Every time the Fayetteville SwampDogs take the field at J.P. Riddle Stadium, it’s an outdoor festival — food, entertainment, activities, parking, ticket sales, security — and a baseball game.
Off the field, the team has a different list of responsibilities.
When you run a sports franchise, it’s not like you’re selling garden variety widgets. Your employees are celebrities. Your customers are demanding and vocal. And your business has a special place — a unique place — in the community, one that carries responsibilities and expectations.
“We want to be a charitable organization and a good corporate citizen,” said coach and general manager Darrell Handelsman.
“We take our responsibility seriously.”
The team holds regular fundraisers for Special Olympics (Lou Handelsman, co-owner of the SwampDogs, has sat on the board of Special Olympics), to fight cancer, and other special causes. It has raised thousands of dollars — including significant contributions of its own — for these causes.
The team also contributes prizes to other groups’ causes — game tickets, SwampDog merchandise, and opportunities to spend a day with a team member (including time in the dugout).
The SwampDogs have another mission — to provide affordable, wholesome family entertainment.
For an activity that involves the purchase of a ticket, SwampDogs baseball is a cheap date or an evening out for the family. A Family 4-Pack — four tickets, four hot dogs, four bags of chips and four drinks — costs just $30. Season general admission tickets cost $125, or $175 for box seats. Tickets at the gate cost $5 for general admission and $7 for a box seat, with $1 off for military, senior citizens and children. And, per Handelsman, if you stop by the office and let them know you’re out of work, you get in free.
Food at the stadium is affordable, as well. The most expensive menu items, chicken or fried fish baskets, cost just $4.75 — about what a large drink costs at a movie theater.
“We want it to be affordable, so people will come out,” Handelsman said.
THE LONG TRADITION
Baseball and Fayetteville go way back — Babe Ruth is said to have hit his first professional home run — in March 1914 — and earned his nickname right here. Fayetteville had a minor league team, the Cubs, starting in 1946, in the original Coastal Plain League. But by the turn of this century, minor league baseball had struggled to gain a foothold. The Generals left after nine years, followed by the Cape Fear Crocs, which left after only three years.
Enter the collegiate summer league in 2001 with the Fayetteville SwampDogs, which Lou and Darrell Handelsman, a father and son team, purchased in 2004.
Darrell Handelsman runs the operation and is head coach and director of operations. He had experience with other franchises and saw good business potential. He and his father shopped around and bought the Fayetteville team after learning it was available.
Handelsman moved his wife to Fayetteville a short time after acquiring the team. The couple has had two children born in Fayetteville since then. Darrell and his father have since bought a team in Wilmington, the Sharks, but Darrell plans to remain in Fayetteville.