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After rapid rise, virus puts career of Marauders GM on hold

At 27, Craig Warzecha will have to wait until 2021 to get back to the business of minor league baseball

Craig Warzecha and his staff with the Florida State League’s Bradenton Marauders were really looking forward to their top of the second inning.

The first went smoothly enough for the 27-year-old Marauders’ general manager, who succeeded Rachelle Madrigal last March and underwent a crash course on the Bradenton minor-league baseball market.

What’s that word often used to describe a person’s first year in any position of responsibility?

Transition? Warzecha, along with his front-office staff of 12, had one.

“I think last year was almost that transition year for us,” he said, “where we had some new staff in new roles and we were kind of getting our bearings last year, which is why I was really looking forward to this year.”

Now, with this week’s announcement that the 2020 minor-league season has been canceled, Warzecha only can look forward to 2021.

“It’s been tough,” he said.

The kid who grew up in central New Jersey following the Yankees went on to play high school baseball. That’s where Warzecha’s playing career ended, but where the dream of working in baseball began.

“I’m not much of a sports fan of the other sports,” he said. “I just kind of had a thing for baseball. I kind of had my sights set on working in the game out of high school.”

And that’s when Craig Warzecha started making all the right moves. He applied to 10 colleges. Nine were located in the Northeast. One in the South. The University of Tampa.

It had the reputable sports management program Warzecha sought, but as with real estate, the school was also about location, location, location.

Anyone wanting to get a job in baseball after graduation could do a lot worse than attending a college smack dab among the spring homes of several MLB teams.

With the Yankees in Tampa, the Blue Jays in Dunedin, the Phillies in Clearwater, the Pirates in Bradenton, the Orioles in Sarasota and the Rays in Port Charlotte, Warzecha made the decision to leave the swamps of Jersey and motor south.

“I have never looked back,” he said. “Once I came down here, nothing was really pulling me back home.”

He had no reason. Warzecha had several internships while at UT. As a freshman, he worked part-time in the spring in the Phillies’ ticket office and gained experience working a summer at the minor-league baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg.

After Warzecha graduated from college, the Phillies didn’t forget him, hiring him on a part-time basis. He worked for the organization for about 18 months, but never with a specific job title.

So when Warzecha applied for, and got, a coordinator of sales position with the Pirates in 2015, he made the short move from Clearwater to Bradenton.

And that’s when Warzecha’s career hit overdrive. After a year and a half in the sales job, he was promoted to Marauders’ assistant general manager when the previous GM got another job. Warzecha wore that hat for about 18 months when Madrigal took a job with MLB as director of Dodgertown in Vero Beach.

Warzecha had a new job before the old one had a chance to get cold. The Marauders’ GM references a quote to describe his rapid rise with the Pirates.

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” he said. “I’ve been prepared along the way and try to do the best I can in my current role.”

In his first year in Bradenton as GM, Warzecha learned the market isn’t the worst in the FSL, nor is it the best. The Marauders in 2019 averaged 1,131 fans, about 60 fewer per game than in Madrigal’s final season as Marauder GM.

“I think we could always draw more,” he said. “I think our community is a great place and I think it just takes time and work to get to where we want to be.”

The cancellation of the season means money received from sponsors and advance group ticket sales must be refunded or credited to next season. It means minor-leaguers lose a year of their careers, vendors lose the money normally made from supplying teams, and fans in these small towns lose out on watching baseball.

Warzecha and his staff still have their jobs, though some have had to take furloughs. He still arrives at work every morning around 8:30.

The difference this year is there’s no game at the end of Warzecha’s work day.

“For me, my life and my summer revolves around our schedule,” he said. “It’s definitely sad times for all of us here.”

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