Late in the season in 2004 the Burlington (N.C.) Indians, a minor league baseball team in the low-level Appalachian League, were forced to start a rain-delayed game after 10 p.m. since the contest had playoff implications and needed to be played.
EMU grad Jeremy Auker (2003, recreation & sport leadership), didn’t get home until after 1 a.m. after being at Burlington Athletic Stadium for nearly 15 hours. Auker had a front office job, but such is life in the minor leagues of professional baseball, where both team employees and players put in long hours with very little pay.
Auker didn’t go into this work for its monetary rewards – the big bucks are reserved for those at the pinnacle of pro sports. A former baseball player for EMU, Auker has worked his way up the minor league ladder just like his former EMU teammate, catcher Erik Kratz of the Kansas City Royals.
But while Kratz gets on the field and in the limelight, Auker is more behind the scenes as one whose job is to get fans in the stands in order to see future Major Leaguers.
Auker made it to the Triple-A level, the highest in the minors, for the first time during the 2014 season as the corporate sales executive for the Charlotte (N.C.) Knights, the top farm team of the Chicago White Sox.
Auker was part of a staff that in December was honored with the prestigious Bob Freitas Award by Baseball America, an industry leader in the minor leagues. “The award recognizes long-term excellence in the operation of minor league franchises with a focus on the area of market commitment, operational practices, community involvement and business success,” according to Baseball America.
Auker joined Charlotte at the end of its 2013 season after he had spent four years with the Single-A minor league team in Savannah, Ga., as the vice president of business development.
Married with three young children, he and his wife are both from Bassett, Va., and they wanted to move closer to family in Virginia from Georgia. He was hired in Charlotte by Scotty Brown, the general manager.
“Basically he goes out and sells sponsorships. He has really turned it up a notch since the end of the season,” Brown said in December 2014. “We needed someone with experience and you have to know the industry. You have to have a certain integrity and Jeremy is one of those guys.”
Auker got hooked on minor league baseball after his sophomore year at EMU, when he had an internship in 2001 with the minor league team in Martinsville, Va., near his home in Bassett.
“I was thrilled about it. I just loved it,” said Auker, whose myriad of duties included driving players to and from the airport in Greensboro, N.C. when they were demoted or promoted. “I went back and did another internship after my senior year.”
Auker worked in Burlington and then with the Salem Red Sox with Adam Pohl, now the radio broadcaster for the Bowie (Md.) Baysox of the Double-A Eastern League. “Jeremy comes off as very quiet. He basically doesn’t have an enemy in the world,” said Pohl. “He knows the industry very well in tickets and corporate sales. Most importantly he is a guy who has a love for baseball. He has worked in many different markets and has had success.”
For now Auker is one step below the big leagues. “There is always the allure of Major League Baseball,” he said. “[But] I like the minors better. It is more community based. I like being a part of the community.”