million and $6 million and the project was funded by a tax for the preservation of historic structures. A bond issued by the school board allowed the renovations to happen.

He continued, “I also know our food and beverage staff have been looking into new tasty additions and products to our concession menus. Our sales and group outings personnel have been working on making our picnic and sponsor experiences better, outlining new ideas to make it all more fun in a safe way for 2021.”

Fans can expect tasty treats while enjoying their beloved Otters in 2021 — a sentence that feels like a daydream after last season.

“The same can be said about theme nights and promotional games so that people can still come to the ballpark and have fun even though we have to do it more differently than before,” he acknowledged. “The Otters are still going to have the same nuances and attributes that make coming to an Otters game at Bosse Field fun and memorable, but we are also looking to add new ideas and items into the mix to take the Evansville Otters and Bosse Field experience further. And why not.”

No matter rain or shine, Bosse and the Otters are ready for the season. Ready to go after the title, hungry to take the field, and anxiously awaiting the cheers from the home crowd. While Opening

“After the last year, now seems like the perfect time to refresh some things and incorporate new stuff as well.”

Follow Chelsea Ladd and Dugout Dish on Twitter for all things baseball.

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