Congressional Award participant Anna Laible had the opportunity to speak with Paxton Baker, the minority owner of the Washington Nationals and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Congressional Award. Baker shared insights on his personal and professional journey, his passion for baseball, and highlighted the role that the Congressional Award plays in shaping the future leaders of tomorrow.
When do you first remember loving baseball?
I was probably 6 or 7 years old when I fell in love with baseball and started collecting baseball cards. I went away to an academy and my father moved my collection and they were lost. I used to memorize the names and capacities of all the stadiums in the league. I never knew that something like this, that I was passionate about, would end up being very, very helpful to me throughout the course of my career. I was a concert promoter, promoting concerts first at Temple University, and then overseas music festivals in the islands of Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Aruba, Trinidad, Turks and Caicos, Cayman Islands, Barbados, and Bermuda. I later organized shows in Europe, like Amsterdam, Holland, Reykjavík, Iceland and Jakarta, Indonesia. At each venue I would go to I would have to know the capacity in order to sell tickets and know how to move equipment to maximize capacity. So something like baseball, something as simple as remembering statistics and tidbits, ended up helping me in my career.
Did you play baseball as a kid?
I played shortstop and second base. I still love baseball and I play pick up softball every now and then.
What was your favorite baseball team growing up?
The Oakland Athletics. I was born in Los Angeles and my brother was a fan of the Rams and Dodgers. For some reason I liked the Oakland teams, the A’s for baseball and the Raiders for football. They had some great teams in the early 1970s that won multiple World Series championships.
Have you ever owned part of a professional team before the Nationals?
Not prior to the Nationals. Since the Nationals, I joined a partnership with Mark Ein who owns the Washington Kastles of the World TeamTennis league. Not a lot of people necessarily know about the franchise, but it was founded in 1973 by Billy Jean King and it hosts both women and men’s singles, doubles, and mixed doubles. The format is unique because the individual match total counts towards a collective number. You could win one match 5-2 and another 1-5 and the numbers can tilt against you depending on how many you win. Then at the end there may be a runoff for the team that has the most points and they pick which [type of match] they want to do. If they have a really good men’s singles player, they will say they want a men’s single or women’s, they will say women’s single. Now I have the bug, and I’ve been looking at sports opportunities and ownership in other countries as well as teams in other leagues.
What would you say the differences are between minority and majority owners?
Minority owners, in my opinion, kind of add extra sauce and extra energy to our ownership group. The majority owners get the chance to make the final decision because they have the most stock and shares of the team but minority owners add energy, they add relationships. When I first came aboard the Lerner group and we were vying to buy the team from Major League Baseball, they told me I could be as involved or uninvolved as I wanted to be. Originally, when we bought the team from Major League Baseball, I was General Manager of a TV channel and President of a production company called BET (Black Entertainment Television). I traveled 40-42 weeks out of the year so I didn’t have a lot of time to put into the baseball group but I contributed to different components of the operation, helping vendors come into the park and then also forming relationships with City Hall and politicians. Outside of baseball, you may know that I am Chairman of The Congressional Award Foundation, so I have built a lot of relationships with members of Congress. I would say adding my relationships, my ideas, my energy, and my input was what I brought to the ownership team. I think that through these partnerships, even though you have a majority owner, everybody has a chance to give input. And fortunately, my partners [the Lerner family] value our input.
What would you say your favorite part about owning the Nationals is?
Probably living out something that I couldn’t even dream of in my childhood. I am living a dream. I love being able to interface with the Washington, D.C. metropolitan community. I have built a lot of friendships and relationships over the years because of my participation in baseball, so it’s given me a lot of opportunities in other fields.
How did you first get connected with The Congressional Award?
I was General Manager of a company called BET Jazz, and there was a person who worked at the Award as the Development Director. I had known her from when she worked for American Airlines, an airline I still fly with frequently. They originally asked me to run a public service announcement, which are like 30 second TV spots. I produced a public service announcement for them. After that, they asked me if I would join the board of directors, After about a year of service to the board I was voted Vice Chairman and 2 years later, Chairman. I’ve been Chairman for the past 13 years! I really like volunteerism. Throughout the course of my career, I’ve been a volunteer on multiple occasions. I think volunteerism is something that is very important, something that is near and dear to my heart. When I’m asked to volunteer, the answer is generally always, “Yes.” The Congressional Award gives me a good opportunity to participate with youth, engage in volunteerism, and be a good, positive civic servant. To me, the leader is someone who actually serves the organization and that’s something I really appreciate doing.
What do you think is the most important aspect of The Congressional Award?
Giving volunteerism a direction. The components of Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration weaves it all together in a quality program that young people can participate in and grow with. They can have check marks, like all those really good questions that you have on your list. Your work gives you a good stature on how to direct and put things together.
What would you say to kids who are interested in starting The Congressional Award?
I think it’s a wonderful program and it requires a lot of discipline as you know. Discipline, sticking with your goals, and follow through are vital to completing the program. It’s a hard program, so it’s not something that you can just buzz and whizz through. You have to be focused on it, very directed. If you can get into it and stick with it, it will be a meaningful experience in your life and you will know that you have accomplished something special.
Anna Laible is a 15-year old Congressional Award participant from Leighton, PA who is a Kid Reporter for Sports Illustrated Kids. She has covered professional and local events like the NASCAR Pocono 400, MLB Little League Classic, Little League World Series, US Women’s Soccer National Team, USA Luge, UNC – Duke basketball, a Ninja event for a local non-profit, a PA State Football championship, and more!
Check out more of Anna’s stories here.