The Black & White

Q&A with Art Silber, owner of the Potomac Nationals

Potomac Nationals owner Art Silber stands in the infield during a game. Silber has not only owned the team for 30 years, but coached first base for 22 of them. Photo courtesy Art Silber.

Potomac Nationals owner Art Silber stands in the infield during a game. Silber has not only owned the team for 30 years, but coached first base for 22 of them. Photo courtesy Art Silber.

By Lukas Troost

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Art Silber is the owner of the Washington Nationals’ minor league affiliate, the Potomac Nationals. The team serves as the first step in a player’s journey to MLB and often deals with recent draft picks and other young players. Silber, a Whitman grandparent, has owned the team for three decades and guided several MLB stars through his program, including Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper and Angels first baseman Albert Pujols. The Black & White sat down with Silber to discuss his career in the professional baseball industry.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

 

The Black & White: How has baseball affected your life?

Art Silber: The first baseball game I watched was April 15, 1947, which was also Jackie Robinson’s first game. He became my hero when I was maybe 7 years old. We lived a block from where the Brooklyn Dodgers used to play, so I used to wait for him at the corner and walk him to the players entrance at Ebbets Field. He gave me my first baseball, and I actually still have it. I think it’s unique when a passion that you have at 78 years old is a passion you’ve had since you were a child. I was fortunate enough to play in high school and college, and I was offered a contract to play professionally in the late ‘60s when I was still in college. They offered me $400 a month to leave college, but my father would’ve absolutely shot me if I dropped out. Baseball is something I’ve always absolutely loved, and to have it be part of my life for so many years has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever experienced.

 

B&W: How did you first get involved in Minor League Baseball?

AS: For many years, I was the president of a bank in the Baltimore-Washington area. About 32 or 33 years ago, one of my best customers came in saying he wanted to buy two minor league teams, which today are Frederick and Bowie. We became very familiar with the business, and 30 years ago somebody came to me and said that there was a team in Prince William County for sale. I went to my friend whom I had originally loaned the money to and he said, “Art, the way you love baseball, you ought to do it.” I bought the ball club 30 years ago.

 

B&W: What are some of the decisions you make with the team?

AS: It’s a business like any other if you just forget the game itself. You have to create a product and an environment where people will want to pay to come to your games. I’d like to think that we—and all of the 160 minor league teams in the country—do a very good job in creating an environment that families truly enjoy. The game itself is exciting, and we do various entertaining things in between innings in the stands to get the fans involved.

 

B&W: Have there been any specific players that have really impressed you during their tenure with Potomac?

AS: I actually coached first base on weekends for 22 years, so I spent a lot of time in the dugout and obviously on the field. I had a unique relationship with a number of players. Probably, my personal favorite would’ve been Ian Desmond, who’s with the Colorado Rockies right now. He’s a terrific young man who played shortstop for Washington for a number of years and is certainly having a fine major league career.

 

B&W: How much are you involved with the Washington Nationals?

AS: We’ve had a great relationship with Washington ever since they came from Montreal in 2005. Our job is to create an environment that’s supportive of all of these players who are one day trying to make it to the major league. We’ve actually had four major league MVPs that played for us: Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Bryce Harper. Close to half the players on the Nationals have played for us, and there have been games when all nine starting players had one time or another worn our uniform. In the last 29 years, we’ve had about 300 players that have ultimately gone on to the major leagues.

 

B&W: What do you consider your favorite part about owning the team?

AS: The fans. We have people who’ve been coming to games and sitting in the same seats for 30 years. I’ll walk through the stadium a couple times during the game and sit with people and talk with them. We’ve watched each other get old. We’ll talk about their families or who their favorite players are, and I enjoy it. At times, I sort of have to pinch myself to believe it’s all real.

Alex Silber, Art’s grandson, is a production manager for the Black & White.

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