Fielding a Dream

Edition: July 2006 - Vol 14 Number 07
Article#: 2439
Author: Repertoire

Who let the dogs out? DeWight Titus, that’s who. In fact, he does it at every home game of the Brevard County Manatees at beautiful Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla., a newly developed planned community on Florida’s East Coast.

The “dogs” are actually kids under the age of 10, who, after the fourth inning, spill onto the center field grass and run like crazy to the tune of “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

How does Titus — the former owner of one of the most successful West Coast physician supply companies, 1983 HIDA chairman, and member of the Medical Distribution Hall of Fame — fit into the picture? In December 2005, he and his nephew Dr. Tom Winters, an orthopedic surgeon in Orlando, Fla., became proud owners of the Manatees, an affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Manatees are named after the huge aquatic mammals that reside in Florida waters. The team plays advanced Class A ball, meaning they’re a step or two removed from the rawest of recruits, but a couple of steps below Triple A ball — the most competitive level of the minor leagues.

Unlike owners of major league teams, minor league owners don’t select their teams or pay their salaries, nor do they hire managers, coaches, etc. That’s the job of the major league affiliate, in this case, the Brewers. The owner’s job is to provide and maintain the field, sell tickets and dream up zany promotions — a must for minor league ball.

Why?

When Titus sold his company, F.D. Titus & Sons, to General Medical (now McKesson Medical-Surgical) in 1994, owning a baseball team wasn’t on his radar screen. But he did enjoy watching the sport.

As a young boy growing up in Southern California, he played in softball leagues. Back then, Los Angeles didn’t have a major league team. Instead, the city had the Los Angeles Angels, who played in the Pacific Coast League, the West Coast’s answer to the National and American leagues, in which such players as Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams got their starts.

In 1958, the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, and Titus became a fan. Later, when he moved to Orange County, he began following the major-league Los Angeles Angels (who were granted a major league franchise in 1961). He was a faithful season-ticket holder for years, until the infamous baseball strike of 1994. “After that, I said ‘I’m done with it,’ and I gave up my ticket,” he says. But he couldn’t stay away for long.

A sports nut, Titus’s nephew had owned and then sold an arena football team before exploring baseball ownership. “He started talking about buying a minor league team,” says Titus. “Everybody talks about this kind of thing, but you usually blow it off.” Not Winters. “He negotiated for two years before he could get the deal done.” That’s because the deal was complex. The Washington Nationals were involved as well, because they use Space Coast Stadium for spring training.

Finally, last December, the papers were signed. “That’s how I became part owner,” says Titus. He had helped buy the Manatees without ever having laid eyes on Space Coast Stadium or the team itself.

A jewel of a stadium

Titus and Winters were able to retain the services of Buck Rogers as general manager. A “baseball guy,” Rogers and his wife, Babs, keep the show running, says Titus. They work with a full-time groundskeeper and crew. Former New England Patriots place-kicker Charlie Bauman, with whom Winters has worked on other projects, is liaison between the owners and Rogers.

If there’s a crown jewel, it’s Space Coast Stadium itself, says Titus. Built in 1994, the stadium is owned by Brevard County, from whom Titus and Winters lease it. With a capacity of 8,100, the stadium celebrates Viera’s proximity to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. In fact, the foul poles are named “Challenger” and “Columbia,” for the two space shuttles that did not return to earth. A replica space shuttle statue stands outside the stadium.

Titus saw the stadium for the first time in April. “Here’s this little stadium,” he recalls. “But as you get closer to it, you see it’s a little jewel. It’s almost like a fantasy — like in the movie ‘Field of Dreams.’” The field itself sports major-league dimensions, but that’s where the similarity to a big-league stadium ends.

“You’re closer to the field, so you feel part of the game,” says Titus. “It’s a real high for baseball people and for kids. You don’t have these humongous stadiums. It’s very informal, very casual.” And for six bucks, you can’t beat the value.

That’s entertainment

Promotions are the lifeblood of minor league teams, says Titus. That’s certainly true for the Manatees. There’s always something going on between innings, such as the “Who let the dogs out” routine. In fact, there’s a promotion at every single home game in the 2006 season. Giveaways include cowbells, magnetic schedules, banners, team photos, posters and lunch boxes.

For $25, you can throw out the game’s honorary first pitch, sponsored by Imperial’s Hotel and Conference Center. And for $12 per person, youth sports teams, scout packs or other organizations can take the field with the Manatees’ players during the singing of the National Anthem, then get a Manatees’ Meal, in the McDonald’s “Field of Dreams” promotion.

Special nights (with descriptions from the Manatees website) include:

• Dress Like a Pirate Night. (“Don we now our swashbuckler apparel, fa la la, la la la, la la la … walk the walk, talk the talk, prizes for the best-dress pirate and wench.”)

• Wedding Renewal Night. (“Come renew your wedding vows on-field immediately after the game. If you’d like to propose marriage and give a diamond on the diamond, this is also your night.”)

• Guaranteed Win Night. (“If the Manatees don’t win this game, all fans will be handed a ticket to an upcoming Manatees home game, date to be determined, as they exit the ballpark.”)

• Parrothead Night. (“Bust out your Hawaiian shirts, sandals and come enjoy some Jimmy Buffet music all night long.”)

• Desperate Househusbands’ Night. (“Bring us your honey-do list and reasons why you’re a desperate househusband, and we’ll provide prizes for the most henpecked, distraught male fans.”)



Titus hopes to sponsor concerts at Space Coast Stadium, and invites Repertoire readers to come on down. “If they want to get a group together and come to the stadium, we’ll sponsor it as their night,” he says. “And we’ll let one of them throw out the first pitch.”