Padres president reflects on ballpark, fan connection
Dee discusses Petco Park improvements, outreach to Mexico, payroll and more
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's been seven months since Padres team president and CEO Mike Dee returned to San Diego following stints with both the Red Sox and the NFL's Dolphins.
To be sure, it's been a busy seven months for Dee, who worked for the team from 1995-2002.
"It's a dream come true," Dee said after he was hired. "I never got baseball out of my blood."
MLB.com recently asked Dee about his view of the franchise in regard to several areas -- improvements made to Petco Park, the payroll, the front office and even his thoughts on the team returning to brown as part of its uniform color scheme.
MLB.com: You were part of the group instrumental in having Petco Park built during your first tenure with the team. You certainly got a chance to watch quite a few games there last summer. What is your take now on the fan experience at Petco Park? What do you hear from fans about what they like most about the ballpark?
Dee: Based on my own interaction as well as more formal research we have recently conducted, it is clear that both Padres fans and visitors alike love Petco Park. What is enormously gratifying to me, and I am sure to all those who contributed to the ballpark design over 15 years ago, is why it is beloved. Many of the design elements that were prominent in those endless hours of design meetings are evident today -- the open-air design of the concourses, the iconic architecture, Western Metal Supply Building, the amazing sightlines in the seating bowl, the Park at the Park, to name a few. There was a concerted effort to design the ballpark to be pedestrian -- that is an environment that fans didn't need or want to stay nailed to their seat for three hours. We called it "the ballpark cruise" back then. I think that is certainly the case 10 years in as fans clearly embrace moving around during the course of the game. Of course, you have to also recognize what has happened to the East Village and all of downtown since 2004. Petco Park has clearly been "more than a ballpark" for San Diegans as our campaign proclaimed in 1998.
MLB.com: You've mentioned some capital improvements have been made to the ballpark this season. What can fans expect to see? I know you get the 'When is the new, huge video board coming in?' question a lot, so I'll give you a chance to answer that one as well.
Dee: Over the next five years, we will focus on a series of fan enhancements to the park -- some physical, others technological, and many under the category of deferred maintenance that will serve to gentrify the facility. For 2014, fans can look forward to a new sound system, a new larger high-definition video board at the Park at the Park, expanded concessions and food choices with a broad array of local San Diego favorites, new flooring throughout the main concourse area, and a new digital ticketing and rewards program that will enable fans to access content and consummate cashless transactions while in the ballpark. These initial enhancements require a significant seven-figure investment from our ownership group. Moving forward, we will do as much as we can as quickly as we can to continue to improve the fan experience and preserve Petco in "like-new" condition for years to come -- and yes, that includes a new main scoreboard and video board at some point. Hopefully that will be as soon as 2015, but we'll have to wait and see.
MLB.com: What are your thoughts about the Padres and Mexico? You originally scheduled an exhibition game with Mexico City that had to be canceled when Opening Day was moved. I heard the team nearly played an exhibition game in Tijuana this spring as well. Do you anticipate the Padres making a greater push into Mexico in the near future?
Dee: We are very focused on expanding our reach with Hispanic fans on both sides of the border. We know we have many "Compadres" in Tijuana and throughout Baja California who want the Padres to do more in their communities. I think this is an area where the team lost its way a little after moving to Petco Park. Our "Domingos Padres" program back in the late '90s was at the center of the outreach then and remains a reminder to many Hispanic fans over the age of 30 as to their original connection with the Padres.
MLB.com: The team added payroll this season and made two significant free-agent signings in pitchers Josh Johnson and Joaquin Benoit. For the Padres, the Draft is so important as far as getting an influx of talent into the system. But do you think the team can continue to increase payroll and be a player in free agency every year?
Dee: That is our goal as a mid-market team. We have said publicly that we will increase payroll as much as possible with the goal of competing year in and year out to play in October. That said, we will never be dependent on free agency. We have to draft well, develop consistently and do everything we can to hold on to our organizational talent in order to achieve our goals on the field. As we hope it will serve to do in 2014, free agency can add the key player or two that will make the difference when it is added to our homegrown core.
MLB.com: You're in a position where not everything you do will be popular with fans. Can you discuss what went into not having longtime public-address announcer Frank Anthony and radio broadcaster Andy Masur return in 2014 and how you're going about/have gone about filling those positions?
Dee: These are two different situations that should not be considered within the same answer. Andy was brought here to do full-time radio play-by-play six years ago. Prior to my arrival, management made the decision to only give long-term contracts to Ted Leitner and Bob Scanlan, which effectively sealed Andy's fate. When I arrived, I attempted to work something out with Andy where he would take on a modified role with social media and other digital programming but it was clear to Andy and to us that the role that was available was not a great fit given his desire to do more play-by-play. So in the end we parted ways. We wish him well in pursuing his dream of play-by-play. Andy's position was not replaced. As it relates to Frank, based on feedback and a sense that his voice had never reached the iconic status that Bruce Binkowski's had during the Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium era, we decided to move in another direction. We will always respect the great tradition of the Padres as we are this year in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1984 National League championship team and the 10th anniversary of Petco Park. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to start new traditions and we think that "the new voice of Petco Park" is an example of that. By the way, our fans will play a huge role in the selection of the new voice. Stay tuned.
MLB.com You have some history with Padres general manager Josh Byrnes going back to the time when both of you worked for the Red Sox. What do you like and appreciate most about the way he's gone about retooling the roster?
Dee: Josh is very bright. He has assembled an excellent and balanced staff. When I say "balanced," I am alluding to an appropriate blend between sabermetricians and old-school baseball guys who have an eye for young talent. A successful organization needs both to excel. Josh is not only a student of the game but also a student of the industry. He has a thorough understanding of all aspects of our organization. We have tremendous confidence in Josh and respect for his disciplined, yet aggressive approach to constructing this roster over the last three years. That said, with an increased payroll and an existing roster that is hopefully returning to good health, there is more attention on all of us this year as expectations are certainly higher.
MLB.com: What was your role in helping facilitate the recent deal between Fox Sports San Diego and Time Warner, which brought an end to the impasse that kept the Padres off Time Warner since 2011? What are your thoughts to getting this deal done and how it will impact your exposure locally moving forward?
Dee: Ron [Fowler, Padres executive chairman], Peter [Seidler, team lead investor] and I just tried to be the proverbial squeaky wheel throughout the process. We are grateful that it is now behind us and happy for our many patient fans who reside in Time Warner areas. It is a huge boost for increased exposure for our players throughout all of San Diego County.
MLB.com: Fans keep asking about bringing back the brown uniforms. What are your plans this season to honor the brown and could we eventually see a shift in uniforms to bring back the brown on more than just an occasional basis?
Dee: We are doing a lot of research on this subject at the moment. We don't have a definitive answer today but will soon. We will celebrate the brown and orange of 1984 in May when we take on the Cubs and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the National League champions.