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Expectations running high for Brewers executive

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Rick Schlesinger has high expectations for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2011.

The Brewers’ executive vice president of business operations believes the acquisitions of pitchers Zack Greinke, the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner, Shawn Marcum and the retention of first baseman Prince Fielder will be enough to make the team a contender for the National League Central division next season.

Schlesinger appeared with Mike Gousha as part of Gousha’s “On the Issues” series at Eckstein Hall last Thursday.

Many fans were concerned about what the team gave up for Greinke, particularly shortstop Alcides Escobar, who was a highly touted prospect entering the 2010 season.

Schlesinger said it’s tough to trade top prospects, but it’s easier when a pitcher of Greinke’s caliber can be obtained in exchange.

“It’s a little bit of a high-risk strategy, but the history of Major League Baseball is riddled with teams whose highly touted prospects didn’t pan out,” Schlesinger said.

Besides winning the division, Schlesinger said he expects three million fans total to come to Miller Park in 2011 to check out the revamped Brewers.

“The team is poised to deliver a product that can bring in attendance like we saw in 2008 and 2009, and I wouldn’t be saying that if we hadn’t brought in Zack Grienke,” he said.

Along with talented new players, Miller Park will feature a new video scoreboard in 2011. Some fans wonder if the screen was needed, but Schlesinger defended its installation based on the dilapidation of the older one.

“We have a philosophy of fans first,” Schlesinger said. “We had an obligation to keep the stadium state-of-the-art, and the older scoreboard was starting to show its age.”

Schlesinger came to the Brewers in 2002 after working on motion picture development for Disney and as an attorney for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

At his current position, Schlesinger oversees the process of bringing in revenue in areas such as sponsorships, ticket sales, marketing or, as he put it, basically anything other than the actual team on the field.

An avid baseball fan since the age of 4, Schlesinger grew up in Bayside, Wis. and attended Harvard Law School after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

His transition from a big market in Los Angeles to a smaller market in Milwaukee had its advantages as well as its disadvantages, he said.

While it was easier to obtain revenue in a larger market, Schlesinger recounted having to constantly compete with Los Angeles’ more popular team at the time, the Dodgers, for attendance. In Milwaukee, with the closest franchise in Chicago, such competition was eliminated.

Schlesinger also said Brewers fans are more loyal and willing to attend games than those in LA. When the Angels struggled, their attendance suffered, but the Brewers racked up an attendance of 2.78 million in 2010 while finishing 14 games out of first place.

Dan Pheifer, an administrator with university advancement who used to cover the Brewers for SportsRadio 1250, was very impressed with Schlesinger’s openness with the audience during the discussion.

Ben Hofman, a freshman in the College of Communication, said Schlesinger’s advice and insights on the business side of the sports world were very insightful.

“I didn’t know much about what it takes to be the vice president of a Major League Baseball team,” Hofman said. “I think he had a really good attitude and did a good job explaining how everything flows behind the scenes with the Brewers.”

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