To consider how Major League Baseball operates a miniature, month-long practice season of up to 10 games a day, spread across nine different luxurious ballparks all in the Metro Phoenix area, you would have to think about the hundreds of parking lot and concession volunteers, stadium operations people, and MLB Team front office execs it must take.
Then, add in the fact that you’d like to also play the first round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic in that same city, and use one of the ballparks (Salt River Fields, home of the D-Backs and Rockies), as a secondary site for some of the games. In addition, you want to outfit four additional teams, create some locker room space for them, find them practice fields that aren’t being used, and schedule their transportation and hotel accommodations.
Now, you’ve got a pretty tough logistical scenario.
For all of that, Major League Baseball relies on a baseball-savvy, veteran named Steve Cobb. I’ve known Steve since he hired me as a media relations assistant for the 1994 Arizona Fall League. That was Cobb’s second year in charge of the MLB’s proving ground league, for young prospects looking to make the jump to the big leagues the next spring. Cobb just passed his 20th year in charge of the operation.
A former Traveling Secretary for the Cincinnati Reds during the late 70’s and early 80’s, Cobb took an opportunity with the AFL as an assistant in operations, after spending 7 years working in Xavier University’s Athletic Department.
“I figured I’d come out here to Arizona, maybe spend a year getting myself back into baseball, then try and grab a job in the big leagues again with a club,” said Cobb. “But, I just haven’t left. Been here ever since, and I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”
He has grown the AFL into what it is today, a very well-respected entity throughout the game, and something that every club has come to rely on. Cobb knows all the stadium operations people around town, which just makes it that much easier for him to coordinate this special event called the WBC.
Besides the games that are being played, Cobb also has to figure out where to house and train the two teams from Pool A and B that advance to the finals in San Francisco. Those two squads will make a pit stop in Phoenix next week, to stay in game playing shape for a few days, while Pools C & D catch up and finish the first two rounds.
“We may be looking at Cuba coming in here, and that always creates an extra set of challenges,” said Cobb. “But, we’ll roll with the punches and make it happen.”
Cobb also gets many of the extra “logistical” assignments from MLB, such as coordinating a professional level team of American players, when they might go play overseas. It was in that role, when he worked with the 2000 USA Baseball Olympic Team, as they traveled to Australia to play in the Olympic Games under Manager Tommy Lasorda. Cobb’s exploits running the Team USA operation are featured in Miracle on Grass, as he describes several of the crazy tales he recalls of trying to move a Hall of Fame manager, a baseball team, and a group of 50 Americans, to the other side of the world.
So, whenever you’re in Phoenix and at a spring training game, Arizona Fall League game, or WBC game, now you know who helps keep the baseball rolling in the operation.
David Fanucchi is the author of “Miracle on Grass” – How Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda led Team USA to a shocking upset over Cuba, capturing the only Olympic gold medal in USA Baseball history. He was the official Team USA Press Officer for both the 2000 USA Baseball Olympic Team and the 2006 USA World Baseball Classic Team. More information about Fanucchi and Miracle on Grass can be found on his website at www.davidfanucchi.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @miracleongrass.