Bellingham Bells Owner Eddie Poplawski Driven by Love of Community, Mentoring Players
– Whatcom TALK
For Eddie Poplawski, becoming owner of the Bellingham Bells was about something much bigger than his love of the game. It was also about building – and celebrating – community, and readying his talented young players for successful, fulfilling lives beyond the diamond.
Poplawski first learned about summer collegiate baseball soon after his son headed to Georgetown University as a baseball player.
“Within short order of arriving on campus, he called me to see if I knew anything about summer collegiate baseball,” says Poplawski. His son’s new coach had asked him to think about playing for a couple of teams.
“Now, this was within just a couple weeks of him landing in Georgetown, so my concern and my wife’s concern was not where he was going to play summer ball,” Poplawski says with a laugh. “We wanted to make sure he knew his way from library to library.”
Poplawski hadn’t heard of summer collegiate baseball, so did what any parent would do: told his son to ask his coach for advice, and then started doing some research.
“I did what I normally do when something piques my interest,” Poplawski says. “I started to scratch the surface to see what I could find out.”
What he uncovered was a plethora of information about summer collegiate wood-bat baseball, which exists throughout the country.
“It interested me for a couple of reasons,” he says. “One was that it was really community-centric.”
As he read more and dug through photos online, he rediscovered that feeling of watching baseball games as a boy with his father and grandparents.
“It just brought back baseball to the baseball I really appreciated,” Poplawski says, “which was community-centered, with kids and families and fun in-between-inning entertainment.”
Another thing Poplawski quickly realized he liked about summer collegiate baseball was that it provided an opportunity for players to continue to develop.
“It’s an opportunity for a kid who’s chasing a dream to continue to chase that dream,” he says. “And that really inspired me.”
The third thing that suddenly had him pondering possibly owning a team was the opportunity to help guide young men through their college baseball careers and on a trajectory for success in life – even if not on a major league diamond.
“My wife and I have had the good fortune of having kids who have been fortunate to pursue their athletic dreams at college,” he says. “But I recognize whole-heartedly that the chances are slim that any of them will become professional athletes. So the further they get into college, the closer they get to ending their athletic careers.”
It’s a harsh reality for the vast majority of college-level athletes.
“Kids are starting to realize – if not openly, maybe down deep inside – that this might be the highest level they get to,” Poplawski says. “And that’s a really scary time.”
Poplawski saw an opportunity.
“As the dad of three boys, I’ve had the privilege of trying to mentor and help my kids understand how you take the tools you learn on the field or the court or the soccer pitch and use them to help launch the rest of your career,” he says. “And I thought this might be a great way for me to help more than three boys at a time.”
“Competitiveness, perseverance, commitment, loyalty, and a high level of emotional intelligence – all of these things are going to matter when you chase dreams in your lives that have a greater percent chance of happening than baseball,” he continues.
Through several serendipitous events, Poplawski came to own the Bellingham Bells, in 2010. And after one season with the West Coast League’s Walla Walla Sweets, Poplawski’s son, Danny, played for his dad’s new team in 2011.
“So many times as a parent, you’re there as a teacher – the guard rails on your kids’ lives,” Poplawski says. “But every now and then, you’re both pulling on the same rope and learning as much from your kid as, hopefully, they’re learning from you.”
Poplawski and Danny worked toward the same goal that season: to resurrect and re-energize baseball in Bellingham.
“Creating something where the community can come and collectively embrace and cheer for the same thing – it’s unique,” Poplawski says. “There are lots of different venues throughout any community where people congregate, but there are few in which you become friends with strangers.”
When was the last time you high-fived the guy next to you at the coffee shop because you ordered the same latte?
“You and your friends might have a great time on your lane at the bowling alley, but you’re not racing down five lanes to congratulate the guy on his strike,” says Poplawski.
“Baseball parks do that. You really do become a collective force,” he says. “Friends become better friends, neighbors become better neighbors.”
Poplawski has been involved in many entrepreneurial ventures, small and large. One thing he loves about owning the Bells is that it has enabled him to embrace business-to-business relationships.
“There are so many community organizations that contribute to the success of our platform,” he says. “It’s fun to see companies like Boundary Bay, Hempler’s, Dairy Queen, Ralf’s Bavarian Pretzels, Sound Beverage, Walton Beverage, Little Caesars, and many other local businesses support us at the ball park.”
Poplawski has worked hard to build a new, improved Bellingham baseball experience – but he’s quick to point out that he hasn’t done it alone.
“Believe me, after every game when the curtain goes down, Nick and Stephanie have to work extremely hard do it all over again,” he says, commending general manager Nick Caples and marketing director Stephanie Morrell.
“I was general manager my first year, so I know intimately how hard that job is,” Poplawski says. “I have to give them so much praise for really dedicating 24/7 to our mission.”
And although Poplawski lives in the Seattle area, he’s a familiar face at Joe Martin Field on game days.
My first year, I was at every game,” he says. “I was the owner, but my job was to be general manager and lead our team of energetic and hard-working staff members to make sure that we properly launched this venture.”
In subsequent years, business commitments have kept him from 100 percent attendance, but he’s still at more games than he misses. And the initial excitement remains.
“I love the little miracles that happen every day at the ballpark,” he says. “There’s something truly Field of Dreams-like every time I walk into Joe Martin Field.”
Visit www.bellinghambells.com to learn more about the team, view this season’s schedule, buy tickets and merchandise, and much more.