When Syracuse Chiefs' general manager Jason Smorol speaks it's important to listen. 27 days until opening day. But, for Smorol, now in his fifth season at the helm of the Chiefs, there is no beginning or end to a baseball season.   The challenge to keep a club afloat in Central New York has no clock.   […]

When Syracuse Chiefs' general manager Jason Smorol speaks it's important to listen.

27 days until opening day.

But, for Smorol, now in his fifth season at the helm of the Chiefs, there is no beginning or end to a baseball season.   The challenge to keep a club afloat in Central New York has no clock.   This coming season for the Chiefs, at least to those on the outside looking in, is odd.   Last November   shareholders voted to sell the team to the New York Mets.   This season, Syracuse will continue to be the learning ground for Washington Nationals of the future.

But, the business of baseball rolls on at NBT Bank Stadium.

“The Mets have been completely professional about this,” Smorol tells.   “We're going to welcome them with open arms (players under contract with Washington), there's still going to be uniforms, bats, and balls.   We're the host. That doesn't change.”

Smorol's footprint of success, as in saving Chiefs baseball in Central New York, is evident. Baseball is a numbers game, and over the past four seasons, the back of Smorol's virtual trading card is eye-popping.   Attendance has been on the rise each season since Smorol took over as gm in October 2013.   During his first season (2014), Chiefs' home attendance came in at 247,046.   When the stadium on Syracuse's North Side was buttoned up for winter in 2017, fans coming to Chiefs games tallied 292,054.

Smorol believes, with the Chiefs being owned by the Mets but having an affiliation with the Nationals, albeit “different” than a majority of minor league arrangements, it seems like a bigger deal than it is to “outsiders”.

“They (Nationals) don't have to ask for an extension,” Smorol explains of the Chiefs being in their last year of affiliation with Washington that began in 2009.

Communication continues between Smorol and Nationals' director of player development Mark Scialabba. Taking care of players, coaching staff, and manager Randy Knorr remains priority.   However, Smorol is the steward of having the transition of affiliation remain seamless, as the season tickets down – game by game.   The Mets are committed to the Central New York community.   Although the gm is taking a low-key approach to the changing of the baseball guard in Syracuse, those looking in from a fans' perspective, having a big-league club owner from downstate is a really big deal.

At the end of the day, Smorol's mission remains simple – to put on a great show, each time the gates at NBT Bank Stadium swing open.

“At the end of the day nothing changes,” Smorol assures.   ” It (Chiefs baseball) has to be profitable.”

There was a time in the not so distance future when Chiefs baseball was anything but profitable.   At the conclusion of the 2013 season, the Chiefs were deep in debt.   $1 million dollars in the hole.   Along with a loan of $500,000, Chiefs baseball was taken off life support.   Next up, the challenge of saving baseball in Central New York was off to the races. Smorol was carrying the baton, torch, and burden – all at once.

During his juggling phone lines between Washington and New York, Smorol tells of being in constant communication with Mets' Paul Tagliori.   Everything Mets minor league affiliation comes through Tagliori.   Smorol is keeping busy.

In looking towards Chiefs baseball future, Smorol still has the present to think of. One tradition that rolls on this season will be Wall of Fame ceremonies – slated for July 22.

After a decade of developing Nationals' prospects, friendships and memories with players especially have been forged in Syracuse.   Many have reached out to Smorol to offer congratulations and thanks for their experiences in Central New York.   Creating a good track record the last four seasons by Smorol and his staff offer hope for a local baseball future.   It has been a remarkable turnaround.

Although he's where the baseball buck stops in all things Chiefs now, there was a time that Smorol was a fan coming through the turnstiles.

“Coming to games here (NBT Bank Stadium), I never thought I would be the gm,” Smorol recalls.   “I'd come on shareholder night, and with my high school buddies, or see the Chiefs at little league clinics. My family has always been here.”

Smorol is the real deal when it comes to “bleeding” Chiefs baseball. He tells of the acceptance by fans of the Chiefs' transition to changing the name to Salt Potatoes, and having 3,00 little leaguers at a game, as two examples of touching his soul.   He's a baseball-lifer, even if he had an extended break from the game.

With the New York-Penn League (Short-Season Class A), Smorol has significant history.   Stops in Auburn ,Staten Island, Watertown, and Batavia are where Smorol honed his promoting skills, in preparation for returning home to the Chiefs.   It has been that front office, in the trenches experience that brought health back to Syracuse baseball.

Greeting fans, shaking hands as they enter and exit the ballpark, is important and necessary as Smorol sees good business practices.   Making people happy is priority one.

In this final chapter of the Chiefs, Smorol isn't emotional (at least not yet).   Perhaps the final game of the season, at home, on September 3, things may be a little different.   15 years in the game, Smorol has seen it all.   Ironically, the 1962 Chiefs season saw the club have a duel affiliation with the Washington Senators and New York Mets. Today, planning for the upcoming season with Washington, and looking towards the future with New York, Smorol has to have that deja vu (Yogi Berra-style) feeling again .

Relentless, dedicated, and excited, all in a baseball executive's season – that's the Smorol formula for success.

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