Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: A labor of love at Raley Field

Marcos Breton
Marcos Breton

Love never dies.

It endures between a father and his children long after the father is gone. It can be personal, as it is with me and others reflecting on memories of our dads today.

Or, as it is along the banks of the Sacramento River, the love of a dad, his spouse and his boys can be the basis for a Sacramento institution that celebrates families.

The Sacramento River Cats will play another Father's Day game today. They are thriving in their 14th season in Sacramento because the franchise wasn't only built as a for-profit business.

It was built for love.

Susan Savage, the River Cats CEO, kept the franchise when she easily could have sold it in her grief following the 2009 death of her husband, Art – who brought Triple-A baseball to Sacramento in 2000.

"After such a shock, you're just putting one foot in front of the other," she said. "Then we had to tell people we were still here. We were still a family business."

Sitting in the owner's box on Friday afternoon with a gorgeous view of Raley Field, Savage reflected on her late husband's primary motivation for leaving a lucrative career of running sports franchises for others to run his own.

"To be honest, it was very much because of the boys," Savage said of their sons, Jeff and Brent.

Dad wanted to leave a legacy and a purpose for his own kids.

"Before Art passed away, he was very clear. He told me: 'You are not selling that team.' If he hadn't told me that, I don't know what I would have done."

Dad knew what he was doing. Son Jeff is now the general manager of the River Cats, and Susan Savage is one of the region's most high-profile female CEOs.

When she was honored as a business leader by the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce earlier this year, Susan Savage nearly reduced all of us in that ballroom to tears when she said running the River Cats was "a love letter" to her husband.

How is that love expressed across the community?

The River Cats remain civic leaders in raising money for local charities. They cut ticket prices and let people park at games for free on Wednesdays so families can afford evenings out together. The team's players are always visiting hospitals; the mascot is always at area schools.

"We want to create memories for families," she said.

As she spoke, the ballpark was alive with preparations for the Father's Day weekend. The outfield grass was lush and perfect and the view of Tower Bridge and the Sacramento skyline was beautiful.

The novelty of a minor-league park has long since passed, but the enterprise endures because the owners are not only financially invested. Their hearts are in every decision designed to bring pleasure to all who enter their gates.

Love always lasts.

Call The Bee's Marcos Breton, (916) 321-1096. Back columns, Follow him on Twitter @marcosbreton.