FRESNO — Before he became president of the Fresno Grizzlies, Derek Franks remembers the first time he stepped into an empty Chukchansi Park as an intern in 2004.
“I’d never been in an empty stadium before in my whole life,” Franks said. “I couldn’t believe they just let me park my car and walk in there without somebody escorting me.”
This past February, Franks, 33, was named the team’s president after the organization was sold to a new ownership group called Fresno Sports and Events LLC. Before the 2015 season, the Kingsburg High School and Fresno State grad was named the general manager of the Grizzlies, which was the same year when the organization became the Triple-A affiliate for the Houston Astros. Fresno was the Triple-A affiliate for the San Francisco Giants from 1998-2014.
Growing up in Kingsburg, Franks remembers attending Grizzlies games with his father, Mike, at Fresno State’s Pete Beiden Field before the team played at Grizzlies stadium (renamed Chukchansi Park in 2006). He also recalls attending games in 2002-03 before he worked for the Grizzlies.
“My first memory of a Grizzlies game was sitting in the bleachers, the added bleachers down the foul territory [at Pete Beiden Field],” Franks said. “I remember sitting in the bleachers with my dad back in 1998.”
As Franks was growing up he always wanted to work for a MLB team. Throughout the years, he said he's had several chances to leave Fresno for other opportunities in various cities.
“I don’t want to go the big leagues anymore,” Franks said. “I think minor league is where it's at.”
Franks initially applied to work for the Grizzlies at a job fair. He failed to get hired the first time but networked with several of the team’s employees and pursued a job with the organization again. Franks said applying for a job with the Grizzlies was one of the “greatest decisions” he made and “it changed” his life.
He didn't let his initial rejection by the team keep him from trying again.
“I’m glad I came back, swallowed my pride and did it again because I almost didn’t," he said.
Throughout Franks’ tenure as the president and general manager of the Grizzlies, the organization has gained national attention for its creative promotions that commemorate films like “Good Burger” and “Coming to America.” In 2015, the organization gained national attention for playing a game as the “Fresno Tacos,” which was to celebrate the city’s annual Taco Truck Showdown. The ball club also plays as the Tacos during home games on Tuesdays.
Franks said he “loves it” that the team has gained national attention for its marketing promotions.
“You want to be able to do things that your community is proud of,” Franks said. “In any community, especially here, people are going to be proud to see their team on ESPN’s SportsCenter or going viral over the internet like we did with [the Fresno] Tacos. We’re proud to be able to do that.
“We want Fresnans and folks from the Central Valley to have something to hang their hat on and people from outside of Fresno to go, ‘Oh they have that crazy Triple-A team I keep seeing on TV.’ That’s something we really enjoy.”
Franks’ vision is for the Grizzlies is having its own identity by making it a “Fresno centric” team. When the organization lost its affiliation with the San Francisco Giants, Franks said it was a perfect time to localize the team to draw fans. The “Tacos” is an example of the Grizzlies implementing Fresno culture into its organization.
Franks said Grizzlies’ marketing director Sam Hansen is the mastermind for the team’s promotions.
“I think that he and I both sort of subscribe to the same philosophy that we wanted to be affiliated with Fresno first and foremost,” Hansen said.
Pacific Coast League president Branch B. Rickey said it’s “particularly pleasing” to see the national recognition the Grizzlies has received. He said the team is located in one of the smallest market teams in the PCL.
“Particularly, you like to see the small market sports franchise, in this case, a team in the Pacific Coast League, getting attention for the right reasons, for the positive reasons, the positive impact it’s making and for the clever ideas it’s implementing,” Rickey said. "That’s true of the Grizzlies and what Derek and the staff are accomplishing there.”
Franks’ advice to anyone pursuing a career in the competitive sports industry is to apply for internships while attending college and network with as many professionals in the industry as possible.
“Get the internship and as much entry-level experiences as you possibly can,” Franks said. “It’s all about who you know so meet everybody because you don’t know who’s watching you. Always be performing, be on and make a good impression because that more than anything is how you’re going to progress in your career.”