Hubbard brothers take hands-on approach in Tulsa
TULSA, Oklahoma -- Prior to a Tulsa Drillers game late last month, Jeff Hubbard was stationed just inside the front entrance handing out bobbleheads and breaking down the cardboard boxes they had been stored in. His brother, Dale, could be found on the streets outside, shuttling fans in a golf
TULSA, Oklahoma -- Prior to a Tulsa Drillers game late last month, Jeff Hubbard was stationed just inside the front entrance handing out bobbleheads and breaking down the cardboard boxes they had been stored in. His brother, Dale, could be found on the streets outside, shuttling fans in a golf cart from the parking lots to the ballpark. The Hubbards aren't just gameday employees, however. They own the team, and consider such quotidian tasks to be a core part of their responsibilities.
"You meet more people this way," said Jeff. "I had a person tonight ask me, 'Do you get paid for this or are you just a volunteer?' I said, 'No, I'm on staff here. I get paid for it.' People offer us tips all the time."
The Hubbards' on-the-ground approach to running the Drillers is a direct result of their father's influence. Went Hubbard bought the Double-A Texas League franchise in 1986, and for the following two decades he was a fixture at Drillers Stadium. The Drillers, currently a Dodgers affiliate, moved into their current home of ONEOK Field in 2010.
"Our dad was a hands-on leader and an incredible example for the two of us," said Dale. "Lead by example."
"He taught us, you never ask an employee to do something you wouldn't do yourself first," added Jeff, a former Minor League infielder who spent time with the Drillers as a player and coach before assuming an ownership role decades later.
The Hubbard family is from Walpole, New Hampshire, an idyllic New England community of approximately 3,600. Tulsa's Minor League team was a seemingly unlikely purchase for Went Hubbard, who initially wanted to acquire an East Coast franchise.
"When Dad sold the family business, he wanted to own and operate his own baseball team," said Jeff. "And what he did was, he hired Scott Boras."
"This was before anybody knew who Scott was," said Dale, of today's best-known player agent. "Our dad was in the poultry business, and Scott was in the poultry business. He was a lawyer. So he and Dad knew each other before Scott got into what he's doing now."
Before deciding what team to buy, Went embarked on a scouting expedition of sorts.
"There were three Minor League teams for sale. And there was the Tulsa Drillers, and they were not for sale," said Jeff. "But Scott knew the owner of the Texas Rangers, and the Rangers owned the Drillers at the time. So what my dad did, he picked a weekend and flew into each city. Buy a $5 ticket, go to three games, sit in different areas, check out the ballpark. He told us when he got to Tulsa he fell in love with the city and the people."
Went purchased the Drillers in December 1986, and, via a rather extraordinary set of circumstances, Jeff joined him there in 1987. An infielder who played collegiately at the University of North Carolina, he was drafted by the Orioles in 1984 and spent 1986 in the Twins organization. At the end of the season the Twins traded him to the Rangers, who assigned him to Tulsa.
"It was all a coincidence," said Jeff, who also served as a coach for the Drillers in 1991. "We all flew out here in April. I remember the coaching staff coming up to me, 'Hey, Hubbs, the pitching screen sucks. Get your dad to get a new pitching screen.' Two days later we had a new pitching screen. ... I don't know this for a fact, so I could be wrong, but I doubt there's any owner of a Minor League team that can say he also played for and coached the team."
As for the whole "owning the team" part of the equation, Jeff and Dale both needed to come around to that. During Went's time running the Drillers, from 1986 through 2005, the brothers were immersed in family and work obligations and had no interest in being involved. Went sold his majority share of the team in 2006, reacquiring it in 2010 with Jeff and Dale now fully on board.
"Dad had Alzheimer's -- that's how we got involved. I had power of attorney over his affairs," said Dale. "I had to come out here and I wasn't looking forward to it, but I fell in love.... Everybody out here is so friendly. People treated us so nice, but that had a lot to do with our dad. Everybody had a lot of respect for our dad and because of that they were just wonderful to us. We liked running the business end of it and being involved."
Went passed away in 2012 at the age of 83. Dale lives in New Hampshire and Jeff is based out of North Carolina, but the Hubbard brothers are at the ballpark for every game and make visits throughout the offseason as well. Jeff says they spend a lot of their time mingling with ushers and ticket-takers, "to show them how important their position is and how much we appreciate what they do." Beyond that, it's "just putting out fires, whatever's needed wherever."
It's an approach that Went Hubbard would have appreciated, as it's an approach that he inspired. Dale sums it up thusly: "Our philosophy is to work hard and have fun doing it."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.