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Ex-Suns GM Landes gets fresh start in Allentown

October 09, 2006|by BOB PARASILITI

Kurt Landes had made a living scratching the surface off of other people's projects.

Now, he has the chance to start from scratch.

Last Wednesday, the former president and general manager of the Hagerstown Suns was named the GM of Lehigh Valley, which will be the Philadelphia Phillies' Triple-A affiliate in Allentown, Pa., beginning in 2008. The team will be moved from Ottawa after the 2007 season.

Right now, Landes has no team, no stadium and no office. Lehigh Valley doesn't even have a team name yet.

"It was hard to leave the Suns and Mandalay (Sports Enterprises, the Suns' owners)," Landes said Wednesday. "Only the perfect opportunity, the perfect set of circumstances, could have got me to make a move."

It couldn't have been more perfect.

Instead of fans and games in 2007, Landes will be watching a 10,000-seat stadium being built near the Lehigh Valley International Airport.

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"My goal has always been to be able to start and go through the entire new stadium process," Landes said. "I wanted to be a part of taking it through from beginning to end in an area. If I could have that, I would have been happy working anywhere. But to have this in a big market and in a virgin territory for baseball is big."

Allentown has not had organized baseball in its area for 50 years. It will return in 2008 with the International League's transplanted Ottawa Lynx.

The domino effect started when the Phillies opted to take their Triple-A team from Scranton, Pa., and move to Ottawa, where Gracie Baseball, LP had just bought the team with the sole idea of moving it to Lehigh Valley. Gracie Baseball partners already own two of the Phillies' affiliates. Craig Stein controls the Double-A Reading Phillies while Joe Finley owns the Single-A Lakewood Blueclaws of the South Atlantic League.

The team must fulfill the commitment to Ottawa, while its new home is built before making the move.

Meanwhile, Landes will be setting up shop.

"I've been here since (Sept. 29) and have been off and running ever since," Landes said. "I had to get phones, fax machines and computer setups. We are on the ground floor. We just opened our temporary office right across the street of where the ballpark is being built."

Landes heads to Allentown after rebuilding the Hagerstown Suns. In his five-year stay, Landes took a stagnant franchise and pumped life into it by using fresh marketing techniques and quirky promotions to promote inexpensive family entertainment and put the town back on the baseball and national map.

Under his guidance, the Suns not only increased their attendance by 50 percent, the team began carving a niche in the community with public appearances, educational events and charitable contributions to local causes.

Landes was named Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's Business Person of the Year for his efforts. He also won national awards and publicity for the team with attention-grabbing promotions, including giving away a pre-planned funeral and bringing back baseball great Willie Mays to Municipal Stadium, the site of the first professional baseball game he played.

He finished his stay by paving the road for the Suns to become the Single-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, starting next season.

Then came the opportunity for a fresh start.

Landes, who turned his Suns position over to Will Smith, said he has received notes and e-mails from many Suns fans about his departure. They helped convince him his five-year stay in Hagerstown was well worth the time.

"I heard from a ton of people," he said. "It makes me feel like I made a difference."

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