Mariners president Catie Griggs is part of the wave of female patrons of the sport


SEATTLE — Catie Griggs walks through the lobby of T-Mobile Park picking up trash. She sees a plastic spoon and throws it in the nearest recycling bin. A towel. A bottle cap. She is the president of business operations for the Seattle Mariners, the only woman in Major League Baseball to hold this prestigious title. She could order any of the hundreds of stadium workers to quickly clean up after the fans. She preferred to do her part, no matter how menial the task.

You have to spend time with Griggs to realize that’s really who she is. She does not play for a journalist, presenting herself as ordinary and hospitable. She occupies an elite position without an elitist approach. She has the mental agility to impress and intimidate a room, and she is direct as a communicator. But curiosity and service leadership are the traits that set her apart as a boss navigating a burgeoning era in which women are gaining more power and influence in men’s professional sports.

“I’m not someone who started out at 18 saying, ‘One day I’m going to be president of a Major League Baseball club,'” said Griggs, who has been in the job for a while. year. “And here I am. Quite frankly, it would never have occurred to me to even aspire to be the president of a Major League Baseball team. I think, from the perspective of the trajectory of career and career path, it’s all really about that innate curiosity. I like to learn new things. I like to put myself in situations where I’m challenged, where I have certain skills and experiences that I can bring in, but where I’m missing something that I need to do the job well, and where I can build that muscle. I’ve been very lucky to have other people give me those chances.

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In addition to Griggs, the Miami Marlins employ Caroline O’Connor as chief operating officer and Kim Ng as general manager. The New York Mets hired Elizabeth Benn in February to be their director of major league operations, making her the highest-ranked female manager in franchise history. In the NFL, the Las Vegas Raiders named Sandra Douglass Morgan the league’s first black women’s team president this summer. In the NBA, there is an abundance of female representation in the middle ranks and near the top of various organizations.

After an embarrassingly slow journey to this point, the opportunity now exists for greater gender inclusion in male-dominated arenas. He got more hype everywhere, including the NHL and Major League Soccer. While it’s still hard to predict how close we are to seeing a woman become a head coach or manager, it’s already downright absurd to think about how long it’s taken on the business side of these multi-billion dollar franchises. dollars to adopt female management.

Griggs does not manage the Mariners roster. Jerry Dipoto, the president of baseball operations, is in charge. He spent seven years leading the franchise to on-field competition, and after going 90-72 a year ago and missing the playoffs on the last day of the season, the Mariners are in a position to earn a spot of joker in the final. quarter of this 2022 race begins. They hope to make the playoffs for the first time in 21 years, the longest drought among any team in the four most famous American professional sports leagues (MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL).

In that sense, Griggs came at a perfect time after stepping down as business manager of Atlanta United FC and swapping football for baseball. As the ultimate fan-focused leader, she has a knack for bottling up excitement and deepening the bond between a team and its fan base. But she also came to Seattle knowing she had to help rebuild trust in senior management. Former Mariners President and CEO Kevin Mather resigned in February 2021 after a video emerged of offensive comments he made about players at a local Rotary club.

Mather had been with the organization for 21 years. He was promoted in 2014 to replace his predecessor, Chuck Armstrong, who spent 28 years in charge. The franchise needed a new approach even before Mather’s mouth forced it out. The Mariners were in good financial shape despite the playoff drought, but comfortable profit margins are expected for large, established professional teams. This does not necessarily mean that they are working properly.

Last August, just before her first day with the Mariners, Griggs conspired with her husband, Justin.

“What am I going to wear?” she asked.

He laughed and asked her what she wanted to wear.

“I want to wear jeans and Jordans,” she said. “I don’t know. Am I allowed to do this?”

“I’m pretty sure you’re the boss,” Justin told him.

She wore the outfit and took command comfortably. She is a 40-year-old woman and mother of two children. While polite and intentional, she is approachable, self-deprecating, and engaging.

“I’m totally capable of dressing up for the occasion, but that’s who I am,” Griggs said. “I’m relaxed. I’m relaxed. That doesn’t mean I have to have low standards. These things are not mutually independent.

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Griggs followed an atypical path to becoming a sports executive, but his childhood sports experiences explain why his career evolved this way. At age 11, she was home-schooled in North Carolina, which allowed her to learn at an accelerated pace. She graduated from high school and enrolled in classes in North Carolina State at age 14. Sport enhanced her social and emotional development while she was at home by accelerating her studies.

She swam. She played tennis, football and softball. She was riding a horse. Sport meant a connection to her, and throughout her life she was fascinated by how games build community.

“Part of the role of sports in my life growing up wasn’t just the athletic pursuit and the joy that sports can bring and being competitive, although I loved all of that,” Griggs said. “It was also the social element.”

Griggs transferred from NC State to Dartmouth, earned a degree in international studies, and later earned a master’s degree from the college’s Tuck School of Business. She took a job with Turner Sports and rose through the ranks of the organization while learning the intricacies of media rights deals. She left to help launch Futures Sport and Entertainment, then moved on to Atlanta United, helping to quickly guide the franchise from its early days of expansion into a championship organization setting the attendance standards for MLS in a city. known for fan apathy.

She came to the Mariners stating that they would become baseball’s “most progressive” franchise. A year into her job, she balances her impatience – which she considers her biggest flaw – with her desire to learn more about the team and the city, to empower her staff instead of micromanaging and master the rhythm of baseball.

“When she talked about her approach at her press conference last August, the jury was out for me, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll believe it when I see it,'” Mandy Lincoln said, senior director of the team’s experiential experience. marketing. It’s a new role created by Griggs and a challenge Lincoln needed after 15 years with the Mariners. “But she just comes with this style where she listens, she is approachable. She looks at him like, “I want to know what everyone in this organization is doing, how I can help them, how it can make things better.” It’s really refreshing.

Lincoln has a weekly meeting with Griggs. The first question from the boss is always the same: how are you? It is not a polite and obligatory greeting. She wants honesty and she responds with empathy.

Griggs listens first during all meetings, but staff know that when she speaks, she is always equipped with questions and insights that will challenge them to think differently. One day, Griggs thinks of moving concessions to ensure a clear view of the field as spectators circle the hall. Or she asks to study the menus, streamline the ordering process and speed up the queues. She looks at how to reduce costs for fans on certain items or how to better personalize ticketing and seating options by recognizing that fanbases are not monolithic.

“How do we really understand what people are looking for? she wondered.

She loves walking around the stadium and watching. She jokes about being angry that she only averages 10,000 steps per game, less than the 20,000-plus she recorded during MLS matches. She notes which way fans are looking and when. She sees everything, even a glitch on the video card.

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After the first game of a rare double day-night game in Seattle this season, Griggs put on gloves and helped the workers clean up between games. She found a baseball in the center field bleachers. She put it in her pocket, and when the doors opened for Game 2, she saw a boy dressed in full Mariners gear sitting with his family on level 300. He looked about 4 years old. .

“Are you a Mariners fan?” Do you play baseball? Griggs asked him.

“If I threw a ball that one of the players hit, do you think you could catch it?”

She threw it away. The boy circled him and cried.

As Griggs roamed the stadium that night, she knew she was in the right place.

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