There was a small-world moment several years ago, when Steve Bales’ extensive career in the food and beverage industry brought him to the same spot as one of his future bosses with the Flying Squirrels, on the periphery of one of the grandest stages in sports.
Bales’ career in the industry began as an employee at the Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium. And though he was the general manager of Allstate Arena outside of Chicago at the time, he was brought on to assist with Kauffman Stadium concessions as the Royals played the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 World Series.
In attendance for Game 7 of the series, in Kansas City, was Flying Squirrels chief executive officer Todd “Parney” Parnell. Parnell sat in the front row behind the Giants’ dugout, on the third-base side of the field.
“I was standing on the third-base side in one of the walkways,” Bales, a Kansas City native, remembered on Friday afternoon, before Richmond’s game against the visiting Bowie Baysox.
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“You literally were probably 100 feet from me,” Parnell added.
The Giants, the parent club of the Double-A Flying Squirrels, went on to win that night. And Bales’ career, after the time at Allstate Arena and a stint in New Mexico, brought him to Virginia.
He served as the food and beverage manager at Kings Dominion for a year, before a year as the director of food and beverage at Richmond Raceway.
Then late last year, as soon as he saw an opening at the Flying Squirrels, he applied. He was hired in December and began in January, as the organization’s new director of food and beverage.
He’s hence been in charge of one of the most important aspects of the fan experience at The Diamond, one the franchise takes seriously. He’s overseen the implementation of new offerings, with more to come.
“You can tell, just as he’s walking the facility, that he’s someone who has experience in the people business — the mass people business,” Parnell said of Bales. “Because that is a very tough position, when you’re in charge of a whole entire facility. So to have someone like him that’s worked in a place like Richmond Raceway, or a place like Kings Dominion. And the background he has.
“I mean, I don’t agree with the fact that he’s a Chiefs fan,” Parnell added, jokingly. “But other than that, that’s about the only thing I can find that I don’t like about him right now.”
As Bales puts it, he fell into a spot in food and beverage. He studied psychology at the University of Missouri — Kansas City. He started as a server at Kauffman Stadium and worked his way up, into management.
Bales, who grew up a fan of the Chiefs and the Royals, was hooked.
“There’s always something cool about coming to work at a stadium,” said Bales, who’s also worked at the Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium. “No matter which one — an arena, a stadium. Just, you know there’s going to be 15, 20,000 people in there, whatever. The crowd, there’s always energy that goes with it as well.”
When Bales started with the Flying Squirrels, staffing was a chief initial priority, in taking steps back toward pre-pandemic food service capabilities at The Diamond. This season is the first to begin with a full attendance allowance since 2019.
Bales said the Flying Squirrels have had quite a few returning staff members, and have supplemented those with new hires who have left him feeling comfortable about staffing through a first homestand and-a-half so far this season.
Then Bales also wanted to beef up the selections at The Diamond. So footlong hot dogs were brought back, and bigger, Bavarian soft pretzels were added. The “Walk-off Taco” cart was added as well.
There are also three signature hot dog variations in the works for “The Dog House” cart. The variations will rotate.
“You’ll have a lot of interesting hot dogs that you might not have seen before,” Bales said.
Bales has been happy with the returns so far. The Bavarian pretzel has taken off, he said. And he expected the footlong hot dog to be 10% of total sales, but it’s been 20% to this point.
Concession lines are an ever-present consideration at the 9,560-seat, but 37-year-old stadium — “Everybody knows it’s an old stadium, it’s a little bit underequipped for big crowds,” Bales said. “But we do our best to put as many points of sale out there and keep people moving.”
But, seven and a half years after their near chance encounter at Kauffman Stadium, Parnell has been pleased with what he’s seen from Bales at The Diamond.
“This is not an easy job,” Parnell said. “It’ll take some time for him to really get into a groove, the groove of a guy who’s worked the seventh game of the World Series. But he’ll get there.”
Richmond 2, Bowie 1: Sean Roby continued his torrid run of power at the plate, knocking a two-run home run to left field in the first inning that propelled the Flying Squirrels (11-8) to a win over the Baysox (9-9) in front of 6,162.
Roby’s homer gave him eight already to start the year, matching the Flying Squirrels franchise record for home runs in a calendar month, set by Jarrett Parker in May 2013.
Roby is also leading the Eastern League in home runs.
Bowie’s run came on a third-inning sacrifice fly from Gunnar Henderson, that scored Zach Watson.