2022 Evansville Otters vs Gateway Grizzlies

Evansville Otters Balance Winning With Fan Experience

Evansville Otters Balance Winning With Fan Experience

Coming into 2022, the Otters have 16 winning seasons. They’ve made 12 trips to the postseason with six FLCS appearances and two league championships.

Jun 30, 2022 by Stephen Kerr
Evansville Otters Balance Winning With Fan Experience

Bosse Field has been home to the Evansville Otters since the team was established in 1995. But the ballpark and the city’s baseball roots go back over 100 years.

The first game took place on June 17, 1915, with the Evansville Evas shutting out the Erie Sailors 4-0 in front of over 8,000 spectators. With a construction cost of $65,000, Bosse Field became the first municipally owned sports stadium in the United States. It’s currently the third oldest professional baseball park still in use behind Fenway Park in Boston (1912) and Chicago’s Wrigley Field (1914). Hank Greenberg, Warren Spahn, Bob Uecker and Jack Morris are just a few of the major leaguers to have played there representing Evansville teams. 

Even Don Mattingly Way, the street housing the Otters’ headquarters, bears the name of the former Major League player and manager born in Evansville. While the park has embraced the comforts of a modern-day baseball experience, it has also managed to maintain its historic presence in the community.

“It’s had plenty of time to create a name for itself, not only in our community but nationwide,” said Preston Leinenbach, an Evansville native who became the Otters’ director of communications in 2017. 

“Not only does the history speak for itself, but what it does for our community is [to] unify the city of Evansville. It brings people together during the summertime.” 

The Otters have done the same over their 25-plus-year history. Coming into 2022, the team has 16 winning seasons and six with at least 54 victories. They’ve made 12 trips to the postseason with six FLCS appearances and two league championships (2006 and 2016). Over 80 players have signed with MLB organizations, with three getting to the big leagues.

Leinenbach attended many Otters games as a kid. It took him a while to understand the process of players coming in and out on a regular basis. While attending the University of Evansville, he interned with the team before being offered the full-time communications position upon graduation. It was an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.

“There were a few times me and my friends as kids came and participated in the on-field promotional games between innings,” Leinenbach recalled. 

“That was always a memorable moment, but also coming out as a passionate sports fan just to watch baseball.” 

The team plays on a Bermuda grass surface, and the ballpark dimensions range from 315 down the left- and right-field lines to 400 in center. The Corona patio deck was added in 2014 and offers a picnic area for groups that includes a deck in right-center field.

“Ultimately, (the patio deck) probably holds about 200 people, but we do have a tent behind it as well with picnic tables so we have overflow,” said Travis Painter, who took over as Otters general manager in 2021 after serving in the same capacity with the Hagerstown (Maryland) Suns, the Washington Nationals Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. 

“It’s an all-you-can eat picnic: hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips, baked beans, soda and bottled water. They also get a free hat for that upper tier.”

Putting a quality team on the field while creating a full family experience can be quite a balancing act. But the Otters pride themselves in being able to do both successfully by trusting each aspect of the club to do its job.

“All our player development is handled by our coaching staff,” Painter explained. 

“They know what the salary cap is and where they need to stay. From a promotions standpoint, we do that (separately). We’re not really selling baseball, we’re selling entertainment. Like our owner (Bill Bussing) says, ‘dinner and theater’.”

Part of that entertainment experience involves spectators of the four-legged variety. At each Sunday home game, fans are allowed to bring their dogs to the ballpark and get discounts on hot dogs. Known as the Dog Days of Summer, the attraction has become quite popular.

“It seems like everybody has a furry friend,” Leinenbach said. 

“For them, sometimes it’s difficult to get away from the house for a little bit and make sure the dog is OK. We set water bowls around the ballpark for the dogs, and it’s helped increase our attendance on Sunday games.”

Attending an Otters game is akin to going to an amusement park, where amenities are just as important as the rides. Children can entertain themselves in the kids zone which contains a playground, inflatables and a bubble area. Fans can enjoy live music before games, giving them an incentive to arrive early. 

Theme nights include Super Hero Night, Princess Night, Taco Tuesday, Senior Connection Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday. Throwback nights to the 1960s and ’80s along with postgame fireworks also make up this season’s game attractions.

But the fan experience wouldn’t be complete without interaction with the players. Area Little League teams can purchase a Baseball Buddies package consisting of a food voucher and an opportunity for kids to run onto the field with players before the game. Kids can run the bases after each home game and get autographs from the players, as long as the field isn’t wet.

The coronavirus pandemic brought its share of challenges in 2020 and 2021, but attendance has steadily improved. With less than half of the 2022 season completed, the Otters are already halfway to their attendance goal of 100,000. In an effort to promote women’s sports, the Otters hosted a two-day USSSA Softball showcase last season, which will return for three days this season.

“It’s a good way for us to showcase the women’s sport along with the men,” Painter explained. 

The Otters regularly partner with nonprofit organizations in the Evansville area for specialty theme nights to help charities with their fundraising. A certain percentage of redeemed tickets gets each group a donation. Players and other team personnel make appearances in the community throughout the season. Between sponsorships and season tickets, sales for 2022 are higher than they’ve been since the Bussing family took over ownership of the team in 2001.

“Last year was a little bit slower,” Painter said. 

“This year has changed that quite a bit. We’re very fortunate to be having a good year.”

The Otters just missed the postseason in 2021, finishing behind the Florence Y’alls in the FL West Division. Despite both teams having 57 wins, the Y’alls played one less game, giving them the division crown by half a game.

Through 38 games this season, Evansville sits in second place, 2-1/2 games behind the Washington Wild Things with a 22-16 mark. Andy McCauley, who has managed the team since 2010, has led the Otters to five postseason appearances, including the 2016 league championship. He has the most regular season wins as a manager in franchise history and has managed the most games. 

Painter is optimistic about the team’s prospects the rest of this season, both on and off the field.

“On the business side, we’re doing very well,” he said. 

“On the field, we’re in second place in the division. There’s still a lot of baseball left to be played. We’re hoping to continue to trend in the right direction.”