By Joe Southern
There is only one person who has seen every minute of every single game – home and away – in the five-year history of the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Not even Manger Gary Gaetti can make that claim.
“I had a graduation ceremony I went to last year when we were in Lancaster and I missed one game,” Gaetti said.
“And I got thrown out of one the other night,” he added.
Broadcaster Ira Liebman, the Voice of the Skeeters, is the one person who has never missed a minute of Skeeters baseball. That’s more than 700 consecutive games. When it comes to home games at Constellation Field, however, Liebman is in good company as there are several fans and staff who have almost always been there for the team.
Group Services Manager Chris Parsons, Box Office/Ticket Manager Jennifer Schwartz and Senior Sales Manager Tyler Stamm have been with the team from the start and have rarely missed a home game.
Several fans have also maintained near perfect attendance every season. During Sunday’s game, the last of the regular season, the Skeeters honored about 40 season ticket holders who had 90 percent or better attendance this year. Some of them can count on their fingers (and maybe a few toes) the number of Skeeters games they’ve ever missed.
Tammy Wachsmann missed 10 games one year. Rhonda Currie has missed two. Her husband Louis Davis has missed 13. Diane Ferro has only missed three or four games. Ben and Paula Florez have missed a few due to health reasons but otherwise are there every time the gates are open. Hillary and Ira Goldstein dumped the Astros and fully embraced the Skeeters when the team began.
These super fans have become a close-knit family and are an integral part of the Skeeters organization. Currie has become the unofficial team photographer. Hillary Goldstein is on the board of the Skeeters Foundation. Paua Florez is well known for banging her cowbell.
“It was great to see it from inception to actual reality,” Paula Florez said.
The minute Wachsmann heard Sugar Land was going to get a team there was no doubt she was going to be there.
“I want tickets and I want it yesterday,” she said when asked how she felt about the city getting a team.
Tammy and David Wachsmann used to go to minor league games in Corpus Christi, Round Rock and Oklahoma. Now they’re fixtures at Constellation Field. On the rare occasion they can’t make it, they have plenty of family to represent them.
“Our tickets are always used by someone in our family,” Tammy said.
The Florez’s have seats on the concourse on the third base side. Paula rides on a scooter and they need the handicapped seating.
“There is a good draft where we’re sitting,” Ben Florez said of the evening breezes that blow in from right field.
“I came and I was hooked after the first game,” said Paula Florez, who had not been a baseball fan before. “I never thought I’d be a baseball person.”
They had perfect attendance the first three seasons, but missed several due to illness last season. This year they were back on track.
“It’s not drudgery going to 70 games during the season,” Ben said.
Ferro and her husband Johnny were thrilled when the team came to town. She laughs now at her disappointment when the contest was held to name the team.
“I hated the name when it came out,” she said. “But I love it now.”
Currie brings her camera to each game and has a private Facebook page where she shares pictures with players, coaches, staff and their families.
“Photography is my passion,” she said. “It’s a fun way to get to know people.”
She and Davis buy and supply sunflower seeds for the players. Seated behind the Skeeters dugout on the right field side, they interact a lot with the team.
“I remember one game when Manny Mejia hit a home run but the umpire called it foul,” Davis said. “He got angry and the next pitch he crushed it again.”
Coming from New York, the Goldsteins were big baseball fans and used to buy mini-plans for the Astros. Then the Skeeters came along.
“I don’t need the Astros,” Hillary Goldstein said. “I’d rather be 10 minutes from home and support my community.”
Ever the community activist, she joined the board of the Skeeters Foundation.
“What they do for the kids is phenomenal,” she said.
The foundation helps underprivileged children have the opportunity to play baseball by providing uniforms, equipment and helping with ballparks. This year they helped send Sugar Land’s Dream League team to the Dream League World Series.
“These are the things that make this foundation terrific,” she said.
The Goldsteins make about 60-65 of the 70 games each year.
“We don’t give tickets away a lot,” she said.
She and the other fans praised the organization for the fan-friendly focus it has. They all described it as being part of a big family.
“You feel your voice is important,” Hillary Goldstein said.
The feeling is mutual on the side of the organization.
“The fans mean everything here,” said first baseman Delwyn Young. “They mean everything to us throughout our whole careers.”
He said he has felt welcomed ever since he moved here from his home in Los Angeles.
“Sugar Land has been so welcoming to me and my family. I can’t say anything terrible about the fans. They’re always here for us, good and bad,” he said.
Gary Gaetti, the only manager in team history, said he enjoys making friends with the fans.
“They know who they are,” he said. “All the Amen Corner down on the right field line, and you’ve got the regulars behind home plate and in between there. I see them all. I can’t tell you every one of their names, but I know the first names for the most part.”
He said he enjoys seeing the fans that come to the away games.
“I love my fans and they’re like family. You see them and talk with them even if it’s for a brief minute every day. It’s always nice to see them,” he said.
Having spent 20 years in the Majors, he said he loves the closeness and family-friendly environment of independent league ball.
“This is Constellation Field, Sugar Land Skeeters, Sugar land, Texas, family and I love it, I really do,” he said.
The love and respect of the fans carries on in the front office. President Jay Miller is fan-focused and that emphasis filters throughout the organization.
“I have a great relationship with the fans,” said Jennifer Schwartz, director of the ticket office. “We truly have the best fans! I am thankful that working in the ticket office all five seasons has allowed me to get to know them and develop relationships with them. They have become a second family.”
“Seeing our season ticket holders almost every game (some every game) you get to know them on a more personal level,” said Chris Parsons, who has been with the team from the start and is the sponsorship services manager.
“Our 70 home games a year are simply the best part about working for the Skeeters,” added Tyler Stamm, a senior sales manager.
Stamm came here looking for an internship and found much more.
“Aside from my love of baseball in general, I needed an internship in order to graduate with a sport management degree from Texas A&M, so I ended up with the Skeeters during our inaugural season in 2012. Five years later, I’m still here and loving every second,” he said.
One of the first hires was Ira Liebman. In addition to being the Voice of the Skeeters on television and radio, he also does sales. He said he was pitching the team to sponsors before the team or stadium existed. Born in Long Island, he has always been a broadcaster and has worked for other minor league teams before coming to Sugar Land.
“This is the best place I’ve ever broadcast for sure,” he said. “This is one of the top three minor league ballparks in the country.”
He said he enjoys getting to know the fans.
“Our fans are super loyal,” he said.
And he should know, as he’s seen more Skeeters baseball than anyone else in the world.