By Marty Gitlin
Thomas Kleinman has never been one to sit in an office and push papers around.
Not in the 60s, when he earned a baseball scholarship and served two years in Vietnam.
Not in the 70s, when he shunned his law practice, joined a small property company with four hotels and left it as its CEO with 40 hotels.
Not in the 80s, when he threw caution to the wind as a race car driver and opened the first urban bed and breakfast chain in America.
Not in the 90s, when he honed his skills as an underwater diver with certifications in such exotic talents as underwater hunting and search and rescue.
Kleinman is now CEO of a time-share company, owner of a major plush toy company and owner of a charter boat company in Key West, FL, but hes still not pushing papers.
Hes the new hands-on owner/general manager of the Philadelphia Force. And he plans on his new endeavor being a long-term investment.
Kleinman dipped his toes in the water a year ago, when he oversaw operations of ECTB Stadium in Allentown, the teams home park. He was to buy 50 percent of the organization and assume GM responsibilities, but health concerns prompted owner Bill Thompson to say he was going to fold the franchise.
Thats when Kleinman decided to step in with investor backing. Discussions with National Professional Fastpitch convinced officials he was an ideal fit.
Kleinman, you see, believes in the future of NPF. And when it comes to an eye for business, how can he be doubted? Hes 62-years-old and hasnt been wrong yet.
The thing about NPF I really love is that these girls are the best at what they do in the world, Kleinman says. Ive been a baseball guy for 30 or 40 years and Ive always watched the Division I (College) World Series. Anyone who has seen these women can tell you that they play the game the way its supposed to be played.
These women just need an outlet out of college to take the game of fast pitch softball to a different level. People will see its all about them. I know its going to work and Im not in this to lose money.
One can just sense the wheels turning in Kleinmans sharp and enterprising mind. He speaks about cross marketing and cross merchandising with NPFs sponsors and development partners. He speaks about the remarkable growth of the sport itself. He speaks about vast and rapid expansion of teams.
I think in four years time we could see NPF conferences in the West, North, South and Midwest. I see 16 franchises as very doable. This league has marketing power because women are now the primary decision-makers when it comes to purchases in this country. And softball has become huge. In Pennsylvania and in the tri-state area, its grown tremendously.
Kleinman is certainly not working alone in building the Philadelphia Force into a force. He has hired Erin Statmore as assistant GM. He has added former Auburn University and New England Riptide standout Ashley Moore and Moravian University head coach John Byrne as associate head coaches. Eastern Michigan assistant head coach Jennifer Teague will also bolster the Force staff.
And Kleinman? Hell be right on the scene. Hes not about to sit around and push papers.