QA with JUCO Chairman Jamie Hamilton
It’s definitely not Jamie Hamilton’s first rodeo running the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
Now in his 14th year as chairman of the NJCAA’s Division I baseball championship tournament, Hamilton has seen the tournament grow year to year to where it’s now a labor of love for almost 12 months out of the year. A few weeks after each tournament, Hamilton and his committee of 81 volunteers take a break, but in early fall, it starts all over again.
Hamilton sat down with The Daily Sentinel and addressed some issues of running the tournament, which attracts more than 100,000 fans each year to Suplizio Field.
What are JUCO’s biggest challenges?
“This year has been the economy, but to be quite honest, probably the age of our committee people. I laugh, but remember the Young Turks? Walt (Bergman) sent me a picture of his new white beard and asked ‘Do you still consider me a Young Turk?’ I’m probably not as aggressive as I once was, and some of our team members. As I start to look for a (successor) to my insurance business, looking at this point going forward, who can come into that (JUCO) position? I still think, and it’s the craziest thing, but you’ve got to be an independent businessman to afford the time and (office) space. ... But the economy is a challenge. That’s one of the reasons we did negotiate the $25,000 gift with the Rockies. No matter what we say, that (the Grand Junction Rockies are) a different event from this, it’s competition and there’s only so many dollars out there.”
Schools are pushing for a 12-team tournament. What’s JUCO’s stance?
“I think that’s the issue, we’re volunteers. We looked at it before, and it adds five extra games, maybe four, with four games (each day) for two days for sure, and then if you get weather ... that’s part of it. It can’t go over a week, then I think you lose the energy. It’s still an event for us. You get 10 games in that first three days, that’s really what people want, that’s where the family stuff happens. Then the rest of the week the baseball people come in and the night games and the championship games are an event. If you have to go to Sunday, maybe Monday, I don’t think we can do that. The true baseball coaches get the idea of eight, especially in DI, because for the most part, the past five, six, seven years, it’s pretty much been the same teams because of the way the system works. It’s the administrators who are pushing the envelope to go to 12 to get more student-athlete participation, which I get.”
What about pool play for a 10-team tournament, to avoid the coin flip?
“I believe in my files someplace we have one, and again, it’s that four games the first two days. It’s not bad, we’ve done it before and it gets away from (a bye into the championship game). The pool play did add three games, I think. That was a little impactive, but you could do two on Friday and Saturday, maybe an if game on Sunday. That wouldn’t be bad. I expect that to be re-discussed. Kirby Puckett… people didn’t really get a chance to see him. He played three games, maybe four. But the coin flip, that’s embarrassing.”
Field improvements; anything in the works?
“Do we go down to the end of the third-base dugout (with stadium seating)? Visibly, we almost need to with seatbacks and nice seats. We’d probably have to do reserved seatbacks every other (row) because they’re so close together, or rebuild it, and you know how long that takes to do that. That’s probably the next thing, but we’d have to get the Rockies to help with that (financially). It would help them. Field turf, it doesn’t affect us, what would drive the bus are the Rockies because that field is going to get torn up. People forget, they’re on that field at noon every day when they’re here and they tear that up. It’s due (to have the infield and outfield replaced) next year, I think (depending on the Parks and Recreation budget). The next big thing is the scoreboard. ... We’re looking at something (perhaps with a video board).”
How do you balance entertainment with hosting a national tournament?
“That’s what we do every day. Our Mr. JUCO is there before the game and he’s not really running around for that reason. I get people who want to shoot T-shirts into the stands. If we do any entertainment it would be songs (live entertainment) between innings and that would be it. The deal is about the event, that’s what we owe the NJCAA and we owe the forefathers who put this thing together. We do that, but in the same breath, if someone comes up with a really good idea and the dollars, well, we can do that. We look at each one.”
Hamilton is adamant about making sure not to infringe on the real reason for the tournament — to crown a national champion — but also wants fans to have fun. To that end, a “Mr. JUCO’s Fun House” will be in place this year on opening weekend (Saturday-Monday) in the north end zone of the football field.
A bump-and-jump, a T-ball Whiffle ball hitting zone and a speed of pitch radar gun are planned, as well as face-painting and a mini-trampoline (children will be in a harness for safety). Interns for the Grand Junction Rockies will supervise the Fun House, which will be free to enter.
When the Grand Junction Rockies came to town, there was apprehension about sharing the wealth, fundraising, sponsorships, etc. Now into the third year, how is it working out?
“We have seen a decrease in sponsorships, which you could argue is being attributed to only so many entertainment dollars out there, but with the partnership with the Grand Junction Rockies, we did negotiate a contribution ($25,000) per year, and that more than makes up for those decreases.
“You could also argue that our economy is the worst in the state of Colorado and it could have something to do with that.
“But the collaboration with the GJ Rockies has never been better. I think we got through that stage. They’re good enough to give us leads on sponsors, we got one $5,000 sponsorship that Michael (Ruvolo) sent to us because it didn’t work with their (season schedule) and we’ve sent people to them.
“They’ve allowed us to access some of their vendors and it’s helped with signage and some things through their Major League Baseball contracts. It’s actually better than I expected.”
Has running JUCO become a year-round project? How can that work with only volunteers?
“We do work on JUCO year-round. After end of the tournament, it’ll take us two months to collect and pay the bills and do those types of things. That’s when Steve Elliott (the committee’s accountant), myself and Wendy (Jones, Hamilton’s executive assistant at Home Loan) get into it, collecting bills and getting them paid.
“We take some time off, although last year in early September, even before that, we got our banquet speaker; we’re always looking at that.
“At the end of the day, Wendy Jones, probably half of her time as a paid employee of Home Loan, is working on JUCO, whether that’s thank-you letters or (making travel arrangements). Today it’s full time. Maybe in November it’s one-tenth of her time, but it ends up being about half her time. Those are hidden costs, but that’s something this community does, whether it’s storing things in their garage or office, to keeping archives and notes and accessing it when we call. You do it with volunteers because it’s a passion and it’s a community event. Are we ever going to be that big where we have an intern that’s a paid intern? I don’t know if we’ll ever get that big.”
How much does it cost to run JUCO each year? How much does the tournament bring in, and how much of that goes to the NJCAA?
“I did a presentation the other day and said we were down in sponsorships and a lady says, ‘How will this impact the tournament?’ I said that’s a good question. It truly will not impact the tournament; the student-athletes are never gonna know anything about that. They’re going to have a chance to play for the national title and they’re going to have lots of people in the stands and that’s going to be fine.
“The impact comes every December 31 when we write a check for $300,000 (to the City of Grand Junction to pay down the bonds for the stadium Tower project). That’s the impact.
“Historically, we do $200,000 to $250,000 in sponsorship revenues and we do between $150,000 and $190,000 in ticket revenues. The ticket revenues are the 50-50 split with the NJCAA.
“The sponsors, that’s why we drive everything there, to take care of the bond payment.
“Our expenses from umpires, flights, rooms, some food, run about $50,000 a year, with no paid employees. There are some stipends and some contract (workers). Those are the round numbers.
“Every year if we do $350 (thousand) I’m worried, and when we do $400 (thousand) I feel good. But at the same time, we’ve got almost 3½ years of cushion in a bank account because of the good work. So if we do have a bad weather year, we’ll be able to do our (bond) commitment.
“It’s a pretty significant nonprofit and we do have bylaws and audits. One of my goals, because of the grants and those types of things, as we turn this over to the next set of leaders, I want to turn over a bank account that they’ll be comfortable with.”
What does JUCO do with the rest of the money?
“The Alpine Bank Scholarships (one to each high school and Colorado Mesa baseball team). We have helped every one of the high schools in town, and Montrose (with funding for projects). Montrose needed some help with batting cages. We’ve done stuff for scoreboards at the other high schools, dugouts, things like that. We built a $300,000 clubhouse at Mesa. That’s part of what we’ve done. We’ve done scoreboards at the Little League parks.
“Our 50th year we did the JUCO gives back (to fans, with giveaways at games). Right now we’re more frugal because of we want to make sure we have that $300,000 check. We contribute $14,000 to PIAB (Parks Improvement Advisory Board), we gave $100,000 to the football stadium for the field turf, we did the scoreboard on the football side, the pressbox in the west stands and resurfaced the track. We did the original clubhouse at Suplizio Field, did the lights, the sound system, the new fencing and the scoreboard (at Suplizio).
“One time I looked at it a couple of years ago with everything added in, we were approaching $2 million over the 40 years and significantly more in the past five or six years because it costs more and we have more money.”