There is plenty of "buzz" around the return of the Oakland A's to Burlington, Iowa, after four decades. The A's swapped Midwest League affiliates in the offseason from Kane County to the Bees in Burlington. While the A's farmhands are getting used to their new digs in southeast Iowa, another up-and-coming professional will be adapting to his in the Community Field press box.
Jon Versteeg started work with the Burlington franchise last week as the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations. Versteeg comes to the Bees from the Connecticut Tigers of the New York-Penn League (Detroit, Short-Season A) where he served as director of media relations in 2010 and radio broadcaster for all 76 games. He has also called games for the Joliet JackHammers (2006-2009) of the independent Northern League as well as the Salem Avalanche (2005) of the Carolina League (Houston, High A) and Tri-City Valley Cats (2004) of the New York-Penn League (Houston, Short-Season A).
OaklandClubhouse sat down with Versteeg for a question-and-answer session on a variety of topics.
OC: What are your thoughts on the new position after just seven days on the job?
Jon Versteeg: I just started on Monday. It's been a matter of hitting the ground running. In my offseason job, I work as the studio host on the radio side for Northern Illinois University football and basketball. It was one of those things where I was kind of tied up until the middle of March, so they were nice enough to push the start date back a little bit. It's been a tremendous experience thus far. This is a great community with a rich history of baseball here in Burlington. Everyone that I've met has been wonderful to work with.
OC: How about some brief highlights on your background in minor-league baseball?
JV: Before my senior year [at Syracuse], I was fortunate enough to get a New York-Penn League job with the Tri-City Valley Cats, the Houston Astros affiliate back in 2004. I graduated in 2005 and did another stop in the Carolina League, and was then in independent league baseball for four years in Joliet, Illinois. I was looking to get back to affiliated baseball and got a job last summer in Connecticut, where I'm from. Now I'm excited to get the opportunity to call (hopefully) 140-plus games predominantly by myself.
OC: What's it been like settling in southeast Iowa after growing up on the East Coast?
JV: Burlington has the same values as the community that I grew up in with Torrington, Connecticut. It's roughly the same size, with Burlington in the 30,000s and Torrington around 40,000. This is a little more flat than I'm used to – there are more hills in Connecticut. It's been great here. The folks have been outstanding. Wherever you go here, whether it's the grocery store or at the ticket office at the ballpark, they're all very welcoming. It's made it nice for me to transition here.
OC: Switching gears to the new A's affiliation, how much correspondence have you had with the Oakland front office?
JV: None personally quite yet. Our general manager, Chuck Brockett, just got back Wednesday from the Phoenix area for spring training. He met some people in the front office and took in the whole A's atmosphere and how they run camp. From what Chuck said, everything was first-class.
We're all very excited. There's no question that our manager here, Aaron Nieckula, his record speaks for itself. There have only been a couple years in his very young managerial career where he hasn't made the playoffs. I'm pretty excited about the A's organization and the way in which they're taking things and the way in which they like to develop players.
OC: Can you speak to the community atmosphere around Burlington's minor-league baseball franchise?
JV: It is certainly a community effort here. Our concession stands are staffed by volunteers, and pretty much on a nightly basis. They've got three full-time people in the front office. I'd be the fourth, but I'm seasonal. With the winter banquet and friends of Community Field, so much is done to help baseball continue to thrive and prosper. The day before our opening day, we're going to have an exhibition game with a local community college. To be able to get folks out here to the ballpark keeps the visibility here. This has always been a community effort.
OC: What does the community think about having the A's back in town after nearly four decades spent in other cities across the Midwest League?
JV: I think a lot of people are certainly inquisitive, because they were used to the Royals here for a long time and the White Sox before that. There is a positive vibe to everything. In the short time I've been here, I haven't spoken with too many folks that remember the A's when they were here. But I was able to speak at a Rotary Club function when I started and there were a lot of folks wondering what the difference between the Royals and A's. Folks are very excited about it.
OC: What makes Burlington a special place for minor-league baseball?
JV: If you look at the history of minor-league baseball, in the last 10 or 20 years, there have been communities that are much larger than Burlington that have lost baseball. Yet, the Bees are still here continuing to thrive. We're going to be here for the long-term. I think it really speaks to the passion and energy that everyone has here in this town for baseball.
OC: Are there some intricacies or other features that make Community Field unique?
JV: It's certainly a smaller field with a very quaint atmosphere. It's a short porch in right field – 318 feet directly down the line. If you've got a power hitter like we had here a couple years ago with Mike Moustakas, it can certainly be a hitter's park.
You're not entirely sure what you're going to get the first couple weeks. It could be a cold day in mid-May and then warm up to 70 degrees the next. You just wait and see in the early-season. The managers and coaches are a little more forgiving if it's 40 degrees out on opening night.
The clubhouses are pretty much right under the stands. The visiting players actually have to walk through the stands to get to the field. They walk through our concourse area. We certainly have a tremendous amount of accessibility for fans to interact with the players and get the autographs.
OC: How about the teams approach to promotions and other special events throughout the summer?
JV: We've got some fireworks nights and do our community nights, which is big out here. It's one of those things where we do quality over quantity. It's a local feel to it. We like to get our promotions to have that community feel that we strive for.
OC: Preview the open house that's been scheduled ahead of home opener.
JV: We'll have self guided tours and you can come see our clubhouse, press box and behind the scenes parts of Community Field that the fans don't get to see on a daily basis. We're also going to do a Meet the Bees Event over at the Pzazz Hotel on April 5th.
OC: What's next for you between now and the start of the season?
JV: For me it's just a matter of getting a feel for the community and who I'm broadcasting to. The roster will probably be finalized around April 2nd, so I'll be getting all the pertinent statistical and biographical information.
As far as the front office and organization, we're just getting the basic cleanliness of the ballpark squared away. We'll be getting it in great shape and the field ready with sponsorship signs and that sort of thing. We're looking forward to opening the gates at 5 o'clock on Monday, April 11th, for opening night.