Blair Hoke was on a path to a career in education until she realized a change of direction was necessary. That decision placed her on the road to working in professional baseball. The Pulaski Yankees to be exact. She discussed her career, experiences and advice for those aspiring to work in a professional baseball front office.
With the decision to take her career path a new direction, she accepted a position with a local auto group. The position was coordinating a community partnership program that helped raise funds for local schools that suffered from budget cuts.
“After college, I pursued a career in education and quickly realized it was no longer the direction I desired. In September of 2012, I accepted a position with the Shelor Automotive Group prior to their purchase of Calfee Park, to coordinate their Growing the Future Program. A community partnership that works with 43 schools in the New River Valley to help raise necessary funds due to the budget cuts in public schools through fundraising, donations, special events, scholarships, and much more.”
In 2014, Hoke’s career with the Shelor Auto Group would intersect with Calfee Park and professional baseball. The Pulaski Mariners operations transitioned into a new era with Shelor’s ownership. Their personnel decision to lead the transition came from within as they tabbed Hoke with the role of moving forward.
“I was tasked to shadow the previous ownership group in their final season to absorb as much information as possible. To have a solid business plan to move forward and ensure success for the ballpark once the transition of ownership was complete. From daily operations and major league club relations to Minor League Baseball requirements and marketing strategies, we dove into all aspects of operations during the 2014 season. In September of 2014, the Shelor Automotive Group purchased Historic Calfee Park and announced that Pulaski would be home to the New York Yankees rookie league affiliate in the upcoming 2015 season. During this transition period I quickly fell in love with the industry, the challenges, the relationships, and the expectations. I knew I wanted to be a part of this major revitalization.”
Under new ownership and a new affiliation with one of baseball’s most storied franchises, Pulaski has seen a revitalization. Being a part of this renaissance has been rewarding personally and professionally for Hoke.
“Being a part of this amazing transition has been beneficial both personally and professionally. I have been able to gain so much knowledge and experience with this transformation. From the major park renovations to the transition of affiliates, to the purchase of the ballpark, each experience provided an opportunity to continue to learn and see what additional skills I was capable of. It has been so rewarding to be a part of this journey from the beginning and to be involved in every aspect of the growth of the Pulaski Yankees and Calfee Park.
Personally, I am lucky to meet and establish new relationships every single day. From our fans, employees, league members, and sponsors, to community members, business partners, vendors and MiLB personnel, I am very thankful for each connection I have made along the way. The rebirth of baseball in Pulaski has helped me grow through the challenging, ever-changing environment that I continue to love more every single day. I am so proud to have witnessed the growth from what the ballpark was, to what it has become today.”
Being a part of the transition and rebirth has been rewarding, but also come with its challenges. Her day-to-day responsibilities include not only ballpark activities, but ownership expectations, meeting the needs of the parent club and more.
“A rookie league General Manager wears many hats and is involved in every aspect of the park’s operations. With a very small front office staff and expectations parallel to full-season clubs, at times there are many duties and tasks at once that require a great deal of multitasking and organization to ensure nothing gets overlooked. My goal on a daily basis is to ensure these four things; make sure we are meeting and exceeding our ownership group’s expectations, assist the league in any way possible to help each of our teams succeed, represent both the New York Yankees and Minor League Baseball professionally, and to challenge myself to reach new goals.
I am fortunate enough to have dependable, hardworking employees, who help me balance the day-to-day challenges and assist in alleviating many time-consuming, yet necessary duties. Without them, we would not be where we are today. Teamwork is absolutely necessary in this industry and one of the many things I love about my career.”
A Pulaski County, Virginia native, Hoke has a sense of pride in the team’s connection to the community. While the day-to-day responsibilities at the ballpark are important, there’s a bigger picture in growing the town and the county.
“There’s a huge sense of pride knowing that the success of Calfee Park and the Pulaski Yankees hits close to home and that it’s an integral piece of our local community. I was born and raised in Pulaski County, so I am passionate about the growth of this small town. It adds to the drive of the success at Calfee Park. Watching attendance grow in three short seasons from 25,000 fans to over 77,000 fans proves that we are making progress in putting Pulaski back on the map. Calfee Park continues to make big strides in becoming a well-known destination in Southwest Virginia. In addition, with the investment in Calfee Park, we have seen a boost of energy in the community. That is something that we are very proud to be a part of.
Hoke’s leadership earned recognition by her peers in the Appalachian League, winning their prestigious Female Executive of the Year Award. The award was an honor, but she quickly recognizes her staff and others working throughout the league for their roles.
“It was an honor to have received this award in 2016 and represent the Appalachian League. But with any award, I accept them on behalf of our entire staff. Without our collaboration, no success would be possible. I admire that the league and MiLB recognize women in baseball and their contributions to the industry.
What is great about working in baseball is we are all on the same team. We all have similar goals and we support one another regardless of gender, title, league, or affiliate. There are many deserving individuals, both men and women, in Minor League Baseball that deserve recognition. It was an honor to even be nominated for the Appalachian League Female Executive of the Year with so many women who have made major contributions and dedicated many hours to the success of our league.”
Hoke has faced challenges and achieved success in Minor League Baseball. Those experiences have allowed her to pass that knowledge forward to those that desire to work in the sport.
“Do not be afraid to put yourself out there to showcase what your skill sets are. Meet as many people in the industry as possible. No connection is a bad one. If there is one thing I have learned while working in Minor League Baseball, it is that clubs seek candidates that have a positive attitude, a strong work ethic and are willing to work hard. This career can often be challenging and require many long hours, but is very rewarding.
Take opportunities and do not be afraid to take risks, regardless of the position. Professional baseball offers so many opportunities for advancement and growth. So, don’t be hesitant to take a position that can help you grow professionally. Take advantage of talking to veterans in the industry. They have been through many transitions and changes and can provide great insight. In addition, I cannot explain how beneficial internships are. Internships in baseball are a great starting point to see what drives you in the industry and what you are most passionate about. Internships also offer real day-to-day experiences to introduce you to the professional baseball world.”