A Veeck Is Back Working for the White SoxST. PAUL, MN September 12, 2012
A Veeck Is Back Working for the White Sox
September 12, 2012 at 12:10 PM
By: Dave Hoekstra September 12, 2012
(Crain's) — Sunday was Grandparents' Day at U.S. Cellular Field. The person in charge of group sales for the event, according to a sign spotted at the ballpark, was one "Night Train Veeck."
Was this some kind of gag? Is there such a person as a Night Train Veeck? And, if so, does it mean that a member of the legendary Veeck baseball family has once more been turned loose upon our fair city?
A call to the number on the advertisement provided quick answers.
“Train,” came the voice on the other end of the phone.
So it is true: William “Night Train” Veeck, 26, is following in the footsteps of his father, Mike, 61, a baseball entrepreneur and author; his great-grandfather, William Veeck Sr., once president of the Cubs; and the bigger-than-life footsteps of his grandfather, the legendary Bill Veeck Jr. Elected posthumously to Baseball's Hall of fame in 1989, Mr. Veeck owned the White Sox, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns. He integrated the American League by signing Larry Doby. And perhaps most famously, the colorful Mr. Veeck, known for his marketing stunts, hired a midget to bat at a 1951 Browns game. In Chicago, he's known for inventing the "explosing scoreboard," and was the first owner to put players' names on their uniforms. His "disco night" at Comiskey Park, in which fans were to bring their disco records and destroy them, turned into mayhem.
William's nickname was bestowed upon the young Mr. Veeck at birth. His father and his first wife, Jo, came up with the name en route to a Jimmy Buffett concert at the old Miami Arena, after the late Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals) and Detroit Lions cornerback Dick “Night Train” Lane.
“It is all very daunting,” Mr. Veeck said during a morning conversation in the seats behind home plate at U.S. Cellular Field as traffic echoed from the Dan Ryan Expressway. “Instead of walking in footsteps, I'm trying to create my own path and create another branch on the tree,” he says. “I have developed such an appreciation for the legacy, the love for the game and the organization through my dad. His relationship with his father and with me has been a big part of that. There was never any pressure. Just to do what I love and to do what was fun. I'm up for the task of keeping the name alive.”
Mr. Veeck moved to Chicago from Charleston, S.C., in 2009, to work as a sales manager at a sports marketing agency.
In Charleston, he had worked more than 1,000 games over 14 seasons for his father's RiverDogs of the Class A South Atlantic League. Mike Veeck sold his share of the RiverDogs in 2008 but remains president (Bill Murray is a co-owner). The younger Mr. Veeck also worked for his father at the independent St. Paul Saints. “I love working for him. He is harder on me than anybody else and I wouldn't change a thing about it.”
Bill Veeck Jr. discouraged his son, Mike, from pursuing a career in baseball. Mike Veeck, on the other hand, encouraged his progeny to work in the game.
“I found baseball to be such an enchanting business,” Mike Veeck says. "As a single parent early on it gave me something wonderful in common with Night Train. He just took to it. He just loved being around the ballpark. I found ways to put all kinds of things in front of him.”
Last summer, after completing two internships with the White Sox in 2010 and 2011, the younger Mr. Veeck earned a master's degree in sports administration at Northwestern University. “I can't be anywhere else but a baseball stadium,” he says. Mr. Veeck was hired full time this season as an account executive in group sales.
Mike Veeck admits the Veeck name is great in a saloon and “lousy” when looking for a job. “Maybe it's not as historically relevant as it once was, but fans still remember,” he says. He told his son, “You are going to have to work twice as hard because you don't want to hear those whispers.”
Was working for the White Sox inevitable? “The White Sox were definitely a top choice,” the young Mr. Veeck says. “I wanted to make a mark on the organization that had fed my family. It's not only a great way to advance my career, but also a great way to give back to a team I love.”
One of Mr. Veeck challenges is to boost attendance, which, despite the Sox's success this season (they were in first place in the American League Central at press time), is dismal (24th out of 30 major league teams in attendance, with an average gate of 24,340 per game, or 60 per cent capacity).
Part of his charge is to get out into communities to reach out to the club's big fan base in Northwestern Indiana. Much of the Sox fan base of his grandfather's generation were factory workers from the area; that continues, though many of the factories are gone.
Mike and William Veeck take in a game
A lot more has changed since his grandfather's day. Social media has had a huge impact on the game. “Twitter has become a big part of interacting with fans and season-ticket holders,” Mr. Veeck says. People like to have the human aspect with the organization, somebody they know who will take care of them if they have a problem. That's huge. I make a concerted effort on Twitter to reach out to people.” He tweets at @VeeckAsInWreck and has almost 1,800 followers.
“People are finding new ways to take in the game,” he says. “They're watching digitally, through Facebook, on our website. Teams have become more interactive, and it's going to be about giving fans as much access as possible to the true experience.”
It's more than just virtual engagement, however. “I loved how my grandfather hung out with fans,” he says. “I'm trying to emulate that. There's rarely a time where a person who's bought a ticket from me hasn't seen me, met me, or talked to me. Fans have a lot of great ideas.”
Mr. Veeck, whose father wrote “Fun Is Good: How to Create Joy and Passion in Your Workplace and Career,” has embraced “fun is good” as a kind of motto.
“If you come up to me and say 'fun is good' on the concourse, I will buy you a beer,” he says. “I was recently walking along Lower Reserved, and a random guy comes up to me and says, 'fun is good?' I heard the puzzlement in his voice, looked at him and said, 'I owe you a beer'.
Earlier this summer, Bill Murray threw out the first pitch at the Cubs' home opener. Father and son Veeck were at the game, each wearing White Sox caps. The sun was shining. Around the bottom of the third inning, Mike Veeck swears he heard his father's distinct laugh.
“I've only gone to Wrigley twice in my life,” Mike Veeck says. “But historically, it's like Fenway and you gotta go there. When they invited Bill Murray I thought we should make it a family affair and I should get over it.”
“The fact I was sitting there with my son—I didn't realize how it affected me until that moment. I'm so proud of him. I just love walking around the ballpark with him, I can't describe it any other way.”
Says the younger Mr. Veeck, “It was such a magical day. It was the first time we sat there as father and son, looked out and said, 'Here we are.'
—This story was produced by, and a version also appears at, ChicagoSideSports.com