Inside the Athletes Studio: An Interview with Andy Chomos of Fans for Change

Don’t get it twisted, PSaMP isn’t going to bring you awesome interviews every few days. The past week just happened to be really good if you’re a Pittsburgh sports fan. First, Torina Henley stopped by, then Don from Mondesi’s House gave some of his time. Now, Inside the Athletes Studio brings you the 3rd installment in the series.

Who would’ve thought that the hottest topic in Pittsburgh sports at the end of June would be the Pirates? Its not because of their play, despite winning 2 of their last 3. The Buccos have been making news because of a proposed walk-out, which has finally caught the eye of the organization. Fans for Change is a grassroots campaign that is hoping to use a protest to voice displeasure with decisions made by the Pirates organization.

Leading the way is Andy Chomos, CEO of Caracal, Inc., which works with Silicon Carbide. Silicon Carbide (SiC) is a wide bandgap semiconductor with the potential to dramatically improve energy efficiency in a wide range of industries, including lighting, power electronics, and telecommunications. He has spent much of his recent time spreading the word about Fans for Change, and the walk-out of the June 30th home game against the Nationals.

PSaMP is happy to bring you, the reader, an exclusive interview with Andy Chomos, who has been all over the local sports scene in the last few weeks. Andy has way more important fish to fry, between his work at Caracal and Fans for Change, so PSaMP is proud to give you access into the mind of the the one and only Andy Chomos.

Are you a lifelong Pirate fan? If so, what’s your fondest Pirate memory?

I am 43 years old and have been a Pirate FAN since age 6. Many great memories! Steve Blass leaping into the air after the ’71 series win. Clemente throwing out a runner going to third from DEEP right field. Dave Parker gunning out a runner trying to tag up from 3rd in an All Star Game. Rennie Stennant going 7 for 7 batting. Or even more simple memories, as a young child listening to Bob Price and Nellie King on my small transistor radio, listening intently on each pitch while pulling out the baseball card of the particular Pirate that was involved in the play.

How did Fans for Change come about? Was it planned for some time, or was it spur of the moment?

FANS FOR CHANGE came about via the “perfect storm.” The Pirates had just had a disappointing series with the Yankees, and then drafted the 5th best pitcher in the draft with the 4th pick overall. The failure to draft the highest caliber player available gave me the realization that this Ownership and Management team does not place a priority on fielding a championship caliber team.

Why now? Is this something that can’t wait any longer?

The State of PA is in a budget crisis. Programs like Big Brothers/Big Sisters (of which I volunteer for), work force development programs are all facing budget cuts. Additionally, the State was debating raising our Sales Taxes. Then I came across the Forbes article that listed the Pirates as the 3rd most profitable team in baseball and the sweetheart stadium lease deal, and I thought these guys committed to fielding a winning team when they got over $240 million in a taxpayer-financed stadium.

Last year, Orioles fans had a walk-out of their own. This season, they’re still below .500, and their manager has been canned. Can Fans for Change get real results?

The Pirates are just starting to get a sense of the level of FAN frustration. This movement has awakened the passion of the Baseball Purists. A smart business person pays attention to his customers. Our goal is to have the Pirates take TANGIBLE measures to improve the quality of the team and DISCLOSE those measures before Ticket sales start for the 2008 season. Next year, we demand a better product before we are willing to cut a check.

How do you feel about the Pirates blacking out all mentions of the walk-out during the game? Will that minimize the effect of the protest?

Personally, I feel the blacking out is a tactical error by the Pirates. An on-line Post-Gazette Survey with over 12,000 respondents indicates 75% of the FANS will walk off for the 4th inning. The customers are speaking. You don’t ignore or BLACK OUT your customers. I am also confident that the other local media outlets are savy enough and have the resources to get the footage they need.

Since the Pirates organization is blacking out the protest, it means they know about it. Is that the first step towards change?

Raising FAN awareness about some of these economics has been a BIG first step. So many fans that I’ve spoken to simply gave the Pirates a pass for losing because they assumed the team was still losing money.

What’s something fans don’t already know about the walk-out?

Our surprise guest speaker from the 1971 team.

What’s the support been like? Any negative reactions?

Very strong support as evidenced by the Post-Gazette poll.

Best case scenario for Saturday’s game is…?

35,000 empty seats and having a foul ball clank around with no one chasing it.

Anything else you want to tell fans? Or any other information for those wishing to attend?

Wear GREEN shirts as a sign of solidarity. This is THEIR TIME TO STAND UP FOR YOURSELF. Don’t be passive, take a stand for change. The legacy of this once-proud franchise deserves better!

– Andy Chomos, CEO Caracal, Inc.

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