Colleagues of Washington Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig will forgive him if he uses baseball metaphors in his speeches. Billig (D) is also a part owner of the Spokane Indians, a minor league baseball affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. In fact, his staff sometimes uses baseball phrases to communicate with him.
“I had a senior staff member who was trying to tell me she was leaving,” Billig says. “She said, ‘I just got called up to the show.’”
Being “called up to the show” means being promoted to the big time—a Major League Baseball team. Billig, who played baseball in high school, realized that wasn’t in his future, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t be involved in other ways. He worked for small businesses during college and later decided to combine his baseball knowledge and his business skills.
In 1991, Billig attended Winter Meetings, an off-season conference that attracts team representatives, trade show exhibitors and job seekers. He got a job with the Hawaii Winter Baseball League, but the league folded before anyone played a game.
Billig soon landed a job with the Spokane Indians and, at 24, became the youngest general manager in baseball. In a few years, he became president, then a co-owner. He works for Brett Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Spokane team and two other minor league teams, the Tri-City Dust Devils in Pasco, Wash., and the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, outside Los Angeles.
Teamwork, on the Field and Off
Billig plays the biggest role with the Spokane team. He oversees the management of the team, budgeting, capital improvements and hiring senior staff. The community-focused mission is like his work as Washington’s Senate majority leader.
“It’s a lot of customer service and constituent service,” Billig says. “Managing effectively, working with co-workers, colleagues and staff are really fundamental to doing a good job in both roles, and teamwork is important.” He attends many games at Avista Stadium, the team’s home ballpark, where he says fans offer him feedback about both the team and his legislative work.
The professional accomplishment Billig is most proud of came about in 2006, when the Spokane Indians baseball team partnered with the Spokane Tribe of Indians to begin a rebranding process and possible name change. “This idea germinated about what if we kept the name but created a partnership built on respect, and educating our community about the Spokane tribe, their history and their language?” Billig says.
Among the results: a new team logo featuring the word “Sp’q’n’i’,” or “Spokane” as spelled in Salish, the tribe’s language. Today, the uniforms come in two versions—one with the name in English, the other in Salish—making it the only professional baseball uniform to feature a Native American language.
Avista Stadium has Native American art, signage in both English and Salish, and markers documenting the tribe’s history and partnership with the team. The team also helps to rebuild softball and baseball fields on reservations and to protect fishing grounds. The team mascots include blue dinosaur-like characters Otto and Doris (the Spokanasaurus), as well as Ribby the Redband Trout and Recycleman.
Before becoming a senator from the 3rd District in 2012, Billig served a term in the state House of Representatives. Traditionally, when legislators pass their first bills, they give gifts to colleagues. Billig gave out gift bags that included Spokane team hats, some with the logo in English and some in Salish.
“I got a lot of requests for exchanges,” he says. “People wanted hats with the Salish logo.”
Nora Caley is a Denver-based freelancer.