No one has ever accused Los Angeles pitcher C.J. Wilson of solely being focused on baseball.
The Angels All-Star left-hander also dabbles in photography, music and auto racing just to name a few of his hobbies.
Now you can add the title of car dealership owner.
Not just a car dealer either, but one in the Chicago area that sells to the same customers who are hoping their White Sox can beat out the Angels for a postseason spot. If that weren’t enough to rile up White Sox fans, the dealership is the sponsor of the club’s postgame radio show and an in-game promotion.
While Wilson owning a dealership in the Chicago area that sponsors an opponent’s radio show sounds strange, the purchase of C.J. Wilson Mazda was an opportunity too good for the left-hander to pass up.
“The opportunity to own a dealership is rare,” said Wilson, who is 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA for the Angels. “It doesn’t come up very often. But it’s also the golden goose. It’s a like a five-tool outfielder under team control.”
And much like Wilson’s teammate Mike Trout, who is that five-tool outfielder under team control, car dealerships are hard to come by. Wilson began talks about acquiring what was then Autobarn Mazda of Countryside after the 2011 baseball season ended.
Wilson, who has ties to Texas from his playing days with the Rangers and is a California native, got hooked up with the old owner of the dealership in Countryside, Ill., through his ties with racing.
It took longer to close that deal than it did for Wilson to sign a five year, $77.5-million deal with the Angels. That could be because there’s more at stake with the dealership than with baseball, at least in Mazda’s eyes.
“I think Mazda approved me because of my racing team and they have a little bit of faith that my contract’s going to get paid,” said Wilson. “It lets them know that the people working for me are going to get paid too. The negotiation between me and the seller was much quicker than the approval process. It’s buying a business with lots of employees. There are a lot of hoops and a lot of legal things you have to go through.”
Wilson had a relationship with Mazda already because of the racing team he owns, C.J. Wilson Racing. His teams drive Mazdas when competing in the Grand-Am Continental Tire Series and the Mazda MX-5 Cup Series. He believes that helped push the purchase of the dealership along.
When Wilson acquired the dealership, it already had its contract with the White Sox in place. C.J. Wilson Mazda played a big role in the Angels’ series against Chicago Aug. 3-5.
“They (the White Sox organization) think it’s hilarious,” said Eric Vates, the general manager of C.J. Wilson Mazda. “When the Angels were in town, we had a pregame tailgate party. Friday night we had something for C.J. Wilson Children’s Charities. We had a bunch of kids at the game set up through a local hospital. The Sunday we took the whole dealership there. On the marquee in centerfield for each of the three days we had five to 10 ads saying the White Sox welcome C.J. Wilson Mazda. He got ribbed by his teammates.”
Wilson has no problem with the partnership with the White Sox either. He joked that he’d like to set up an advertisement with manager Robin Ventura and a Nolan Ryan lookalike, bringing back memories of their famous dust-up on the mound.
The only part of the sponsorship Wilson hopes to avoid is being involved in the ‘Drive of the Game’, which is the big highlight for the White Sox radio broadcast.
Not only is Wilson benefiting financially from having one of the largest Mazda dealerships in the Midwest, it’s also helped his race teams.
“Cars are a really deep passion of mine,” he said. “It helps my race team. It’s a two birds with one stone thing. We can use the race team as marketing. And it’s a Mazda thing. We also have a chance to complete projects much faster because we have a big shop.”
Wilson hopes to add more dealerships in the future but knows it won’t be easy. A BMW dealership in Orange County sold for more than $100 million when it was up for sale. Restrictions also limit how many dealerships can sell the same cars in certain areas, making it even harder to find them.
But Wilson, who attended the dealership’s grand opening when the Angels were playing the White Sox, already sounds like a car salesman.
“We’re the biggest dealership in terms of volume in the area,” said Wilson, whose dealership slogan is ‘Not Your Typical Car Guy. Not Your Typical Car Dealership.’ “We’re going to do things the right way at the dealership.”