Debra Reed: Doing it Right, Giving the Right Memories
Anyone who has played the board game Monopoly learns quickly how to recognize when Opportunity Knocks. Six months after graduating from college, Debra Sirianni found herself in the right place at the right time. At the time she had her sights set on a career in the FBI, but a family friend told her about a new venture in youth baseball that Eddie Einhorn was looking to finance. For readers who do not know, Eddie Einhorn is minority owner and Vice Chairman of the Chicago White Sox.
Interestingly enough, in his early sports business pursuits, Einhorn’s made his mark in basketball. As reported in Wikipedia.com, he produced the nationally syndicated radio broadcast of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship in 1958. In 1960, he founded the TVS Television Network to telecast college basketball games to regional networks at a time that the sport was of no interest to the national networks. The first broadcast was Bradley University vs. St. Bonaventure University from Madison Square Garden. He helped put together the first national broadcast of college basketball for the Game of the Century between the Houston Cougars and UCLA Bruins in 1968. He later sold his interest in the network and became the head of CBS Sports. When he went searching for someone to run his dream park for young baseball players, Debra Sirianni, today Debra Reed, answered the call.
The campus of SUNY-Oneonta provided the ideal location for Eddie Einhorn’s vision. Nestled in the Catskills Mountains of upstate New York, it had the look and feel of a tourist attraction. With a minor league baseball team playing in town, local interest in baseball already existed. Its location, a placid, short drive approximately 20 miles southwest of Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame, would attract baseball fans of all ages. The college board of trustees invited Mr. Einhorn to visit with them in the winter of 2000, he presented his vision for a baseball venue dedicated to youth on March 3 of that year, and Cooperstown Baseball World (CBW) became a reality. Fifteen years and sixteen tournament years later, the first youth baseball tournament in the Cooperstown area still thrives.
What started as a concept with sketches in a brochure soon evolved into a haven for youth baseball that others tried to copy. With Eddie Einhorn’s financial backing, fields were built in the hillside above the college’s baseball stadium and Debra started recruiting 12u travel teams. As Debra recalls, “They blew out the mountain on my 25th birthday.” Before long the influx of new business benefitted the economy in the entire area. Debra continues, “The rental business alone grew around here as never seen before.”
In the time since, CBW has hosted teams from everywhere around the country. Week #5 of the tournament saw the milestone of the first team from North Dakota to participate. “For the longest time, we didn’t have a team from that state,” says Debra.
CBW rents its space and services from the college, including dormitory rentals, meals in the student cafeteria, use of the fields, and a local bus service which transports coaches, players and umpires to-and-from the fields uphill from the campus. While CBW’s relationship with the college has seen “its ups and downs at times,” support from the “upper echelon of SUNY administration is still supportive, and we really do not have competition from the other parks in the area.”
“We do not compare ourselves to or try to compete with other tournaments around the country; we are comfortable staying the small guy, not being just about the dollar sign. Parents and extended families define this industry, our customers change from week to week, and it means a lot when kids and family members say to us that their experience here was better than they thought.” Maintaining a service-oriented profile at a family-focused venue has some definite industry advantages.
As Debra further explains, “My father was a coach in my home town of Bergenfield, NJ; both my parents were heavily involved in youth sports, doing it right and giving kids the right memories.” Moving into CBW’s 17th tournament year in 2016, Debra and her family-friendly staff are “still here doing what we do, with no plans to change anything from the original game plan.”
Given the service-first atmosphere, CBW rarely has problems with ‘bad’ kids or coaches. “Through the years we’ve had a few people come here with the wrong attitude about youth sports, but only one or two in all that time.” Complementing the customer-friendly business model, Debra insists on reliability from her staff. That aspect of the CBW operation has enabled the tournament to deliver in all kinds of unexpected weather.
“During the summer of 2004 we had rain and cold practically every day, but we didn’t miss a game the entire summer. In 16 years we’ve missed only 4 scheduled games.”
In speaking with Debra you get the clear sense that she has no aspiration beyond continuing to do what she has always done. Like her parents, she has done youth baseball in the right way for the right reasons for so long, there’s simply no reason to change one aspect of the operation. For 12u travel baseball, the CBW model is certainly one to be replicated, in 2016 and each year after that.