Take a look at National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Josh Rawitch’s Twitter account and you’ll meet a person not just embracing his profession, but also serving as a de facto ambassador for the Village of Cooperstown. He and his family – wife Erin and children Emily and Braden – relocated to the village nearly one year ago from the sprawling Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, Arizona, and they’ve welcomed their new lives in a much smaller town in the northeast.
“It’s been exactly what we thought it was going to be,” Mr. Rawitch said in a discussion with The Freeman’s Journal / Hometown Oneonta marking one year since the Hall announced his appointment as its eighth president. “We dove head-first into life in Cooperstown, everything from our kids getting into school activities, my wife getting involved with non-profits, starting to make friends with people who live here. All of that is like we thought it would be.”
He shares with his on-line followers pictures of scenes like the small bridge arching over Willow Brook near Lake Street or a stop at the Cooperstown Diner on Main Street.
“I’m trying to give people a little slice of what life is like with my Twitter account,” he said. “Not everybody can come here, so I try to give them a little bit of the flavor.”
“You can’t really know until you live it what small-town life is going to be like,” Mr. Rawitch said. “There are so many unique things to this town that we love, from the mom-and-pop shops to the walkability of it all to the grade schools to life on the lake. It’s such a special place. On top of it all it happens to have this unbelievable baseball mecca in the middle of it. It’s just an awesome place.”
As he did one year ago upon his appointment, Mr. Rawitch spoke of his deep appreciation for his baseball career, which began at age 18 as an intern for the Los Angeles Dodgers – there for 15 years before a decade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Those jobs, he said, prepared him well for the leadership role at the Hall of Fame.
“What I gained with the Diamondbacks was a vision of how to lead an organization, how to lead people,” he said. “I had the benefit of a great leader, our club president Derrick Hall, who let me sit in on things I had no business sitting in on, and I just learned from that. He wasn’t saying, “Hey, let me teach you how to lead.” He was just doing it, and I got to eat it up for a decade.”
“When I left the Dodgers I was nowhere near the type of leader that I feel like I am now,” he said. “Ten years from now, I hope I’ll be even better, but I think the Diamondbacks really prepared me on how to create an organizational culture, how to lead with empathy, how to push people outside their comfort zone, and how to motivate.”
Recalling the earliest days in his career, Mr. Rawitch said he enjoys working in Cooperstown with students and organizations that look to the Hall of Fame as a centerpiece in the baseball world.
“I remember the very first time I was an intern for the Dodgers,” he said. “For whatever reason I had the guts to walk in to the general manager’s office and ask for a meeting. (Dodgers GM) Fred Claire sat down with me, asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, ‘Someday I’d like to be in your chair interviewing the 18-year-old intern.”
“From that point forward, I thought, ‘this guy gave me the time, I will always give time to whoever it is going forward,” he said. “This guy was GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers and he found time for an 18-year-old intern? How could I not?”
That day, in fact, Mr. Rawitch invited four of the Hall’s summer interns to his office for a lunchtime discussion – a part of the 10-week program for student from all over the country to learn about sports management, communications, and other aspects of the Hall’s universe.
“A really good program,” Mr. Rawitch enthused. “It’s not about just putting the students to work. We do seminars, meetings – last week, the former president of Minor League Baseball was here talking with them for an hour. They get great experience.”
He’s looking, too, at the challenges ahead for the Baseball Hall of Fame and its place in a changing generational dynamic.
“We need to stay relevant for the next generation of fans,” he said. “There’s no doubt that a 75-year-old grandparent walking through these doors is going to have an unbelievable time recounting what their childhood was like and connecting with their generation. We have to make sure that the Dreams Park and All Star Village kids, and any other family that’s coming in here, that those kids are having the same sort of experience.”
“That’s going to take some work on our end,” he continued. Noting the Hall’s new QR code stations, he said, “How do you continue to make this relevant, whether it’s through technology or utilizing your phone in different ways. Bridge the generations but move it forward.”
A part of that bridge, he said, is “keeping the feeling you have when you’re walking on Main Street like you’ve stepped into a time machine.”
“We wanted to live in the village, experience the things – including the challenges that come with a lot of tourists crowded into a small space,” he said of himself and his family. “It’s important for us.”
“One significant thing I learned after moving here was just how much else there is to do around town,” he said. “The lake, the Farmers’, the Fenimore, the art classes, the surrounding areas that I don’t think I realized. I’m really impressed, so on Twitter I’m trying to tell the story of all the other great things we have here.”
“I just chaperoned my son’s sixth-grade trip – a scavenger hunt around the village with clues here and there,” he said. “I learned as much as the kids did. We were walking along the east side of the Susquehanna and came across the Stone Bridge. I never knew that existed. I stood there with the kids and thought, ‘Look at this! It’s gorgeous!’”
“This first year could not have gone any better,” Mr. Rawitch said. “We feel lucky to have landed here.”