Rick Brenner Making Mark with Trenton Thunder

Thunder General Manager Rick Brenner has been with the team since its inception in 1994 when he was an unpaid intern with the team. Since early 1994, Brenner has worked his way up through the ranks, holding a myriad of positions within the organization. These included being the Director of Community Relations, Business Operations, and Special Events at various times during his tenure.

This is Brenner's fifth season as Thunder GM and during that time he has served to change the nature of the Thunder entertainment experience. Brenner believes he has been able to work his way up from his unpaid intern position to the General Manger post because, "I work for good people. We have an ownership group that looks to reward people who work hard." Brenner goes on to say that "I consider myself extremely fortunate." in discussing his rise.

Eric Lipsman (seen to the left of Rick in the above photo), the Thunder Executive Director of Marketing who has also been with the team since Day One, noted that "Rick has matured unbelievably. I can remember when he was a scared young intern in 1994." Lipsman said he believes the toughest part of Brenner's job is to keep the organization constantly moving up and "never being on a downward slide." He went on to say that, "We don't believe in coasting and always want to take it to the next level." Feeding into these tenets are what Assistant General Manager Brad Taylor calls, "the standard of professionalism we expect from ourselves and being able to give the fans everything they deserve."

Lipsman believes that the Thunder strive to keep everything fresh and that the fact that the Thunder won the Larry McPhail Award last year is a testament to the unique experience the Thunder provide. The Larry MacPhail award is given annually to the minor league team that does the best job in terms of promotions. The unique experience of fans at Waterfront Park is largely a by product of "the show." Brenner has always had an interest in the production aspects of the game and according to almost everyone I spoke to, has been instrumental in bringing a wide variety of audiovisual effects to the ballpark.

Although no one in the Thunder front office was willing to list one accomplishment as Brenner's crowning achievement, they did admit that the Larry McPhail Award would have to be among the top moments of Brenner's reign. Those that didn't mention the McPhail award pointed to Brenner as being instrumental in creating an environment that made the Yankees very excited about signing a Player Development contract with the Thunder after the 2002 season. Still others, like Thunder owner Joe Finley, said they hope and believe that Brenner's crowning achievement is still in front of him.

Many in the Thunder front office say that Brenner is an excellent staff motivator and at getting his staff to think outside the box. Lipsman pointed out the presence of an "idea box" within the Thunder front office as proof of Brenner's belief in trying to motivate his staff to think outside the box. He also pointed out that the Thunder get a whole new crop of interns every year that help to generate new ideas. Of course, as was pointed out by more than one member of the Thunder staff, it is a excellent motivator for the interns when a former intern is your organization's General Manager.

While no one is willing to agree on what is the shining star of Brenner's reign as GM, one thing everyone agrees upon is that the Thunder experience is based upon the fans. Thunder owner Joe Finley said, "We respond to our fans. We do focus groups of season ticket holders in the off-season and they tell us what they want. We let our customers dictate to us." Thunder radio broadcaster Dan Loney believes one of Brenner's biggest strengths is that he "understands the fans."

Loney also believes that it's "impressive" that Brenner can "keep it going" and keep the Thunder consistently improving over his tenure as GM and that another of his strengths is that he has been with the team for 10 years. Geoff Brown, General Manager of the Lakewood BlueClaws, was an intern with Brenner in Trenton and said that one of Brenner's biggest strengths is that he has been with the club since its inception and that both of them were given a lot of responsibility right away when the Thunder started in 1994.

Even though everyone has a different best attribute and no one seems willing to settle on one thing that Rick Brenner can hang his hat on as General Manager, the attendance figures speak for themselves. Since Brenner became General Manager in 1999, the Thunder have had seven of their Top 10 largest crowds and have never drawn fewer than 400,000 fans in a season. The fans would not return if they didn't feel that the Thunder were a source of family friendly, affordable, fun which is a common slogan the staff uses to describe their product. Ultimately, the credit for the success of any operation must be given to the leader and in this case, that's Rick Brenner.

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