AKRON  One of the common sights for fans on the Canal Park concourse and those in the press box at Akron RubberDucks games is owner Ken Babby hurrying around, tackling various tasks and even ending up on the field occasionally.

Ironically, owning the team and Babby’s life in general largely mirror his always-in-motion act at games.

Babby, who bought the franchise in 2012, lives something of a dual life. In addition to owning the RubberDucks, he also owns the Double-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, an affiliate of the Miami Marlins.

Add in the fact that his son and fiancee live in Washington, D.C., and life can get a bit hectic at times. The story of how he came to own two minor league teams is one that traces all the way back to his childhood.

CLOSE TO SPORTS

“I really grew up around sports. my father (former Phoenix Suns president Lon Babby) worked for the Orioles and was the general counsel for the Washington Redskins, so I was in the arena of sports from an early age,” Babby said.

Still, when he began his career after college, sports wasn’t the destination. For 13 years, Babby worked at the Washington Post, including his final six with the paper as the company’s chief revenue officer. His primary role in that time was overseeing the area of digital revenue, but the idea of being in the sports world stuck with him.

When he left the Post in 2012, he went out in search of a chance to break into the sports world and possibly buy a team.

“I was driving around the East Coast and Midwest and looking for a team,” Babby said. “I had no roots here in Akron, but the community here was really compelling and the ballpark was a big draw.”

With the then-Akron Aeros up for sale, Babby entered into negotiations with owners Mike and Greg Agganis and eventually bought the team. 

With part of his life still in Washington, he took control of the Akron franchise and has spent the past five years making significant changes to the team, including a new nickname, renovations to Canal Park and other minor tweaks. But even with all that owning a team entails, when the opportunity to buy a second team came around in 2014, Babby decided to pursue it.

DOUBLING UP

“I bought the team in 2014, although the previous owner wanted to run the team for one more season, so we stepped back and let him do his thing and say goodbye to the community,” Babby said.

The second team, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, plays in the Southern League. Former owner Peter Bragan’s desire to run the team for one more season meant Babby didn’t have an active role with the Jumbo Shrimp in his first season owning the team. When he started working hands-on with the team in 2016, it added an interesting twist to his story.

Because all minor league teams play at the same time of year, Babby needed to spend time in both Akron and Jacksonville during the season. Simply put, the travel schedule filled up quickly, necessitating the ability to fly between the two teams as often as multiple times a week.

“I’m part of a group of people that own a private plane, and I’m basically the majority owner,” Babby said. 

He and his co-owners of the plane share use of it, but it’s safe to say that Babby logs a lot of miles in the air on the small plane. Depending on which team has a homestand in a given week, Babby’s location can change more often than that of the target in a game of Whack-A-Mole. He has a home in Akron and apartments in Jacksonville and Washington and shuffling between the three can get confusing.

“It’s a lot, managing between three cities. My home base is Akron, my son and fiancée in Washington, D.C., and then you have Jacksonville, so I really live my life in that triangle and work in that triangle,” Babby said. “Most days I wake up and have no idea where I am and that used to be very concerning feeling, so tried to create comforts of home in all three cities. I use same brand toothpaste, the same brand toothbrush and keep razor in same place in all three and even though those seem like small things, they help create that comfort of home.”

In on recent week, Babby began in Akron, staying through a day game on Thursday. Immediately afterward, he flew to Jacksonville for a homestand, then returned to Akron three days later for the end of Akron’s own homestand. Being an owner doesn’t entail as much of the day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts tasks that require specific attention, so a large part of owning a minor league team, according to Babby, is assembling a good team and providing them with the resources and autonomy to do their jobs.

In Akron, that includes general manager Jim Pfander. In Jacksonville, it’s GM Harold Craw. Once those individuals and the right sales, marketing, food and fan services personnel are in place, the owner’s job becomes much easier.

Still, traveling frequently can wear a person down and so Babby tries to work out five or six times a week and eat as healthy as possible - meaning not always indulging in the calorie-heavy ballpark food fans enjoy when when come to games at Canal Park or in Jacksonville. As for the idea of some day owning a Major League Baseball team, Babby insists it’s not something he gives much thought to, for various reasons.

“The businesses are very different. In MLB, those guys wake up every day and think about winning a World Series and how they can build a business to win a championship. Our baseball performance is a function of the Cleveland Indians and the players here in Akron and guys can be here one week and gone the next, so you can’t build the business particularly on baseball winning, it has to be on providing a great baseball experience for fans,” Babby said. “I love minor league baseball and I’m really proud to be in this business. This year between Akron and Jacksonville, we’ll serve over 600,000 fans, so I don’t give a lot of thought to owning a major league team.” 

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB