Owner: Melvin Kim, 44, of Naperville
Years in business: One
What does your business do? They provide subscriptions to follow teams around the country, which come with gear like baseball caps and decals associated with the teams.
“We provide fans of sports the ability to meet new teams and cheer for new loves. I specifically target minor league baseball teams,” Kim said.
“There are some awesome names that teams have adopted or changed to. When I was a kid, every team for the Chicago Cubs was the Cubs. Peoria Cubs. Iowa City Cubs. Somewhere in the ‘90s, minor league teams wanted their own identity. So, they started working with marketing firms and their in-house staff, coming up with some great names. A lot of the teams now have names that reflect the area they are from.”
Can you give an example? “My favorite right now, the Rocket City Trash Pandas, are close to Huntsville, Alabama. Their first season, 2020, was canceled by Covid-19.”
Why did you start this business? “I saw a Twitter feed that said, ‘Welcome to the new Double AA team of the Los Angeles Angels, the Rocket City Trash Pandas. I thought, ‘What an out-there name to call a baseball team.’ I started this on a whim. I thought it’d be great to see what happens.”
Trash Pandas? “Everyone calls racoons trash pandas there.”
Any other favorites? “The Binghamton Rumble Ponies, out of New York, affiliated with the Mets. There are the Toledo Mud Hens made famous by “M*A*S*H*.” The Biscuits out of Montgomery, Alabama, named after the bread. The Isotopes out of Albuquerque are named after (the team) on ‘The Simpsons.’”
How does it work? “They can visit the website. I have two products, a quarterly box that’s $35 every three months. You get four items. A hat, a decal sticker, a souvenir item and an info card I put together than looks like a baseball card that gives the history and info on each team. … The annual is $126 for four boxes through the year. … I’m up to over 20 members who receive boxes. They go to California, Texas, Minnesota, Ohio, North Carolina, all over the place.”
Do people choose teams? “They can’t pick. It’s me saying, ‘Hey, here are some teams that I think you might want to get to know.’”
What’s the feedback? “A lot of ‘this is awesome.’ A lot of ‘I didn’t know this team existed.’”
How many teams are there? “There are 120 official minor league baseball teams sanctioned by Major League Baseball.”
Is this your main job? “I have another job that I work full time. I’m in nonprofit work. I’m the CEO of a family foundation. We donate money to food causes across the Midwest. My board tends to be low key.”
Ever visit teams? “I was just in Portland for my other job. They have an independent summer college team called the Portland Pickles.”
Why are you fascinated with this? “Baseball is such an American tradition. I know we have our allegiances when it comes to major league baseball. I am a South Sider, so I cheer the White Sox. … If I’m a Sox fan and I get a box (of items) from the Cleveland Guardians, what am I going to do with that? Minor leagues are different.
“There’s an organization called More Than Baseball that helps minor leaguers not only while they’re playing but afterwards, when their baseball career is over, helping them find jobs, helping them with training, with whatever needs they have. Proceeds from every box I sell, I set aside some funds and I donate to More Than Baseball.”
What do you like best? “I love sharing my passion for minor league baseball. The more people I can talk to and not sound like a dork, the happier I become.”
Any negatives? “The biggest thing is learning how to run a business. It’s my first time.”
When are you busy? “The holidays. I’m ramping up for Father’s Day.”
Any favorite stories? “We were just in New York City for spring break. My wife wore a Biscuits hat to a Yankees game. A bunch of people asked, ‘Is that the Biscuits?’ Then they’d talk about their favorite minor league teams. It’s a cool icebreaker. … One of the guys who first signed up did it for his wife, but wound up keeping them for himself.”
What misconceptions do people have? “That you have to be baseball fans to like it.”
Any future plans? “Japanese leagues, Korean leagues, Central American leagues. To have team stuff from there.”
What’s your advice for someone starting a business? “Don’t worry about the mistakes you’re going to make. Be excited about the adventure.”
If you know of a business you’d like to see to profiled in Down to Business, contact Steve Metsch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve Metsch is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.