C.J. Knudsen | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

C.J. Knudsen

Background:  

The Connecticut Tigers’ first season in Connecticut was 2010. Arriving from Oneonta, New York, the rebranded Connecticut club signed a 10-year lease for the use of Dodd Stadium in Norwich, with three, five-year renewal options after that. The Single-A minor league club has a player development contract with Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers that runs until 2018. The Connecticut Tigers play in the New York-Penn League with games running from June to September.

C.J. Knudsen joined the Tigers for their inaugural season, becoming vice president of operations in 2010. He was promoted to vice president and general manager in 2011. He has had his current job of senior vice president since December 2013.

Landing a job with the Vermont Expos at age 25 made Knudsen the youngest general manager in professional baseball at the time. He made international headlines in 2003 by sleeping in the dugout for seven nights until the 0-14 Expos got their first win. That finally came after the team had lost 21 straight with Knudsen happily returning to his home and office.

The Mistake:

Some might say it was a mistake in sleeping in the dugout for those seven nights. And it sure felt that way after a skunk visited me by climbing the rail of the dugout between 4:30 and 5 a.m. that first day. But it helped the business. We had terrible team on the field that finished 19-56. I had to do something to liven things up. When life hands you lemons make lemonade.

Making mistakes is natural. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Just make new mistakes. And don’t think you have all the answers.

Some might say it was a mistake in sleeping in the dugout for those seven nights. 

The Lesson:

You’ve got to be versatile. Don’t stay in your comfort zone too long. If you get too familiar with a place then you’re no longer taking risks. It’s good to challenge yourself. I moved to another state, Connecticut, and tried something different. I got a lot out of my years living in Connecticut.

We’ve had some strange stuff happen to us. There was one Friday the 13th in 2011 when our team bus broke down while returning from out of state. We canceled the game that day but we opened the park to the fans. Minor League Baseball means fun; you never know what’s going to happen. You have to take negative situations and turn them into positives.

When the Hartford Yard Goats ran into problems with their stadium we were excited to help them out, by hosting games at Dodd Stadium, and people in our area got to see Double-A baseball, which they haven’t seen for a few years now.

Strong relationships are important. Our season is shorter than some other leagues so that gives us the opportunity to have high school teams play big games at the stadium and host fundraisers for important groups like the American Cancer Society.

Our relationship with the Detroit Tigers is great so our future in Connecticut looks bright. We just named a new coaching staff. Our new manager, Gerald Laird, has 13 years of experience as a Major League catcher and played on championship teams — 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and 2012 American League champion Detroit Tigers — so that will help us.

My general manager, Dave Schermerhorn, is a Norwich guy, graduated Norwich Free Academy. We just promoted Brent Southworth to assistant GM. Brent is a Franklin native and also an NFA grad so our front office is very plugged in to Connecticut and its history.

Hire good people who know the market and your chances of success go way up.

C.J. Knudsen is on Twitter at @cjknuddy and the Connecticut Tigers are at @thecttigers.

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