Mitche Graf, the president of business operations for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, will be stepping down from his position (File).

For just over a year, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes President of Business Operations Mitche Graf brought energy and excitement back into the organization.

The Volcanoes had a 12 percent increase in attendance in 2019, along with bringing in new concession vendors and a brand new sound system in the stadium. 

But on March 16, Graf announced that he would not be returning for the 2020 season.

“The Walker’s gave me an opportunity of a lifetime to run a professional baseball franchise, and for that, I am forever grateful,” Graf said. “Getting to know the best fans in Minor League Baseball has been not only an honor, but rewarding as well. The passion that this community has for their Volcanoes is something very special and I have been blessed to have be a part of that family for a short period of time.”

The main reason Graf cited for leaving the Volcanoes was that he didn’t have the time or the bandwidth to keep up with his other companies. Graf has been a successful entrepreneur for the past three decades. He is currently looking at expanding his catering company, while also owning a manufacturing company and a publishing company. 

Additionally, Graf will be releasing two books this year.

“I was having to get up at 3 a.m. to make sure I got everything done,” Graf said. 

However, Graf said he wouldn’t be leaving if he didn’t think the organization was in good hands.

Volcanoes owners Jerry and Lisa Walker made their 22-year old son, Mickey, the CEO of the organization last fall, and Graf believes that he is the right man for the job.

“I wouldn’t step away unless I felt that I was leaving the team in a better position than when I came aboard, and I know that Mickey Walker and the outstanding team we have assembled will ensure that this season is the best on record,” Graf said. “The Walker’s have a really good handle on what is happening and having Mickey in the executive office has been a blessing.”

The highlight of the 2019 season for Graf was when the Volcanoes hosted their first postseason game since 2015. After trailing for most of the contest, the Volcanoes rallied in the bottom of the ninth and had the winning run on base. 

Even though Salem-Keizer eventually lost the game to Hillsboro, Graf was proud of how the organization was seeming to gain some momentum. 

“Our fan-base was rabid. The energy in the place was palpable. I remember looking around the stadium thinking about how this was a culmination of all the hard work this staff had put in over the last nine months,” Graf said. 

Graf was also proud of how all the Volcanoes seasonal employees served customers faithfully during the season.

“It can be a challenge to get seasonal employees to buy in. So when everyone that was here on the last day said they wanted to come back, that was huge. It signaled a shift in culture,” Graf said. 

Even though it was only a 14-month stint with the organization, Graf feels like he had a meaningful impact on the Volcanoes.

“My goal when I came in was to re-energize the franchise. I think we were able to accomplish that. The mindset is different and I believe the momentum will continue in 2020. I wouldn’t have left if I didn’t feel confident in that,” Graf said. 

Graf says that he will still be serving as a senior advisor to the Walker family moving forward and that he plans to be at several games this season.