By Aaron McFarling
The Salem Red Sox are staying in-house for their next general manager, but not with the candidate some might have expected.
Ryan Shelton, the team’s vice president of ticketing, has been promoted to GM, ownership announced Tuesday. He will be part of a three-man leadership team that includes North Cross graduate and former assistant GM Allen Lawrence and former director of food and beverage Tim Anderson, who both received promotions Tuesday.
Shelton, 36, joined Salem two days before the 2013 season opener after stints with several minor league hockey teams and the Florida Marlins. He earned the nod over Lawrence and roughly 75 external candidates with strong credentials.
“Shock, excitement,” Shelton said of his reaction to the news. “Immediately my mind went 1,000 miles an hour as to everything that we could do here.”
Shelton was a darkhorse candidate early in the process but came increasingly attractive as the weeks went by – particularly once Boston considered putting the experienced Lawrence and Anderson on his flanks.
“He’s really impressed us with his creativity, his passion, his willingness to think outside the box and try new ideas,” said Tim Zue, managing director of the Salem Red Sox and vice president of business development of the Boston Red Sox. “He’s a great listener, he’s a natural leader, and he had a strategic vision that he presented, both in the short term but also the long-term future of the club.”
The GM position opened on July 15, when Todd Stephenson left the club to pursue other career opportunities. Lawrence served in an interim role and was a finalist for the full-time job.
Zue said he received numerous emails from fans in the Roanoke Valley supporting Lawrence’s candidacy.
“I think the natural question from some of the people who emailed me would be, ‘What did Allen do wrong?’” Zue said. “He didn’t do anything wrong. He was a great, excellent candidate, and probably was basically second to Ryan, but we just felt that Ryan was the right leader for us at this time.”
Lawrence, who has spent 12 years with Salem baseball, said he was disappointed initially not to get the job but grew excited after talking with Zue about his new role. He and Shelton have formed a tight bond in their short time together.
“We’ve had a great relationship from day one,” Lawrence said. “We share a lot of the same thoughts. We see eye to eye on a lot of the same things. That’s really the reason I am so excited, because we’ve had a lot of these discussions over the last month, but even prior than that, as to things we would like to see moving forward.”
They will be working collaboratively under the revamped structure. With his new title of vice president/assistant GM, Lawrence will have formal oversight on sponsorship, ballpark operations, in-game promotions, community relations, advertising and marketing. Anderson, now the vice president of operations, will have oversight on food and beverage, merchandise, finance and special events.
The system is designed to give Shelton two reliable veterans to lean on as he undertakes an unfamiliar challenge. Most of Shelton’s experience has been in ticketing, but he has shown initiative in bolstering all areas of the club, Zue said.
“He’s very organized,” Zue said. “He’s a very good leader. He’s respected in the office, and I think he’s eager to grow and learn. Is he seasoned? No, he’s not seasoned for the job. I think we understand that there will be growth, but we see an incredibly high ceiling for him.”
A Kentucky native, Shelton began his career with the Florida Marlins as an inside sales representative. His minor league hockey experience includes stints with the Augusta Lynx, South Carolina Stingrays and Manchester Monarchs.
In addition to overseeing Salem’s most group sales in the four-year history of Boston’s ownership, Shelton helped the Sox grow their social media presence and customer data collection.
“We also really liked the diversity of his experience,” Zue said. “He’s worked with five different clubs in five different markets…and we feel as though he’s really taken a lot of those lessons from the different situations in creating his vision for what it takes to achieve success.”