By Nick Poust
In 1993, Randy Lewandowski had graduated from Anderson University with a degree in business management but with no clear career path.
After college, he moved back home to Fort Wayne to work with his brother-in-law, who owned a chain of liquor stores, but that wasn’t for him. But whe he ran into an old teammate from his Anderson baseball days, everything changed.
“He’d done an internship with the Indianapolis Indians, and I said, ‘Hey, I’d always thought about working in sports. That sounds cool,’” said Lewandowski said, sitting in the Max Schumacher Suite, high above Victory Field. “Back then in the early ’90s, it wasn’t as prevalent. Staffs weren’t as large. There were fewer jobs, but I said I’ll give it a shot.”
In 1994, the internship that ensued, working in the ticketing office at the Indians’ former home, Bush Stadium, was the start of what has become a 24-year relationship with the Triple A baseball team for Lewandowski, a Carmel resident who is in his third season as the Indians president/general manager.
Before the promotion, Lewandowski had progressed through the ranks, working his way up to director of operations in 1997; co-assistant GM in 2002; and sole assistant GM in 2007. Each step, including taking tickets and answering phone calls back in ’94, influenced his objective as GM today.
“I think it goes back to what we’re all about: the fan experience, the fan memory,” he said. “We always put our fans first, and in those roles you’re either trying to get them the best seat possible when they come watch the game, or when you come into the ballpark you have the best experience. It’s clean, it’s comfortable, all of those things that have made us successful over the years.”
Cal Burleson, a Fishers resident and senior vice president with the team, said Lewandowski’s experience and knowledge of the game has contributed to his success.
“Randy has had a feel and a passion for the game itself,” said Burleson, who joined the Indians in 1975 and has served in a variety of roles. “He was an outstanding high school player and was a college All- American at Anderson University. He understood how the game was played.”
Under Lewandowski, during the 2016 season Victory Field not only broke the single-season attendance record set in its 1998 inaugural season but also drew more fans than any other of the nation’s 244 minor league teams. The Indians will have plenty of opportunities to set more records, too, having signed a 20-year lease prior to the 2016 season.
“We’ll know for sure that we’ll have 40 years of baseball here at West and Maryland streets,” Lewandowski said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything, in minor league or Major League Baseball, in regards to where we sit in the city.”
Burleson said Lewandowski is skilled at getting all the departments in the organization to work together.
“He sets a high bar for himself in terms of his own ability, and in doing so sets a high standard for everyone else in the organization,” he said.
Unlike the GM position at the Major League Baseball level, Lewandowski is less responsible for player personnel and more so for the business side of the game. Signing players is decided by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Indians’ parent club.
“We want to win. We want to be competitive. We’re trying to win our league, but also off the field it’s trying to provide a great playing atmosphere for those players, and that means bringing in fans,” Lewandowski said. “That’s really something that we’re proud of. We’ve focused on what we’re about, which is affordable family fun.”
A testament to the committment is an increase in staff. When Lewandowski was an intern, the Indians’ staff consisted of eight people. The number is now 45. As was the case then, everyone from the ticketing managers to the groundskeepers plays a role in making the Indians’ home the place to be.
“We want to be the premier downtown summertime destination in central Indiana,” Lewandowski said. “That’s what we want to be here in Indianapolis, and we feel like we’ve done a very good job of that.”
- Randy Lewandowski was named International League Executive of the Year in 2016.
- In his three years as general manager, the Indians have topped 630,000 fans each season, setting both Victory Field and minor league baseball attendance records.
- Lewandowski was a four-year starter for the Anderson University Ravens baseball team and was named an All-American as both a pitcher and first baseman.