Gary Southshore RailCats Pat Salvi Extends Fundamentals of Game to Owners Box
A look around the American Association reveals a league with some of the best managers that baseball has to offer. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking about the Majors or minor league baseball – there is quality talent here. That can also be said of the ownership of many of the clubs. An independent league team requires an owner to be someone that loves the game, who is willing to do all the right things to help his team be a winner, and be wise enough to see that for his or her team to succeed all teams must do well. It takes a special kind of person to fulfill those kind of credentials, and fortunately for the Gary Southshore RailCats, they have just such a man.
Pat Salvi has been a highly successful attorney in the Chicago, IL area for over 30 years. He is widely regarded as one of the state’s “super attorneys,” and has proven to be a guy that few would want to tangle with in court. The Notre Dame graduate has created a highly successful practice and is one of the nation’s best attorneys.
Super attorney by day, mild-mannered owner at night is Salvi’s way now but, admittedly, that was not always his persona. In the first few years that he owned the team he acknowledges that he was taking the game a little more seriously than he should have. “I’ve gotten much better than I was at first. When I first started, every game was like the seventh game of the World Series to me, and that was making me crazy.”
Even his style of running the club has changed immensely from those early years. “I micromanaged way too much at the beginning, but that is the kind of thing that will make you crazy as well. I have gotten a lot better at hiring good people who do a really good job. I trust those people and know they are doing an exceptional job for the club, and that has made the game a lot more enjoyable to watch now.” He adds, “I find I enjoy the game a lot more running it from 3000 feet away than getting caught up in the details of the day-to-day operation.”
Pat Salvi and his wife Lindy purchased the Gary Southshore RailCats in 2008. It was already a very successful team when the couple became the club’s owners, winning the league championship in 2005 and 2007, as well as reaching the championship series in 2006. The winning tradition continued in his first two seasons, as the RailCats made the championship series in both 2008 and 2009, but in both years they fell just short of winning the title, a pill that was quite hard for Salvi to swallow.
Even though it was seven seasons ago, he still remembers vividly the events of that first championship series, proving that baseball owners must be part elephant as well. “We were up in the first championship against Kansas City. Won Game 1, and were leading in Game 2 7-1, but we then lost that game late and fell in the final two games to lose the series. It was a tough one.”
Following the 2009 season, the RailCats took a step back, missing the playoffs in two of the next three seasons, but in 2012 they were back and facing more formidable odds than ever before. Cue the elephant memory.
“The 2013 season was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. We made it into the playoffs as a wild card team, and it was going to be a tough run because Wichita and Fargo were both so good. The odds were formidable against us for sure. We wound up beating Fargo in four games, and went on to face Wichita. They looked unbeatable. They had swept Grand Prairie, and I don’t even think they gave up a run in that series (Wichita outscored Grand Prairie 21-0 in the series – there is that elephant memory again). No one gave us any chance to beat them in the championship series, especially after we split the first two at home, but we went to Wichita and won the next two to win the series three games to one. It was an incredible experience.”
Pat Salvi understands that to be a successful attorney one must create a barrier between himself and clients. Getting too emotionally involved in a case denies him his objectivity, and can actually be more of a hindrance than a help to those he represents. In a court he is able to maintain the needed level of objectivity, but at the ballpark is a whole different story.
First and foremost the RailCats owner is a baseball fan. Since being introduced to the game by his dad and uncle he quickly became a lifelong fan. “I was not a particularly good player as a kid, but I always loved the game. The great part of owning the RailCats is that I get to stay involved in the game.”
His ownership has allowed him to affect so many people’s lives in a positive way, and it is easy to see that this is one of the most satisfying aspects of owning the team for Salvi. His players have become like a part of his family, and to this day he has maintained a close association with many of them. “I stay in touch with a lot of my former players. Some guys were on this team for six or seven years, so I got to know many quite well, even after they left baseball. I feel a very deep affection for the players who have worn a RailCats uniform and for the staff in general.”
He is proud when he sees his players signed to an affiliate club, calling it “one of the primary reasons we’re in business,” but when they succeed in life is when he feels that his job as an owner and a man has truly been fulfilled. The Chicago-based attorney beamed with joy at seeing former player Mike Rohde a few days before the interview. It was not on a ball field or even in a baseball related activity. It was in court.
Rohde pursued his own career as an attorney after interning with Salvi’s law firm for a couple of summers. The thought that his former player pursued a legal career of his own brings a sense of pride to Pat Salvi, much akin to the joy a dad feels seeing his son follow in his footsteps. “Knowing that I had a small amount of influence in his decision to become an attorney feels really good. It made me very proud to see him doing so well.”
The excellence of his team’s performance on the field and the growth of his players is a source of great pride for the club’s owner, but his sense of accomplishment goes all the way up the ladder. He sees the benefit his club has had on the city of Gary, as his club is the only professional sports team in Northwest Indiana. The Gary Southshore RailCats draw fans from all over the area, and he is thrilled that they have embraced the team and the city in which they play.
“Gary has suffered from some very hard economic times, and has gained a reputation as a tough town. This has made it a challenge to get some to come out to see the team play, but we have worked with the local community and sponsors to make this a great place to see a game.”
The efforts have paid off as U.S. Steel Yard has become one of the safest stadiums in the country for fans to attend a game. For this he credits the community. “The police have done a great job of providing security during games, and creating a safe place for families to come and watch the team. The local officials love the team and so do the people of Gary, and they have really helped to make this a great place to see baseball.”
He may be from Chicago, but Pat has quickly gained a deep affection for his team’s city, and is happy to know he is helping to make a difference in the revitalization of the Indiana town. “This is a great set of fans in a great city.”
His commitment to leave a positive stamp wherever he goes is also found in the American Association itself. When Salvi purchased the team they were a member of the Northern League, but that league later disbanded, and the team moved to the newly formed independent league. Where his early efforts as owner were driving him crazy, he now relishes his role as the team’s leading ambassador. “I enjoy the relationships I have made here, with other owners and clubs, my staff, the players. I enjoy representing the team in the league activities. I enjoy building relationships with sponsors and with community leaders.”’
The American Association is a unique kind of league in that its changes come quickly. Fort Worth was a founding member, but now is in the United League. Gary became an American Association member in 20111, joining fellow former Northern League members Winnipeg, Kansas City and Fargo-Moorhead. Pensacola was a team in the league, and was replaced by Amarillo in 2011. Tijuana was a member club two seasons ago, but left to become a Triple-A affiliate. Wichita and Grand Prairie joined as expansion teams in 2008 as did Laredo in 2012. The league added games between its members and Can-Am League teams in 2012, and this season the Joplin Blasters join as an expansion team. Change is the one constant in the league, and the RailCat’s owner welcomes that challenge.
“It has been exciting to see the league expand. We love playing the teams in the Can-Am League. It’s great for the players to get to go to new cities to play, and it’s great for the fans to see new teams. We don’t want what happened in the Northern League to happen here, and so we work together to make sure we succeed.”
This is where that brilliant businessman/lawyer side of Pat Salvi works with the side of him that loves the game. He understands as well as anyone that if all the clubs are doing really well on the field that his club will benefit from that as well. He may not like losing players to other clubs but, if those clubs field a quality lineup, his team is already a winner.
“Many people don’t realize that you compete with other teams on the field, but off the field it is a partnership. For the league to do well we have to work together as owners. We are partners, and this means we need to cooperate with one another to ensure that all the clubs succeed. It’s in our interests to do so.”
There is a saying around the American Association that Pat Salvi has come to love – “RailCatted.” A team is “RailCatted” when they are beaten by another team that is playing baseball the fundamentally right way. This is a fitting phrase for the RailCats owner himself, because it is a mantra of how he lives as a person. He is an owner who understands that you hire great people to do the job you need them to do and then you let them do it. He is a man who cares about his players and staff far beyond hot dogs sold, RBIs and ERA. He is a guy who wants to leave his stamp on a game that he so loves, and a city he has come to adore.
The Gary Southshore RailCats are allowing him to do all those things. The team has given him a great avenue to be able to help revitalize a city and to help players reach their personal and professional goals. The city and the team’s players and staff are being shown a fundamental respect and affection by the club’s owner. It appears that Pat Salvi “RailCatted” Gary and his team as well.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA