WADSWORTH — Akron RubberDucks owner and CEO Ken Babby told a chamber audience Wednesday he grew up in a sports-loving family in Washington, D.C., and loves the ballpark experience.
“If you think about it, there is something really special when you walk into a ballpark or a stadium,” Babby said during the Wadsworth Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon at The Galaxy Restaurant and Banquet Center.
When people make a trip to the ballfield, they are able to leave their troubles in the parking lot for a few hours and just enjoy time with their family at the game, Babby said.
The 2017 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year told the audience how growing up with his father, Lon, who worked as an attorney for the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles, left him with a lasting love of ballparks.
“(It is) truly one of the only activities where almost like a magnet, like clockwork, tonight at 7 p.m., the crowds are going to emerge from their cars and come through the gates of a ballpark,” he said.
After graduating college, Babby realized finding his dream job working for a sports team was going to be more difficult than he anticipated.
“I started writing emails when I graduated school and reaching out to people that I knew worked in sports and I was totally unsuccessful,” Babby said. “Most people didn’t even respond, and a couple people that did respond said effectively, why would we hire you? You have absolutely no experience. Thanks for reaching out.”
A computer science and economics major in college, the young graduate decided to take a job with his hometown newspaper, The Washington Post.
“I figured I’d stay for a year or two, sort of pay my dues and work an overnight shift, and then I could go out and get that dream job in baseball that I so badly wanted,” he said.
That one or two years turned into a stint lasting nearly 14 years until The Post was purchased by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
“Jeff effectively said anybody that is here stay on board and kind of be part of this next journey or find what really makes you passionate,” he remembered.
That’s when Babby began discussing the possibility of purchasing a minor league baseball team with his family.
“I was fortunate enough to have a little bit of money, but it was my parents and my family that really said put together a plan, maybe there is a way to do this,” he said.
Babby loaded up his Jeep and made the trip from Washington to Akron to check out the Aeros on the advice of a friend.
“I walked into the ballpark, this is 2012, on a July night, and there were probably 800 or 900 people in the ballpark, and I thought how could this be?” he said.
What he saw as he walked around Canal Park was a ballpark that was in need of improvements and better promotions to get fans back in the seats.
Babby decided Akron was the team, and he made the decision to jump in headfirst.
In 2014, under his guidance, the team was rebranded the Akron RubberDucks, and Canal Park began offering entertainment ranging from frequent fireworks shows to giveaways and even a concert by Rascal Flatts.
The night before Babby spoke Wednesday, the RubberDucks clinched a spot in the 2018 Eastern League playoffs, he said.
Wadsworth Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janie Parish said it was great to be able to feature the Akron businessman at the luncheon.
“I think a lot of it, too, is that we all hit those little snags in life. Maybe you are having a little bit of trouble at work, those kinds of things,” Parish said after Babby’s talk. “To have somebody come in that has been so successful, I know he has overcome a lot of hurdles, it is just inspirational.”
Contact reporter Nathan Havenner at (330) 721-4050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.