Birdland farm check-in: Triple-A Norfolk GM Joe Gregory

After the dust has settled on Minor League Baseball, and now that we actually have schedules for the 2021 season, I’m going to check in around Birdland. Today, I start by interviewing Joe Gregory, the general manager of the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.

While the primary task of a big league GM is to acquire players to win games, a minor league GM does not acquire any players. They are supplied by the big league organization. But that is about the only job they do not have. They work with all business aspects of the club. They oversee the distribution of tickets and work with sponsors of the team. They interact with fans, and many build up long-term relationships with their fan base. Basically anything that a minor league club does they have some input with. Game days are long. But most, if not all, love what they do.

Gregory, who has also worked in pro hockey in his career, has been the Tides general manager since October 2011. The Tides’ first year in the International League was as a New York Mets affiliate in 1969. Norfolk’s first season as the O’s Triple-A club was 2007.

As Major League Baseball was taking over the operation of the minor leagues, fans around Birdland wondered if a full-season club would be moving on from the organization. That club turned out to be Single-A Frederick, which joined the MLB Draft League. Gregory felt confident the Tides would remain with the Orioles.

Mountcastle-Swing-Tides-Sidebar.jpg“Our stadium, while it is coming up on 30 years old, it’s still a great place to play,” he said. “For the metrics that Major League Baseball is looking for in terms of player wellness and health and safety, while we may not have everything, we have the room to do everything. I give credit to Dave Rosenfield, my predecessor. When he helped design the ballpark, he knew what he was doing and put in a lot of extra space so we could grow into other areas. So the ballpark put us in a good situation.

“And the Hampton Roads/Norfolk market is a great market. The beach is pretty close, with plenty of golf courses, and players seem to enjoy being here. We didn’t have any guarantees, but knowing what MLB was looking for, I felt good about our chances to remain a Triple-A affiliate of the Orioles.”

I asked Gregory what could change over the next few years on the farm under the guidance of MLB.

“I believe are we are working with a partner in Major League Baseball that has a lot of power, a lot of influence behind it. But has resources that maybe Minor League Baseball didn’t,” he said. “There are always opportunities to grow the game, especially on the media side of things. The streaming, the content and things like that might present opportunities and maybe reach an audience that we haven’t been able to reach.”

The Tides season in the Triple-A East is set to begin on April 6 and will run through Sept. 19. The Tides are scheduled for 142 games and will play six-game series each Tuesday through Sunday with Mondays off.

Everyone wants to know if fans will be able to attend games at Harbor Park. That answer today is yes, on a very limited basis. But that could later expand.

“Right now in Virginia, the number is 250,” said Gregory. “Old Dominion (University) basketball has been playing in front of 250 fans. Obviously, our park can accommodate much more, with a capacity around 13,000. We’ve been working with the governor and I believe he is doing what he can to progress to maybe a percentage-based approach. I know he has heard our voices not only in Norfolk, but also other teams in Richmond, Salem, Fredericksburg and Lynchburg.

“We want to open up in the safest way we can. We are hoping at some point, whether by opening day or shortly into the season, we get on some percentage-based approach. In a 13,000-seat ballpark, I feel like we could safely accommodate and space significantly more than 250 people.”

Gregory said the relationship between the Tides and Orioles is strong.

“It’s been a great relationship,” he said. “Everyone I’ve interacted with has been great. I’ve truly enjoyed the relationship we have with Baltimore. I talk with Kent (Qualls, director, minor league operations) often. The managers that we have had, the players that have come through, has been an enjoyable experience my entire time here.”

Gregory tries to take time, when he can, to have some fun while he is at work.

“I enjoy those hot July Saturday nights when 10,000 or 12,000 people in the park. We’re shooting fireworks and everyone is having a good time,” he said. “I enjoy interacting with the fans. When you are a minor league general manager, you have your hands in just about everything. The fans become like a family. I know that sounds cliché, but I have some fans that I want to get to and talk with every game.”

Check out the Zoom interview with Gregory:

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