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Wind Surge president returns to Wichita to finish what he started

Nadya Faulx, Stephan Bisaha

After three years, Jay Miller is returning as the president of the Wichita Wind Surge. Miller promises to cut prices and increase attendance.

Jay Miller was the first president of the Wichita Wind Surge and oversaw the construction of Riverfront Stadium beginning in 2019.

But the Wind Surge's opening season was canceled by the pandemic, and Miller left in 2020 after owner Lou Schwechheimer died of complications caused by COVID-19.

But when Diamond Baseball Holdings, the team's new owner, asked him about returning to Wichita, Miller told Tom Shine and The Range that it was an easy decision.

Interview Highlights

Jay Miller: Would you go back? And I said, "Yeah, when do you want me to start?" I said I want to finish what I did start. So it was never a question on whether or not I'd come back.

Tom Shine: Attendance in 2021, the first season, was fourth in the 10-team Texas League. Attendance fell nearly 20% last summer and was the worst in the league. Two questions: Why did attendance fall and what's the strategy to make it grow?

I think we lost, I want to say, 600, 700 of our full-season tickets from year one to year two. … That's a big number. And so what I'm working hard to do is try to get that season ticket number back up to where it was, and we're making some great strides.

And then the other thing, just being totally candid as a fan, I just don't think our fans were treated that great. I think the pricing was too high. I think the concessions were too high. And one of the first things I did when I got to town was to take our season ticket prices back to what they were before we played a game here.

Why did you leave?

I was the first guy on site here and Lou followed shortly after. But you know, Lou and I were best friends from across the field for what, 35, 40 years?

And the dynamic just changed when Lou passed; it just wasn't the same. I was not going to be in charge of the new stadium as far as the role I had.

I talked with you in 2019 during your first stint here and you told me that moms are critical to the success of minor league baseball teams. Explain that theory.

I always talk about moms because I grew up with the greatest mother in the world. There were four boys and mom dictated where we went, what we did. And we were a blue-collar family and money was tight. But mom would pick the events, and she wanted family entertainment and something wholesome.

I feel like I got dad or I got the guys cause we're baseball fans. But if you can get mom coming out and having a good time ….

Let's talk about Diamond Baseball Holdings. They're the new ownership company of the Wind Surge. … What are they going to bring to the table?

They own 13 (minor league clubs) right now, and there are only 120 minor league teams. And from talking to (CEO Peter Freund) and the other people that run DBH, they may have another 10 or 12 before the end of the year. And so they want to own all these minor league teams, and they want to put their thumbprint on it and run them right.

Will fans notice anything with the new ownership group?

Well, the one thing I know they're going to notice is their billfold. And to me, that's the most important thing when they come out here.

I had a lady call me … she said, "I don't know you, but I know you're the guy making changes there to the pricing. And I punched in the numbers and it looks like I can come back for about 40% less … coming up, 2023, than when I came in 2022." And I go, "Well, I'm doing my job. If you come twice instead of once, I've done my job."

So that's what we're all about. We're not going to finish 10th in attendance; we're going to finish in the top two or three. I promise you.

Does the NBC World Series have a future back in the stadium?

I hope so. I don't want to get in the way of the contract they've already signed, but I've told them, "If you want some relief from some of these games, we'd love to have them." But to me, that was part of the promise that was made when we came in. I can't do anything about it right now, but I can certainly say we're here when you guys are ready.

You've been part of baseball now for 40 years, is it?

This is my 40th year in baseball.

What's the attraction? What keeps you coming back to baseball?

There are just so many great memories … My kid, he played professional baseball. He's a scout now with the Seattle Mariners and just watching him over the years …

But it's just the memories and the people. … I worked for George Bush; Nolan Ryan was my partner. You see his pictures all over my wall here. Reid Ryan (Nolan's son) was the president of the Astros, and he calls me his mentor. It's the connections that you make in baseball and the people that you associate with, and it's priceless.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.