For me, the first day of baseball season is like Mardi Gras, Hanukkah, and my birthday all rolled up into one. What began with a backyard stickball game has become a party as well as a profession — by far the biggest holiday of them all.
What makes that party so special is the chance to chat and rub elbows with people like Katy Feeney.
Feeney has one of the toughest jobs in baseball, but few people outside the game know who she is.
A New York native whose father, Chub, was general manager of the New York and San Francisco Giants before he became National League president, Feeney has the long-winded title of Senior Vice President of Scheduling and Club Relations for Major League Baseball.
She works out of a Park Avenue office but seems most comfortable at the ballpark, where she renews acquaintances with players, managers, and media members who have become close friends over the years. While hitters wear helmets, she prefers a straw hat that makes her easy to spot in the corner of the Citi Field press box.
Invariably pleasant and professional, Feeney has flourished under a half-dozen baseball commissioners, though she reported directly to her league president before the league offices were combined by Bud Selig. Feeney’s tenure has also coincided with those of Bowie Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti, Fay Vincent, and Rob Manfred, who succeeded Selig in January.
She says she got into the business by accident. “I was between jobs, living in San Francisco, and my father was planning to move the National League office to New York. The public relations secretary was leaving, so my father’s administrative assistant, knowing they couldn’t hire somebody for just three months, suggested me as a temp from January to March. After a month, they asked if I’d be willing to move to New York for a year to help with the transition. I said yes, and it’s been a long year.”
Much has changed since 1977, the year the NL office returned to New York. Baseball has added teams, split into six divisions of five teams each, introduced interleague play, and expanded the postseason playoffs. That complicates Feeney’s job considerably.
“You can never satisfy all the teams,” she says. “You’ve probably done your job well if everybody’s somewhat unhappy. You can never make 30 teams happy.”
With the help of a computer and a committee, Feeney faces the daunting task of coming up with a 162-game schedule for each team. She has to factor in individual requests, such as the traditional Opening Day game in Cincinnati, and try to keep clubs from the four two-team cities from being home at the same time.
“Most teams want to be home in June, July, and August,” she says, “because that’s when they draw the most, but we have to try to balance that over the whole course of the season.
“Very often, more teams want to open on the road than we can accommodate so we have to alternate some of them (the next year). We try to take into consideration potential cold weather as much as possible but that is not 100 percent, either.”
Teams want to be home for the holidays — especially Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day — but those in cold climates, such as the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, don’t want to be home early, when cold and snow cause cancellations and delays that impact attendance.
And don’t think covered ballparks ease the burden. “Teams in warm-weather cities or teams with domes don’t want to be home extra days in April any more than teams in cold-weather sites,” reveals Feeney. “When we tried a ‘warm weather schedule’ one year, the blizzard waited ‘til the second week of the season.”
One issue for 2016 is the national political conventions, both scheduled for Major League cities. “We have to have the teams in those towns on the road for those dates,” she says.
Teams typically play divisional rivals most often, to minimize long-distance travel, but also play home-and-home series against each rival in their league’s other divisions. Interleague schedules vary for each team, although teams in two-team cities play both home and away series.
The main difference between the two leagues now is the designated hitter, used only by the American League, where the Yankees play, but not in the National, home of the Mets.
Feeney refuses to divulge her personal opinion on the controversial DH, but does admit she roots for the NL at the All-Star Game and World Series. “I’m an all-teams fan,” she says. “I love most of the new ballparks. There may look retro but there are a lot of things in them that the old ballparks didn’t have.”
Feeney is also a fan of her adopted city. “I love the energy, excitement, and all the activities that are here,” says the longtime baseball executive. “I can walk out my door and within two blocks there’s most anything I need. I especially love Broadway — I’m easy to please when it comes to that.”