Minor League exec of the year reflects on career
This article was adapted from an interview conducted for The Show Before the Show podcast. Listen to the full conversation with Mike Nutter here. SAN DIEGO -- After more than three decades working in Minor League Baseball, Mike Nutter has seen just about everything. But on Sunday evening, not long
This article was adapted from an interview conducted for The Show Before the Show podcast. Listen to the full conversation with Mike Nutter here.
SAN DIEGO -- After more than three decades working in Minor League Baseball, Mike Nutter has seen just about everything. But on Sunday evening, not long after arriving for the Baseball Winter Meetings, the longtime president of the High-A Fort Wayne TinCaps was caught completely off guard. At the Opening Night Reception and Awards Program, he was named Minor League Baseball's Executive of the Year.
"To say I was surprised or in shock [Sunday] night during the ceremony was an understatement," Nutter told MiLB.com the next day. "I just assumed they told the winners ahead of time. I come to find out they don’t."
Nutter, who was visibly emotional upon taking the podium to accept the award, said it gave him an opportunity to look back upon and take stock of a career that began in 1992.
"[In Minor League Baseball,] we're always on to the next, but today and last night did provide a little chance to reflect," he said. "I’m not the most overly emotional guy, but I try to be sincere and genuine and vulnerable. It was, like, 31 years ago, I was picking up peanuts and trash at the Kane County Cougars because my family moved there on a transfer. All the stops along the way, and the incredible people I’ve gotten to work with and for."
Nutter spent four seasons with the Cougars, working for the then-Midwest League team during summer break while pursuing a sports management degree at Bowling Green State University. He credits the Cougars' front office, led by general manager Curtis Haug, with giving him a well-rounded Minor League Baseball education.
"By the time I finished and graduated from [Bowling Green], it was a year on the [Kane County] grounds crew and a year in concessions and a year in sales and year in facility or ops," he said. "So I felt that they did right by the people who came through. Six of us in the four summers I was there went on to be general managers. And there wasn’t something in the water, it was the crew up there that was willing to teach and be vulnerable and let people learn from them, and knowing they were going to move on."
Move on Nutter did, spending a season with the Brevard County Manatees in the Florida State League and then three with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. Following the 1999 season, he was hired by Fort Wayne's Midwest League club, then known as the Wizards. In 2009, the Padres affiliate changed its name to the TinCaps in conjunction with moving to Parkview Field in downtown Fort Wayne.
The 2022 season marked Nutter's 24th with the Fort Wayne organization and 22nd as team president. Along the way he met his wife, Beth, and started a family. (His son, Carson, is a freshman at IU Bloomington and his daughter, Katelynn, is in her senior year of high school.) Minor League Baseball has been a constant throughout in an industry that constantly changes. Nutter has sought to change right along with it, adapting leadership styles and points of view that wouldn't have been considered when he first began his career.
"This would be crazy train stuff when I first started, but we made days off mandatory in 2022 in Fort Wayne, with the TinCaps. I mean home dates. You have to take a couple of these weekends off," he said, before voicing an imagined response to this policy. "'I can't. The place can't operate without me.' Well, it needs to if we're going to develop the next set of leaders."
The TinCaps' mandatory time-off policy ties in with a larger focus on mental health. Nutter facilitates difficult discussions with his staff by being vulnerable, sharing his own personal challenges and struggles. He says that, in turn, they then feel more comfortable opening up to him so issues can be faced head-on. He has also become a firm believer in giving "permission to fail," to others as well as himself.
"Man, I'm gonna screw up as many things in 2023 during the season as anybody, or more, that works there," he said. "And if you don't give me a hard time for trying something new or trying something aggressive, I won't with you either."
The upcoming season will bring its inevitable share of failure, but Nutter is looking toward the future with great optimism. The past several seasons were challenging, as the TinCaps -- and the industry -- struggled through COVID and adjusted to a new MLB-controlled Minor League Baseball landscape. The best, he says, is yet to come.
"There's a lot of smart people working in the same direction to have our industry maybe do some of the best numbers we've had over the next couple years," he said, "and that's exciting."
Listen to the full podcast interview with Mike Nutter here.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.