Often the last stop for a professional ball player on their road to the majors is with their Triple-A affiliate. Last year the likes of Luis Cruz, Ivan de Jesus, Elian Herrera, John Ely, Stephen Fife and many others all started the year with the Dodgers’ Triple-A ball club, the Albuquerque Isotopes.
While it is often the players that fans pay attention to the most, it is important to know the person responsible for putting the team together in the first place.
In Albuquerque, that is John Traub, who took over as General Manager in September of 2003. In the decade since he has presided over tremendous team success. The Albuquerque Isotopes have constantly ranked in the top 5 for attendance throughout not just the Pacific Coast League, but all of the minor leagues and have seen nearly six million fans come through their turnstiles during his tenure. Not only have the Isoptopes, under the guidance and leadership of Mr. Traub, shown to be a big hit locally but they have hosted events worthy of the national spotlight as well. Isotopes Park has held Major League exhibition games as well as the 2007 Triple-A All-Star Game and the 2011 Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game, all to great fanfare.
The 2007 All-Star Game, which consisted of four days worth of fun and activities, is widely considered to have been one of the best ever held. For the role he played in organizing that All-Star showcase, as well as guiding the Isotopes to another successful season, Mr. Traub was named the Pacific Coast League Executive of the Year and the team itself was awarded the John H. Johnson Award, which is handed out to the best franchise overall. The organization was also awarded the prestigious Bob Freitas Award the same year. This award is given out by Baseball America to the franchise they consider to be the most complete in all of Triple-A.
Mr. Traub has spent a quarter of a century in professional baseball with 21 of those years spent in the Pacific Coast League, where he sits on the leagues Scheduling Committee as well as the Triple-A Marketing Committee and was a key player in helping create the Pacific Coast League’s PR workshop.
A native of Los Angeles, he began his career in 1988 where he worked for the California Angels as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers after graduating with a BA in Psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles.
He is married with two children and currently lives in Albuquerque.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Traub to discuss baseball, the Albuquerque Isotopes and his life in general.
Matt Rogina: How did you get involved in working in baseball?
John Traub: I always loved the history of the game and was a huge baseball fan growing up. I always thought it would be pretty awesome to somehow be connected to the game at the professional level. After I graduated from college in 1987, I applied for a Public Relations internship with all 26 teams. I was fortunate to be hired by the Angels as an unpaid intern for the 1988 season.
What a perfect first job out of college for a psychology major!
MR: Did you play baseball as a kid?What were your favorite positions?
JT: I did play a lot as a kid. I loved pitching and playing second base, but I played every position. I even made an All-Star team one year (I shouldn’t mention that I was named to the All-Star team only because our team’s all-star selection had gone on vacation and wouldn’t be able to play in the game).
MR: Why did you stop playing?
JT: I stopped playing because I wasn’t very good. But as my mother once said, I tried my little heart out.
MR: I know you’re originally from Southern California and lived in Calgary before moving to Albuquerque. What lead you on that path?
JT: I was in a long-distance relationship since 1985 with a girl who lived in Calgary. We decided in 1991 that it was time to live in the same country and get married. So I moved to Canada after four years of working as an unpaid seasonal intern with the Angels. The Calgary Cannons, then the Triple-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, had just fired their PR Director. So I was really in the right place at the right time. I was hired in November 1991 and eventually gained more and more responsibility, ultimately becoming General Manager. In December 2001 our club was sold, and the new ownership group made it clear they were going to operate as a lame duck franchise for the 2002 season and then relocate the club to Albuquerque in 2003. I was fortunate enough to be offered an opportunity to move with the team. So we moved to Albuquerque in October 2002 to start the next chapter of my career.
MR: What is the best part of being a GM for the Isotopes?
JT: The best part is that our ownership gives us the resources to be successful. I love being the caretaker over what is truly a community asset in our city. I am very proud of the work our staff has done over the years. The fans have been so responsive to many of the initiatives we’ve undertaken and they let us know how interwoven into the fabric of the community we’ve become.
MR: What’s the most difficult part of the job?
JT: The most difficult part of the job is dealing with difficult personnel decisions that affect people’s lives. That is never easy and I take it very seriously and personally. Also, dealing with the weather during monsoon season can be quite a challenge.
MR: You have had a lot of successes as general manager of the Isotopes. Are there any successes that you are particularly proud of?
JT: I’m very proud that our success has stayed very consistent over our first 10 seasons. We have a great fan base and corporate support here. I don’t feel like we’ve ever had the proverbial “honeymoon” period that new teams have. I’m proud that so many members of our staff have been with us since the very beginning or at least since our first couple of seasons. Stability within the ownership and organization sends a very strong message to the community.
MR: What are your expectations for the 2013 Isotopes?
JT: On the field, I hope our team is as competitive as last year’s team was. Off the field, we’d love to hit the 600,000 mark in attendance.
MR: What players do you expect to have breakout seasons in 2013?
JT: I’m excited to see a lot of the young pitching prospects wear our uniform this season. So many of our players helped contribute to the Dodgers success last year, and I’m looking forward to seeing who’s ready to step up again. I think Alex Castellanos has the potential to become a solid Major League utility player, but there are so many additional guys who have the chance to
have big seasons. Scott Van Slyke, Josh Wall, and Elian Herrera are players who were very strong for us a year ago and I hope they each pick up where they left off.
MR: Who was the most talented player you’ve seen on the Isotopes?
JT: It is very hard to pick just one because we’ve been blessed with a lot of very talented guys. From our Marlins days, I might pick Robert Andino. From our Dodgers days, we’re very proud of the success A.J. Ellis has had and how he’s become an important part of the big league club. I do have to say that Dee Gordon is the best basketball player who’s even donned our uniform.
MR: What is a typical off-season like for you?
JT: What’s that?
MR: Are you the type of baseball fan that collects memorabilia? Any particular pieces? What is your favorite piece?
JT: I collect autographed baseballs more than anything else. My prized possessions among the 100+ baseballs I have are my Nolan Ryan ball (because he was my favorite pitcher when I was a kid) and my Jim Abbott ball (because I worked for the Angels when he made his Major League debut).
Funny story — When I was 11 years old, I caught my first foul ball as a fan at Anaheim Stadium. It was hit by Phil Roof of the Minnesota Twins. I always kept that ball and never played with it. In 1995, Phil was managing the Salt Lake club in the PCL and when his team came to Calgary to play us, I had him sign the ball for me.
Two of the balls I would love to get are Hank Aaron (my other favorite player as a kid) and Sandy Koufax.
MR: What is the biggest obstacle you have faced professionally?
JT: Anyone in baseball faces the challenge of having to balance the crazy baseball life with your personal life. Balance is very important, and I can’t say I’ve always had it. My wife and kids are very supportive of what I do. I would say that my bout with prostate cancer in 2006 also helped put things into a better perspective for me.
MR: I know you wrote a book – Baseball: A Helluva Life. What was your inspiration for the book?
JT: I’d always wanted to write a book and made a pledge to myself that I would do it someday. I was speaking to Dave Rosenfield, long-time General Manager of the Norfolk Tides, on the phone prior to the 2010 season. He had me in stitches telling stories as he does so well. We got to talking about how he should write a book about his 50+ year career in baseball and I asked him how’d he feel about me writing it. When I told him my writing experience consisted of being the editor of my high school newspaper and writing a few poems here and there, he said, “Good enough for me!” So we worked together for two years on the book, which I really wanted to become a legacy for his family. He’s got so many great stories and has lived one helluva life, which became an appropriate title for the book.
MR: What is your all-time favorite baseball movie?
JT: A tie between the original “Bad News Bears” and “Field of Dreams.”