Indians make rare change at the top

The Indianapolis Indians have made a rare change at the top of the organization.

Randy Lewandowski, 44, this week was named general manager to replace Cal Burleson, who has held that position since fall of 1997.

Burleson, 64, will remain as vice president of baseball and administrative affairs, focusing largely on the team’s relationship with its Major League Baseball parent club and its minor league affiliations. He’ll also focus on community projects.

Max Schumacher will remain as chairman.

Lewandowski, who joined the team as an intern in 1994 and full-time as an assistant ticket manager in 1996, will be charged with overall management of the AAA baseball franchise including ticket sales and service, communications and marketing sponsorship, Victory Field operations and maintenance, and budget management.

Lewandowski appears to be a popular choice. Burleson said the Indians staff gave him a standing ovation when the announcement was made at a company meeting this week.

“Within our plans for continued growth, this announcement designates Randy as a long-term leader of the Indianapolis Indians organization,” Burleson said. “It’s a distinction that is well-earned.”

Lewandowski’s promotion, Burleson said, was unanimously supported by Indians directors.

When asked the main difference between his former position and his new one, Lewandowski said his new role “will be more external.” He added that he’ll have more direct dealings with sponsors, suite and ticket holders, and the media.

“There’s a big difference between being an assistant general manager and being general manager,” he said.

Lewandowski  served as director of operations from 2001-2007 and assistant general manager from 2007-2014. During Lewandowski’s time with the team, its employee count has risen from seven to 45.

In recent years, Burleson said Lewandowski was the lead in several key projects at Victory Field, including upgrades to the digital scoreboards, creation of The Cove, expansion of two gift shops and the center field ticket office, and this year’s massive upgrades to the ballpark’s Wi-Fi system.

The Indians have been on a tear, seeing strong increases in attendance and sponsorship sales.

This year, the team had record attendance of 660,289, beating the previous record of 659,237 in 1998. Attendance has risen steadily since the team drew 549,552 in 2009. Last year’s 637,579 was the highest in Minor League Baseball.

One of Lewandowski’s challenges as GM will be to maintain that growth. He’ll also be charged with continuing to grow sponsorships including seeking naming rights for The Cove, the popular bar area just beyond the left field wall. Captain Morgan was the original naming rights sponsor of The Cove but departed after the 2013 season. Lewandowski said he is optimistic a sponsor can be signed, adding that the team is talking with companies.

“We want to make sure we have the right partner,” Lewandowski said. “We’re feeling pretty good about it.”

With his promotion, Lewandowski will likely play a bigger role in the team’s negotiations for a new lease of Victory Field. The team’s lease for the 18-year-old facility expires March 31, 2016, and team officials are in discussions with the city’s Capital Improvement Board, which owns the venue, for a new lease.

The Indians—unlike the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts—get no tax subsidies and pay the city $500,000 annually to lease the facility on the western edge of downtown. Team officials declined to discuss those negotiations Tuesday.

Lewandowski was born in Chicago, but grew up in Fort Wayne. He graduated from and played baseball at Bishop Dwenger High School. He graduated with a degree in business management from Anderson University, where he earned academic All-American honors as a first baseman and pitcher.

Lewandowski lives in Carmel with his wife, Christina, and their children Alyssa, 16, and Sam, 14.

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