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Fifteen years after moving west, Mike Gorrasi has built a career and life with the Modesto Nuts

In this portion of our seven-part series on the Colorado Rockies' High-A affiliate Modesto Nuts, get to know front office executive Mike Gorrasi.

The Colorado Rockies' High-A Affiliate Modesto Nuts' front office.
The Colorado Rockies' High-A Affiliate Modesto Nuts' front office.
Jen Mac Ramos

Modesto, Calif. -- When Mike Gorrasi first took a public relations job in the Modesto Nuts' front office back in November of 2000, he probably never thought that 16 years later, he'd still be in town. Today, he runs all of the club's day-to-day activities as the Executive Vice President of HWS Baseball, the affilate's ownership group, and it's been—and continues to be—the job of his dreams.

"I'm that rare person that declared my major before I stepped foot in college," Gorrasi says of his long love for the game's business side. "I went to James Madison University in Virginia, I was a sports management major. I never changed my major there, and then it's been what, 18 or so years since I graduated, and I'm still in the industry."

"I think I just followed what I loved," he adds. "Like probably everyone that works in sports, you hope at one point that you'll be on the other side playing, but some of us learn quicker than others that won't happen, so you change paths."

Coincidentally for the Rockies, an internship rotation during his college days sent a young Gorrasi to Low-A Asheville's McCormick Field, where he spent a summer working within every different department of the Tourists' front office. Always interested in sports generally, Gorrasi found his fit in baseball at that point, and he never looked back.

"I loved it," he says, smiling as he reminisces of his early days in minor league front offices. "I worked hard, I listened, I tried to learn as much as I could. There's a lot of hours working in sports, there's a lot of competition, and with competition typically means there's not a lot of money, so you've got to make sacrifices, and I was willing to do that."

"Maybe some of my buddies were getting good jobs out of college, working 40 hours a week and taking summer vacations," he adds, laughing, "but you know, summer is our big time, and I'm working weekends and nights. But at the same time, I was going to the ballpark every day, and it was fun. I took that experience and knew this is what I wanted to do."

While those working full-time in the front office make a little more money than the players do, minor league baseball is a grind, whether on the field or behind the scenes. Long hours, lots of competition, generally low pay as young men and women work their way up the ranks, and bizarre tasks in small towns far from home leave front office members in just as precarious of an existence as the players they work alongside.

Gorrasi embraced that lifestyle when he was young, though, even going so far as rising to be the Nuts' general manager by 2004 when he was just 26 years old. It took him through some tough times early in his career.

"There was a time early in my tenure here where I wasn't sure if this is what I wanted to do," the New York native admits. "I had moved to Asheville, and then to Quad Cities [for his second job], and then to Modesto. My family was 3,000 miles away, my best friends were back there, and I started to ask myself, ‘do I really want to move every two years? Is that really what I want to do?'"

The Rockies' High-A affiliate Modesto Nuts' home ballpark, John Thurman Field, in pictures

Modesto's John Thurman Field. Image via Jen Mac Ramos.

It took Gorrasi time to find his true role in the game—the young executive figured out he was far better in community outreach and interacting with the public, rather than media relations—and at that point, he hit his stride.

"I started taking over the community development side a little bit, being active in the community and working with schools and kids," Gorrasi says. "That's where everything came full circle for me. As a baseball team in a small community, it became less about the baseball, and more about how can we use baseball to benefit the community. Once I hit that, it was full steam ahead."

Full steam ahead for Gorrasi has meant a laundry list of awards, both for him and for the Nuts' business development arm under his tenure. The club was named the California League's Organization of the Year in 2010 and 2011, and won the Modesto Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Award in 2008. Gorrasi personally was named the California League's Executive of the Year in both 2010 and 2011, as well. Other executives across the league took notice.

"There's been a lot of stability in Modesto, and a lot of that is attributed to Mike," says Mark Wilson, the general manager of the San Jose Giants, entering his 33rd year in the club's front office. "They always find a way to do a little bit better this year than they did the previous year, and that's a great thing from a revenue and a business stand point."

"Mike has been navigating things there for 15 years, and that is an asset," Wilson adds. "As he became ingrained in that community, he was able to have the baseball team get better because of the resources and contacts that he has, that he may not have had in years one, two, or three. Those are the toughest years to turn the needle."

Being around for more than three decades himself, Wilson would know a thing or two about ‘turning the needle,' to use his phrase. In fact, being around for 33 years makes Wilson the only general manager in the league more experienced than Gorrasi—a fact surprising to the Nuts' exec when confronted.

"Jeez," Gorrasi says, laughing when told he's been around for one-fifth of the California League's 75 years of play. "I didn't even think about that."

"It's funny that I'm one of the longest tenured vets now in the league," Gorrasi adds, likening himself to Wilson. "Mark has been here a lot longer than me. He's the guy I've always gone to in the league if I wanted to bounce an idea off somebody or something. Now, he's like ‘why are you calling me? People should be calling you.'"

People do call Gorrasi for advice and help from around the league; Donny Baarns, a broadcaster and front office executive for the Visalia Rawhide since 2008, points to the tenured executive in much the same way as Gorrasi used to point to Wilson.

"There have been a couple times over the years where I have contacted Mike when there was a client that I was trying to get to that I knew was a sponsor in Modesto," Baarns says. "And he has helped a lot. We do try to work together, especially for me as a broadcaster since I travel around and try to meet executives in every place. You definitely lean on each other in the league, and then try to figure out how you can get those sponsors to your park, too."

Baarns, like Wilson, has nothing but good things to say about the way the Nuts have been run based on his perspective from elsewhere in the league.

"Mike has done a great job there, and I know their franchise has been very successful," Baarns says. "They win awards all the time, they hosted a great All-Star game several years ago, and he's developed a reputation for being a very good executive, and very savvy. I respect them for what they've done."

For Gorrasi, though, success isn't about baseball, or even business, as much as it's about the Nuts' impact in the community—and that's where minor league baseball more generally really finds its fit in small towns across the country.

"I got lucky, I was able to find my passion," he admits of his excitement to work with the public, whether through school outreach programs, civic organizations, or local businesses on a daily basis. "Initially, I thought it was just baseball. But really it's this passion in community, and I was able to mesh those together. And then, I just worked hard. I didn't think about the sacrifices I was making, the weekends, or the hours, or making less money than my peers who were doing other things, because it wasn't about the money, it was about the impact."

It's not just the impact Gorrasi and the Nuts make on the community, though; the central California town has had an effect on him over the last fifteen years, too.

"I never would have imagined I'd be here for fifteen years," Gorrasi says, shaking his head in amazement as he thinks back. "Just the nature of the game, you tend to move around a lot, and I truly thought I'd be here for three or four years, and then go to the next spot. But things just worked out for me here. The job is great, I met my wife out here, a variety of good things happened."

The Rockies' High-A affiliate Modesto Nuts' home ballpark, John Thurman Field, in pictures

Modesto's John Thurman Field. Image via Jen Mac Ramos.

Those good things from the last fifteen years mean Gorrasi is in it for the long haul, too—especially in minor league baseball.

"When I got into it, the goal was always Major League Baseball, but that's before I knew what anything meant," he says, chuckling. "I thought coming out of college, ‘yeah, I can probably be Jeff Bridich, right? I know baseball.' But that's not my skill set. There's no way I can do that."

"Also," he adds, quickly, "that's not what interests me. I'm certainly a baseball fan, and just like anyone I talk about players, and I'd do this trade or that trade, but I don't know enough about the advanced analytics and that type of stuff to go into baseball operations."

"The great part about my day is that I can make it to a speaking engagement, go on a sales call, sit down with the staff, and go to a community meeting, so I've got my hands in everything, and I like that," he concludes, noting that jack-of-all-trades responsibility isn't nearly as broad were he to join a Major League front office. "I like having input and impact on multiple areas."

Along with finding that he fits better in minor league baseball than he might in the big leagues, Gorrasi has obviously learned quite a bit about every aspect of the business—and it leaves him with perspective enough to counsel the next generation of young front office hopefuls coming quickly behind him.

"If it's something you really want to do, you have to realize you need to sacrifice, work hard, and know that there's so many people that want to work in sports, you have to be willing to do the dirty stuff," Gorrasi advises. "Maybe the stuff you didn't think you had to do because you got a four-year degree or something. But at the end of the day, this stadium has to be clean no matter what. And if that means I'm in there mopping, which I've done, then that's it. Titles don't mean a whole lot."

Getting close to two decades in Modesto, titles may not mean a whole lot to Gorassi any more, having done nearly every job in the stadium at this point. And whether it's mopping, or media relations, or business management, it's his energy and leadership that has put the Nuts in the strong place they find themselves entering another new baseball season.

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Editor’s Note: This is one piece of a special seven-part feature series Purple Row is doing today to celebrate the beginning of another season of Modesto Nuts baseball. Below are all the other parts of the series about the Rockies’ High-A affiliate in the California League.

Click here to read more about the California League itself, a unique outpost in minor league baseball that's celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer.

Click here to learn more about the Nuts' host families, and the story of one specific family that has hosted the likes of Trevor Story and Dustin Garneau.

Click here to read more about the long relationship between the Nuts and the Rockies, told by front office and player development executives.

Click here to read more about the city of Modesto, and how a community like that impacts what the Nuts do on and off the field.

Click here to read more about John Thurman Field, the Nuts' home ballpark that sits on a site that has hosted baseball in Modesto for a century.

Click here to see more pictures from Modesto’s John Thurman Field, to get a better sense of the ballpark the Nuts call home.

Unless otherwise noted, all images produced by and copyright of Jen Mac Ramos and Purple Row, and may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission. All rights reserved.

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