IMG_7164CC1When asked about his proudest moment in baseball, Sky Sox General Manger Tony Ensor naturally lists his two Southern League championships with the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A minor-league franchise he managed in Alabama. But his proudest moment, perhaps, was as a Little League outfielder called in by his coach hours after a dentist’s visit. Stuffed with gauze, his mouth still numb, a fly ball was hit in his direction. His arm raised, admittedly more to shield his eyes from the sun, the ball fell into his mitt for the final out. Ensor tells that story with the same passion he evokes for the community, his Sky Sox and defending baseball as America’s game.

How did you end up as GM of the Sky Sox?

I was born in Kentucky and raised in Tennessee. I started working in baseball in 1985 as a groundskeeper for the Chattanooga Lookouts, which was the Double-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners at the time. … I was [in Chattanooga] for five years and left at the end of the [1989] season after a championship to go to Birmingham, Ala., which was, at the time, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. … From there I was stadium operations manager, then director of group sales, director of sales, assistant general manager, vice president, then general manager, then president and general manager when I left [Birmingham] in 2004.

What does a GM in baseball do?

I try to create a vision for the organization, whether that be the marketing side, the sales side, the facilities, the food and beverage side. I try to take the best ideas we find across the country; I go to a lot of meetings, a lot of seminars, sharing best practices, to find out what we can bring back to Colorado Springs that would be great for our fans. … It’s setting a path for the organization, giving us a direction and keeping us on course by plugging the right positions with the right people.

You broke attendance records this year, but you also had the worst record in Triple-A baseball. Was this a successful season?

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Absolutely. Wins and losses, we don’t get to control that. But what we do control is our efforts in the community, getting them to the ballpark … and experiencing Sky Sox baseball. That’s what we consider a success on our side. We certainly want a winning team on the field. We know people want that. … But it goes to show you people want to come out and support the team.

Since the team signed the player development contract with the Milwaukee Brewers, are you concerned about the Sky Sox no longer affiliating with a Colorado brand?

The response we’ve had since we’ve made the announcement has been overwhelmingly positive. … It was a bit of an education process, because [realignment] happens all over the country every year. Fans in Colorado Springs hadn’t experienced this in 22 years. We had a lot of people think the Sky Sox were leaving. We’re not. We were with the White Sox at one time. We were with Cleveland at one time. We were with the Rockies. We view that relationship with the Rockies as a part of our history and that’s something we are very proud of. The number of players we put in the big leagues over that 22-year period is amazing. Close to 70 percent of Sky Sox players went on to play in the big leagues. … Quite honestly, I think this creates some excitement for next year. There will be a lot of people in town who have never seen players from the Brewers. The Milwaukee Brewers have had a lot of success at the major-league and minor-league level. … The team we’re likely to have will be an exciting product on the field.

What life lessons can you learn from baseball?

Baseball is a long game. It’s a nine-inning game and it changes from the first pitch to the last pitch. You have to adapt and adjust, just as you have to adjust in your personal or business life. … The thing I love about baseball is, it’s a team sport, but at times, it’s also a very individual sport. If you’re a batter faced with a 3-2 count, bases loaded and you’re down by one in the ninth inning, that’s all you. You get opportunities to succeed and to fail and you have to learn from those lessons. … It’s a very humbling sport. The greatest players in the game bat .300. They fail seven times out of 10. … There are a lot of people who would say you learn from that.

Some say football has passed baseball as our national pastime. What’s your opinion on the health of the sport today?

I think the health of the sport is at a very high level. Are you looking at TV ratings or the participation rates? There is still a high level of participants in the game of baseball across the country. I think it’s still America’s game. … I think baseball is one of the most beautiful games. It’s very athletic but it’s also very poetic. And there’s the history of the game. There’s no other sport in the world that carries the history and relies so much on its history like baseball does. That’s what I really love about the game.

You have a son named Gehrig. There’s an obvious baseball connection there. What about your daughter, Grace? Were you a Mark Grace fan?

More like Princess Grace. I wanted to name her Ruth and get Gehrig and Ruth together again, but that got nixed. I named my son after Lou Gehrig because I think it’s one of the greatest stories in sports. I was a fan of Lou Gehrig and his story my whole life. … [My son] is now playing college ball down in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for Shelton State. My daughter is in high school and she’s as passionate about the game as my son or myself. She probably knows as much about the game as we both do.

But more Princess Grace — not Mark Grace.  n CSBJ