The Big 2-0!

By Will Rumbold
This feature originally appeared in the 2009 Red Wings yearbook

Don't let the graying hair fool you ... it's a testament to experience and maybe the ubiquitous pressure of being general manager of a baseball team, but Dan Mason is still the youthful, hardworking guy many of you remember from the Silver Stadium days in the early-'90s. And when you go back that long – to 1990 when he started with the Red Wings – and count to the present, you might notice we've got an anniversary on our hands.  Yup, Dan Mason's Wings career is hitting the big 2-0.  Twenty years with the hometown team, including 15 at the helm.

As I write this in March without his knowing, it's a couple of days following a speaking appearance I had at a community function, and as a way of detailing my own career path at such events, I like to hop-scotch through the amazing Red Wings era we've passed through, and to be sure, the key players have been Naomi Silver, the late-great-Elliot Curwin, Gary Larder, Joe Altobelli ... and Dan Mason. 

My career has been a kind of small mirror off to the side (I started in 1991), and the way I verbalize the era is to chronicle the experiences of the Red Wings Family like I'm both a participant and stat-keeper.  Mase has been the point guard for most of it, and even in his early years, he was a gritty sixth man who gave great minutes, infused effort into every game, scrapped for loose balls, and dropped in a few rainbow jumpers when he was open.

To wit, consider the remarkable experiences and change the ballclub has enjoyed over the Mason years:

- In his first year, the 1990 Red Wings won the Governors' Cup (a nice start).

- 1991-93 ... talk of a new stadium started brewing and went from "good idea" to an agenda item for all involved.

- 1994 and '95 were political lightning-rod years, including Governor Pataki's initial ‘95 budget that didn't include stadium funding.  It turned out for the better, as it gave us two years to appropriately say good-bye to Silver Stadium, with a unique romp down Memory Lane (while also looking forward). And of course, on the personal end of the spectrum, Dan luckily married the former Sheila Ragus, and would soon welcome Cam and Anna to the Mason tribe.

   Sidebar ... Dan had moved from Director of Promotions & Group Sales to Assistant GM to GM (’95), and as he’d tell you, in his first month in the Big Chair – which Alto kept warm and swiveled toward him – it quickly got chilly ... stadium funding was pulled, which prompted StadiumStock, a Jeff Manto-attended event that was a unique watershed signal that Rochester would accept nothing less than a new ballpark.  Dan was cheerleader and host, and those who then worked for the ballclub will never forget it. That day, for about 30 seconds, we thought the expected foot of snow would be a bummer, but then looked at Old Man Winter as an ally ... " How many people went out in that weather to rally for the new ballpark?!"

All the while, Mase was establishing himself as the starting point guard, the staff was strong and committed (although we sometimes felt like being committed), and we were continuing a tough but rewarding Rochester-style hike through snow and rain, sunshine and heat:  closing one stadium and opening another.  Back to the chronology ...

- 1996 ... The Final Season, the Sequel ... Dan presided over an atmosphere of, "All ideas on the table."  For all of what Frontier Field would soon offer (including a Year One championship), 1996 stands as my favorite season, and I'm sure Mase would have a hard time not agreeing (despite losing in the finals, when closing with a championship would've been a 10-pound cherry on a boat-sized sundae that everyone worked so hard to make).  It's also notable because one Daniel J. won the first of two consecutive I.L. Executive of the Year Awards.

- 1997 … Incredible, from the excitement of fans and sponsors, through the Governors' Cup championship ... and even that was better than could be scripted:  a full five-game series and The Catch by P.J. Forbes.  The post-game celebration combined the relief of letting the air out of an enormous hot-air balloon we were all riding in for a long time, and the sheer exuberance of winning something rare.  And speaking of cherries on top, the ballclub was graced with two prestigious Minor League Baseball awards.  Frontier Field was off and running, and Dan was deservedly heralded.

- 1998 ... the honeymoon continued, and we were all bestowed with the best, most encompassing baseball award anyone could receive – a distinction as Baseball City, USA by Baseball America, an award given about once a decade (a new "champ" has yet to be named).

- 1999 ... as soon as we figured things would calm down, we were awarded the privilege of hosting the 2000 Triple-A All Star Game ……

- 2000 ...... and what a game it was!  Fans stuffed the place, ESPN2 showed a festive, vibrant atmosphere, and fellow administrators were impressed … all deftly guided by Naomi and Dan.

- 2001 and 2002 were down years, but insiders just might admit that our best marketing was done with those losing teams in a poor economy ... think Tent Boy and  Zippy Chippy.

- 2003 – present … the Twins Era can be lumped together:  winning more than losing, increasing attendance six years running, a near-championship in 2006, an improved Frontier Field, and an established GM who laments the gray but not the experience.  Consider the recent improvements:  new video board, new field, a burgeoning TV schedule, the 10th-Inning Bar, the Patio Enclosures Power Alley Grille, and a new party suite.  And a year ago we looked upon our brothers and sisters in  Batavia and invited them into The Family.  We’ve been busy.

Along with Naomi Silver and a forward-thinking board led by able prez Gary Larder, Dan has helped navigate through it all, from key decision-making and fresh ideas, to never backing away from the early work ethic.  No one dwells on it this way, but it turns out to be legacy stuff.  This will be an era looked back on as the second most pivotal in Rochester's inimitable baseball history ... second to Morrie Silver saving baseball in Rochester in the late '50s.

  The team has had its bear markets, but while we’ve all watched our 401(k)s become 201(k)s, the bull market continues for Red Wings Baseball, and Dan Mason has the reins on this crazy bull … hopefully for another 20 years.

From Naomi Silver:   Dear Dan: To think that you have been with us 20 years is hard to believe. A twenty year veteran of a company can sometimes conjure up a picture in our minds of someone who is not nearly as young and cool as you! But, after twenty years, I think you have your finger on the pulse of what our fans want more than ever. I can hardly remember a time when you weren’t here, as a part of the fabric of this organization.I want to thank you, for all our readers to share, for the enormous and seemingly never ending devotion you have to this organization and its customers, fans and sponsors alike. You are the first to arrive, the last to leave, and never, ever turn away a request to give of yourself in a manner that we all aspire to. You are a great leader; a respected and loved manager of people. You truly have a gift, and we’re glad and grateful that you’ve chosen to share that with our family – the Red Wings’ and the Greater Rochester community. And to Sheila, Cam and Anna, thank you for sharing your devoted husband and father. While we know his family is without a doubt most important to him, we are grateful to be second. Thanks for sharing him with us!

With great admiration,
Naomi