Saladis moves on to new field
There was a time when Niko Saladis would dream about playing on a professional baseball diamond.
Those days are now a recent memory, although he did enjoy success as a player at Douglas High School, Feather River College (Quincy, Calif.) and Southwest Baptist University (Bolivar, Mo.). The 2007 Douglas graduate has taken those experiences and moved on to a new career working in the front office for the Reno Aces, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Triple A Pacific Coast League affiliate.
“It’s actually really cool,” he said Friday afternoon at Aces Ballpark as he sat down to watch a game between the Douglas Tigers and Reed Raiders. “It’s nice to be able to stay home and kind of stick with what you grew up with, that being baseball. And it’s really nice to come to the ballpark every day.”
Saladis was good enough in high school to earn all-league recognition as a center fielder in baseball and defensive back in football. During his senior baseball season, he contributed 5 doubles, 2 triples, 22 RBI and 9 stolen bases in his role for a power-laden Douglas lineup. At Feather River, She earned first-team All-Northern California and All-Golden Valley Conference honors during a 2009 season when he batted .394 with 11 doubles, 4 triples, 3 home runs, 52 RBI and 23 stolen bases. And then at Southwest Baptist, he hit .268 and .279 respectively during the 2011 and ’12 seasons.
“It was a pretty good run,” said Saladis, who graduated from Southwest Baptist with a bachelor’s in sports management. “I enjoyed it, and it allowed me to take care of all the schooling I needed for free. It got me to where I am now, so I’m very thankful for baseball.”
He still relishes the memories and friendships from his time growing up in Carson Valley. After a short walk from his office on Friday, Saladis was greeted by one of those friends, Troy Valenzuela.
“I used to coach football with Troy,” Saladis recalled. “He was the head coach and I was the DB (defensive backs) coach for the Pop Warner team my little brother (Lake Saladis) played on. I had a lot of good relationships in Douglas; it’s always nice to know you’ve got people that are willing to do anything for you.”
Just three batters into the game Saladis recognizes another familiar face from the past — current Douglas catcher Kaleb Foster, a senior who has signed to play for the University of Nevada.
“He played with my little brother when they were both younger,” he said. “I remember a Little League game when he was 4-for-4 with 4 home runs, and I’m like, ‘Hey, that kid can swing it a little bit,’ and now he’s turned into a full-grown man child.”
Moments later, Foster laced a line drive single up the middle for the game’s first hit.
“That’s a good piece of hitting right there,” Saladis said of Foster. “He looks good up there. He’s very calm, very poised. He’s got a real quiet stance, which I love, and his hands are lightning fast, which I think will translate well to the college side of everything. There’s no doubt he will go far in his career.”
The young Douglas squad went on to win the game, 14-5, for its first conference win this season.
“They’re all pretty good little players,” Saladis said. “They’re a little young this year, but they will be all right.”
Saladis went on to acknowledge his high regard for coach John Glover.
“I think Glover does a really good job with the team,” Saladis said of his former coach. “Not only does he do a great job of preparing you for baseball, he does an even better job of preparing you for life. I learned a lot of things from him that I apply to what I do now — about toughness and never giving up — those are things that I use every day and have helped me become who I am today.”
In return, Glover is not the least bit surprised to see his former player working in Triple-A baseball.
“He’s one of my favorite kids … he was a really good player who did a great job in center field for us,” Glover said. “I knew he was going to be a success at whatever he went on to do. He has a great work ethic and he’s just a great guy.”
Saladis started with the Aces in October 2013 as a ticket sales account executive and last fall was promoted to a position as Marketing Partnerships Account Executive for the Triple A minor league franchise.
“I am in charge of marketing partnerships for the Reno Aces,” he said. “Basically, my job is to locate companies within Reno or the surrounding area and oversee anything that falls along with marketing and the baseball team.
“What is really nice, every day is different,” he added. “Every company is completely different and has different needs. It’s nice to be able to use your creativity and find something that works within their budget and find their demographic here at the ballpark so that they can take our audience and turn it into their customers.”
Likewise, he’s excited about the prospects of the Aces, who opened their season on Thursday with an 8-2 win on the road against the Albuquerque Isotopes.
“We’ve got a bunch of hitters,” Saladis said. “We’re going to be a hitting ballclub, that’s for sure. Last night, we hit two home runs and Peter O’Brien hit a monster shot over center field. They’ve said that through the lineup, 1-through-7, everyone has an opportunity to put up 20, 25 home runs apiece, so it should be fun to watch.”
One player to watch in particular was Yasmany Tomas, a 24-year-old Cuban defector who signed a six-year, $68.5 million free agent contract and has already been called up by the Diamondbacks.
“He has massive power,” Saladis said of the 6-1, 230-pound Tomas. “He’s big-league ready already. They just want to give him a run through here at Triple-A, so you’ll be seeing him with the big club pretty soon.”
Watching a game at scenic Aces Ballpark in downtown Reno is a worthwhile experience in itself.
“Every angle from here, the view is amazing. Especially those July and August sunsets where it gets that nice orange hue to it, there’s nothing better,” Saladis said. “The grass is perfect, our groundskeeper, Eric Blanton, is the best groundskeeper I’ve ever seen. So the turf is perfect, the seats are great, there’s nothing bad about this park.”
Saladis flashed a smile when asked if he missed playing baseball.
“Oh, yeah, you always do,” he replied. “It’s always fun to compete, but you know, it’s nice to kind of be a fan now. I appreciate and love the time that I had playing, but it’s nice to be able to sit and actually enjoy the game. And what’s amazing, it’s taught me a new love for the game.
“It’s more than just the game. It’s the interactions. That’s what you mostly miss, the connections with your teammates, the camaraderie. I think if you ask anyone, that’s going to be the thing they miss the most.”