feature

Home-Field Advantage

Las Vegas 51s president Don Logan could have left for the big leagues long ago. Be glad he didn’t.
Don-Final

Photo by Anthony Mair

The first Little League uniform I got was a Yankees uniform. I wore it to bed that night. I’ve had the bug my whole life.

– Don Logan

The best thing about dreams? You can plant them anywhere, and if you fertilize them with a little belief and a lot of determination, they’ll grow. So when a young boy from Tonopah dreams about one day making it to the major leagues, it is no more farfetched than if his dream germinated in New York or Los Angeles.

But what if that kid from Tonopah charted a life course that put him on track to fulfill his dream, or at least a variation of it? And what if he had it within his grasp, then chose not to reach out and grab it? What do you make of someone who would forgo multiple big-league opportunities in exchange for 26 years in the meat grinder that is Triple-A baseball in Las Vegas?

How rural was Tonopah in the 1960s and ’70s? Rural enough that there was no high school baseball, and the stick-and-ball sport of choice for young adults was fast-pitch softball. Still, Don Logan played the game well enough as a young man to play for Utah State in—ironically—Logan, Utah. Despite a successful senior season—“I think I hit about .330 with a couple of dingers,” he says—Logan quickly surmised that if he wanted to make it to the major leagues he needed to put down his glove and pick up a briefcase. He enrolled in law school in Sacramento, Calif., with the goal of becoming an agent.

Then one summer day in 1983, Logan and some classmates made their weekly trek south from Sacramento to catch a San Francisco Giants game. There at Candlestick Park, he had a chance meeting with then-Giants owner Bob Lurie. He mentioned his plan to break into the big leagues as an agent, and Lurie replied that baseball didn’t need more agents, it needed people who knew the game. He suggested that Logan get a job as an executive and learn the business.

That was all Logan needed to hear. He dropped out of law school and fired off résumés to every major-league club and every minor-league franchise in the West, only to get a grand total of four responses. And the only promising one came from a new club in Las Vegas.

Larry Koentopp had moved his Triple-A franchise here from Spokane, Wash., in time for the 1983 Pacific Coast League campaign and dubbed them the Las Vegas Stars. Following a successful inaugural season, Koentopp added four people to his front-office staff. “Then Don came in to interview and I liked him so much I said, ‘Heck, I’m going to hire five guys.’ Don was very, very good—head and shoulders above everybody.”

On his 25th birthday, Logan started as an account executive with the Stars and rapidly progressed through the ranks. By 1985 he was the ticket manager, and the following year he was promoted to assistant general manager. “Don was Mr. Reliable from the get-go,” Koentopp says. “He came in and he wasn’t intimidated by anything. Whatever assignment he had, he would take it and run with it, and I knew it would turn out good. He’s a very bright guy and he’s got a lot of imagination.”

Not only did Logan quickly establish a reputation as a promising baseball executive, he also proved to be as comfortable in the boardroom wooing a prospective sponsor as he was in a locker room commiserating with baseball prospects not much younger than him.

“He was the guy everyone went to with all your issues—‘Hey, where’s this, where’s that? How do I do this, how do I do that?’” says former major-league All-Star John Kruk, who played with the Stars in 1984 and ’85 and who now is a baseball analyst for ESPN. “When you’re 23 years old and you don’t have any idea what life’s all about, he’s the one you went to to get all the answers. He was Mr. Vegas to all of us.”

By the time the 1991 season rolled around, Koentopp tapped Logan as his general manager. Next season he was named Pacific Coast League Executive of the Year. Everything seemed to be falling into place. At age 32, Logan was running the day-to-day operations of a professional baseball team just one rung below the big leagues, and he had gained the respect of key people at the next level. It was only a matter of time before the kid from Tonopah would, like so many of the prized prospects he witnessed at Cashman Field, get called up to the big leagues.

Sure enough, the Padres—the parent club of the Stars until 2000—came calling in the early ’90s. They wanted Logan to be their assistant to the minor-league farm director. There was the dream, well within his grasp. Only Logan couldn’t bring himself to extend his arm and snatch it.

“I got divorced in 1994 and I made a decision then that I didn’t want to be an out-of-town dad,” he says. “I didn’t want to be traveling back and forth. I didn’t want my ex-wife’s new husband to be the primary guy in my daughter’s life.”

San Diego would call again after the 1998 season. This time then-Padres General Manager Kevin Towers—whose relationship with Logan dated back to 1988 when Towers pitched for the Stars—offered his friend the chance to run San Diego’s entire farm system.

“Tempted,” Logan says of the second offer. “Very, very much so.” But once again, he declined.

“It would’ve been a great challenge for him and he would’ve been very good at it,” Towers says. “But he’s a man of great values and he’s got his priorities in the right area. Family’s No. 1.”

Logan, whose daughter is now a 21-year-old college student, stands by that difficult decision. “Even though I probably would have had a pretty [significant] position at the big-league level, I wouldn’t have the relationship I have with her. She’s the light of my life. She’s my only child. Seeing her grow up, I didn’t miss any plays, I didn’t miss any games. We had a great relationship and always will have. But I think it’s because I was around.”

The second thing that has kept Logan here is his love of Las Vegas. Over the past quarter-century, he has forged numerous relationships with community leaders. And while he can walk through a local mall without being bothered, the city’s movers and shakers are keenly aware of his civic contributions. On the field, he’s been the point man for bringing in events such as Big League Weekend (the annual series of major-league exhibition games) and the 2008 Major League Baseball winter meetings (for which Las Vegas received major national exposure).

“We all refer to Don as Mr. Baseball, because he truly is that,” says Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “And I’m extremely grateful that he’s decided this is his home and this is where he wants to be. … The fact that he’s stayed here is a testament to his commitment to Las Vegas, and not only the business community.”

Off the field, Logan serves on the boards of numerous local organizations, from the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Southern Nevada (he was their Humanitarian of the Year in 2007) to A.L.S. of Nevada to the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Nevada.

“You’ve got to give back,” Logan says. “You’ve got to be a good community partner. And I would say that for any business, really. With our fan base being so diverse, we’ve got to spread our wings and get involved with as many different things as we can. But that’s just the right thing to do.”

Koentopp sold the Stars following the 1993 season, and the franchise has subsequently experienced two more ownership changes, plus two affiliate shifts (from the Padres to the Los Angeles Dodgers, then to the Toronto Blue Jays) and one controversial name change—the Stars became the 51s in 2000.

Logan, now 51, has been the one constant. He now holds a 5 percent stake in the franchise and remains the club’s general manager. He also served as the team’s president for 11 years until last month, when the Stevens Baseball Group—which purchased the 51s in 2008—chose to bring in someone within its corporation to “manage their investment.”

That decision caught many by surprise, but Logan insists nothing has changed in terms of his daily duties or the 51s’ mission: to provide affordable family entertainment each summer. He continues to work toward his ultimate goal of getting a new stadium built somewhere in the Valley to replace aging Cashman Field. “This community deserves a state-of-the-art baseball facility,” Logan says. “I really want to get that done.”

And should he get that new facility built, what then? Is there still time to pursue that big-league dream?

“In time, I do think scouting would be fun, Jen [his wife] and I can just get in a car and drive and go watch baseball,” Logan says. “This won’t be my last stop on the train. I do want to experience working on the next level in some capacity. What that capacity is remains to be seen.”

More than a few who know him well believe when he does make the leap to “The Show,” he’ll hit a home run.

“I have no doubt he could be a great major-league general manager,” Kruk says, “because if you’re a player or an agent, the thing you ask for from a general manager is to be honest. Don’t tell me one thing and then say something else behind my back. I truly can’t believe Don Logan has that in him. He’s going to tell you how he feels.”

Says Towers: “Don could do just about anything he wants to do—he could run a marketing department, he could run a public relations department, he could run a farm system, he could be the COO of a club. A lot of the game is about contacts and networks, and Donny knows just about everybody in the game. There’s not a lot of people you could say that about.”

Follow Matt Jacob via RSS.

blog comments powered by Disqus