Note: This column appears in the 2/28 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 2/29 issue of the Peoria Times
Five steps into my tour of the Peoria Sports Complex, Chris Easom’s cell phone went off. Somebody needed his input. After providing just that, somebody needed to know how long he’d be available for. “I’m supposed to be here until five,” Easom said calmly into his phone on an overcast Friday afternoon. “But I’m sure I’ll be here until at least six, as usual.
It’s that time of the season.”
Easom is the new sports stadium manager at the Peoria Sports Complex, and it’s exactly that time of the season -- this time of the season, to be more specific -- which is where he thrives.
The soon-to-be 32-year old is a Fort Pierce, Florida native whose almost decade-long career has included the position of director of stadium operations and events at the spring training home of the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, a.k.a. Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida. When asked how he got into this line work, Easom’s story is a familiar one.
“I played baseball in high school, and Legion ball after that,” he said. “When I graduated college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I knew I loved baseball.”
I joked with him that his path sounded like the famous “Seinfeld” episode, where an out-of-work George Costanza tells Jerry, “I like sports. I could do something in sports…like the general manager of a baseball team or something.” Only Chris Easom actually did just that; he served as general manager for the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league affiliate back in his home state.
It’s that type of drive and dedication that led Easom to Peoria and to this new position, which he saw as a great career opportunity. Now that he’s here, one of Easom’s goals is to not disrupt the fan-friendly environment that has already been established at the Peoria Sports Complex, and it’s quite apparent he has a great respect for the atmosphere that existed before he arrived.
“You look around here, and you can’t help but be impressed. This is one of the best sports complexes in the country. So right now, I’m just trying to learn the system, get to know the staff, learn the service contracts, things like that. I know they’ve always stressed customer service here, so right now we’re just trying to take that to the next level.”
Part of that service is making the complex even more kid-friendly. Easom showed me the almost-finished wiffle ball field located inside the gates, its infield exactly 1/3 the size of a regulation major league version. (As I stared out onto this miniature field, I’m pretty sure I heard, “If you build it, he will come,” and now I’m trying to convince my wife of a new plan for our backyard.) Behind the field is a concession stand that caters strictly to kids, offering such delicacies as peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and frozen treats. It’s all part of the new “Kid’s Fun Zone,” a feature that distinguishes Peoria from other sports complexes throughout the state.
In fact, Easom is well aware of the competition for fans throughout Arizona, especially considering a new facility is on its way to Glendale next year. And it’s part of his plan to see to it that the Peoria Sports Complex continues to evolve in its appeal. “I really believe that we have a lot to offer here that other places just don’t have,” he said. “But we have to remain competitive.”
One of the many features that, if Easom himself didn’t initiate, it’s his job to implement, is the introduction of Autograph Alley, a beautifully landscaped area on the east side of the complex that serves as the prime spot for baseball fans to encounter their heroes during spring training. Easom also informed me that, in 2008, the Peoria Sports Complex will feature a VIP tent -- not hidden within stadium confines, away from the action, but directly behind the right field bullpen in the outfield. With his experience planning various tournaments, baseball camps, and other events, Easom also has his eye toward possibly bringing more concerts to the complex during the summer and fall seasons. “It’s all about finding the right act,” said Easom. “But it’s something I really think we can do again here at the complex.”
It’s hard work planning this much fun, but Chris Easom seems up to the task. After all, Easom himself – baseball fanatic that he is – certainly isn’t above taking part in all the fun. As we passed the wiffle ball field again on our way out, I noticed the gate surrounding the stadium confines doubled as a very short right field porch. “Man,” I said. “This field really caters to the lefties, huh?”
“Yeah, I know,” said Easom, smiling from ear to ear. “And it’s perfect too, because I’m a lefty.”