Interview with Josh Buchholz – GM of the Fargo Moorhead RedHawks

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Josh Bucholtz GM of Fargo Moorhead RedhawksGotInterviews has been lacking in sports oriented interviews for a while, especially baseball, so I decided to reach out to some American Association baseball teams and request interviews with those in their front offices, coaches and players. I was very happy to have Josh Buchholz, an award winning executive with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks agree to an interview. You will learn a lot about Josh, how minor league baseball teams are run and some great RedHawks moments after reading this interview with Josh Buchholz. Thanks Josh for helping make me a RedHawks fan.

Growing up in Moorhead, MN, did you play organized sports, baseball, football, hockey, little league, high school?

I played all kinds of sports growing up. I started playing soccer and baseball when I was 5, played hockey, tried wrestling before middle school. I started playing football in 5th grade, basketball in 6th grade. I spent my freshman year at Shanley High School in Fargo, ND, where I played football, basketball and ran track. I transferred to Moorhead High School for my sophomore year and played football, basketball (10th grade only), baseball and threw shot put in track. I lettered in football, baseball and track at MHS, and played American Legion baseball in Moorhead as well (Golds, Vets and Blues).

I played JV baseball at Concordia College for a year before injury and lack of talent forced me to look for another avenue to stay involved. I became a student assistant coach for the Cobbers, which included running the JV team for 4 years. In college, also played amateur (town team) baseball and fast-pitch softball.

Has baseball always been your favorite sport?

I always enjoyed playing baseball, and loved stats and reading about the history of the game growing up. I really enjoy our level of baseball in the American Association, but I am not a die-hard MLB fan. I will tune in to Twins games throughout the summer and they will always be my favorite team. I watch a lot of post-season baseball, but I don’t follow MLB on a daily basis.

My favorite sport these days is hockey. I rarely miss a Wild or Gopher game on TV and enjoy watching Moorhead High School play.

As a Minnesota Twins fan, can you tell us some of your favorite Twins memories?

Easy…the 1987 and 1991 playoffs and World Series championships. Kent Hrbek was one of my favorite players, and obviously Kirby Puckett was up there as well. The 1991 World Series was my senior year of high school…lots of good memories that year.

Now, about the RedHawks, how did you get your first job with the team?

My brother was the Athletic Trainer for the team the first season. The day before the home opener in 1996 (our first season), I got back from a month in Europe with no job waiting. I went to work with him to see what the RedHawks were all about, helped the clubhouse guy for the first series, went on the next road trip and when the clubby quit shortly after that, I took over for him and finished the 1996 season. I returned in 1997 as the clubby, and then-GM John Dittrich hired me as an Account Manager after the 1997 season…my first full-time job.

So you started as clubhouse manager, did you always have a desire to stay with the team and move up the ladder or did you ever consider going somewhere else?

I was the clubhouse manager for most of the 1996 season and all of 1997. I was also the bullpen catcher in 1997. I really had no idea this would turn into a career. I just enjoyed being around the team, working behind the scenes and traveling. I’ve mostly enjoyed my time with the RedHawks…I have been treated well by our ownership group, enjoy working with our manager Doug Simunic and have a great group of co-workers, so I really haven’t seriously looked at other positions.

When I got hired full-time, the goal was always to “climb the ladder”…I didn’t think I would go from the clubhouse to GM in 8 years though.

In college at Concordia, did you take any classes that have helped prepare you for your time as a RedHawk?

To be honest, the one class I look back at that I felt really put me on my path was in high school. I had a choice between a Pre-College Composition class or Journalism to complete English requirements. 98% of my class chose PCC, but I chose Journalism. I had a great teacher, Mrs. Cassatt, who taught me how to write a story. I became Sports Editior at my high school and college newspapers. That’s what gave me a marketable skill and let to the Media Relations job.

I came out of Concordia with a History degree, so obviously a lot of writing there as well. The plan was to be a teacher or researcher…grad school, etc. I never did get around to that.

The RedHawks used to be a part of the Northern League and are now, for the past couple years, been a member of the American Association. They have been successful in each league, are there any big differences in the leagues and what happened to the Northern League?

The biggest change was a lower salary cap going from the Northern League to the American Association. After four seasons, it’s been pretty seamless.

I’m not sure what is going on with the Northern League anymore. I know they were trying to cobble together a “new” NL, but I don’t know if they’ve had much success. There’s very few viable minor league/indy league markets left.

As a GM, a very successful one at that, winning three Executive of the Year awards for the RedHawks, can you tell my readers a bit about where your player pool comes from? It seems like it’d be a difficult job finding good players in order to keep your team winning?

Many are former affiliated players who have lost their way with an MLB organization and are looking to get back to another MLB organization. We can provide them with a place to keep playing. Another group of players are those who have been bouncing around Indy ball for few years and are still looking for their first shot with an MLB organization, or just play because the love the game, the lifestyle, or for any numerous other reasons. The last category are the undrafted guys looking for their first shot…college grads overlooked in the draft, etc. We are required to carry four “rookies” on a 22-man roster, so there are always going to be those young guys around the league.

Is the winning tradition of the RedHawks something that has kept players in Fargo-Moorhead an extra year, even if they were offered a contact with an MLB affiliated team with the same level of competition as you have here?

I think the winning goes a long way in retaining talent. I think the atmosphere in the ballpark is a factor, as is the way we treat players when they get to Fargo. The Fargo-Moorhead metro area is a great place to live, especially in the summer. We have a very loyal fan base that helps keep the stadium full. It’s not the easiest place to get players to want to come, but once they get here they love it.

No, players don’t turn down contracts from MLB organizations. That’s what they are all playing here for…another chance to get in an MLB org and try to get to the big leagues.

What are toughest decisions you have to make during a season and how are those decisions typically received?

My biggest decisions are weather-related…in this job, you get pretty good at watching the weather and learning the local patterns. When to pull the tarp, etc.

Our manager is the one who makes decisions on player personnel. He’ll ask for input, but he has always had the final decision.

Are there any former RedHawks in the major leagues right now or any we might see in the near future?

None in the big leagues right now, and no one really on the edge. We’ve had a lot of long-time indy ball guys lately, so we’ve had less players sold to MLB organizations the past couple years. We anticipate several players this year, with a whole new roster, moving on the MLB orgs.

You’ve been around minor league baseball for almost two decades and probably saw some minor league games as a child too. What is the wildest promotion you’ve ever seen at a minor league ballpark, any minor league ballpark?

In 1996, our manager Doug Simunic and St. Paul’s manager, Marty Scott, were both ejected from a game. One of the promotions the Saints did in those days was a sumo wrestling game. Doug and Marty threw on the sumo suits and had an impromptu sumo match in the 8th innings, much to the chagrin of the umpires. It made Sports Illustrated.

In that same vein, what is the strangest trade you’ve ever heard of in the minor leagues?

We’ve not been involved in anything too crazy…sometimes we’ve thrown in a case or two of baseballs.

If you could wave a magic wand and make it happen, what would you want as your dream baseball job?

I’d love to own the Twins, but that would take a pretty big magic wand.

Final question before the lightning round of favorites. What is the best all round athletic performance you’ve seen in a game from any RedHawks player?

Two that stick out:
Jesse Hoorelbeke hitting four home runs on Fathers Day in 2006…with his dad in the stands
Chris Coste 8 RBI game in 1998 playoffs vs. St. Paul Saints

Okay, now onto your favorites. We include favorites and preferences here…(elaborate on any if you want)

Favorite MLB baseball player?
Tough to pick one…Roger Maris, Kent Hrbek, John Kruk, Chris Coste in the past. Don’t really have a favorite one right now. I just root for the Twins.

Favorite baseball movie, one color, one black and white?
Color: Long Gone
B&W: Pride of the Yankees

Favorite RedHawks moment?
Winning the 1998 championship. That team was unbelievable.

Favorite non-RedHawks moment?
Birth of my children.

Favorite ballpark food?
I always search out premium hot dogs/brats/sausages and beers.

Favorite place to eat outside the ballpark?
My favorite places to eat in Fargo-Moorhead: Usher’s House in Moorhead, Rhombus Guys Pizza in Fargo, JL Beers (Fargo and Moorhead), Vinyl Taco in Fargo, The Boiler Room in Fargo. We also have a Buffalo Wild Wings near the stadium, which is always a good place for wings.

Dr. Pepper, Coke, Pepsi, or RC?
Don’t drink much soda, but prefer Pepsi.

Hockey or Ice fishing?
Hockey to watch, ice fishing to participate in.

After work… do you prefer relaxing with friends, family or co-workers or are you a workaholic who never has time to relax?
I try to spend as much time as possible with my wife and kids. They give up a lot of time with me in the summer with my work schedule, so the off-season is lots of family time.

Favorite deal you’ve seen the RedHawks make?
In my era as GM, seeing our manager get Nic Jackson to sign with us in 2009 was pretty big. Two-time MVP, two championships, and a great guy.

A big thanks to Josh for a great interview and also check out the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks website and don’t forget to purchase your season tickets!