Features

Terezka Peterka Zabka – San Diego Padres 

Hitting legal home runs for San Diego’s MLB franchise 

As the youngest general counsel in Major League Baseball, Terezka Zabka may not be able to wax poetic about Willie, Mickey and the Duke or recall the exact number of home runs hit by Babe Ruth or games won by Cy Young. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t a big part of the success on and off the field of the San Diego Padres. 

Terezka Peterka Zabka | General Counsel |  San Diego Padres 

Terezka Peterka Zabka | General Counsel |  San Diego Padres

As a team of one, Zabka relies on her work ethic and dedication to the organization in playing a vital role in managing the legal affairs of the team and ensuring its continued prosperity. 

“There are a lot of people behind the scenes of the players, coaching staff and baseball operations to make this organization go,” Zabka tells Vanguard during an interview from San Diego in March as the team prepared to head to Korea to take on the Los Angeles Dodgers to kick off the 2024 season.  

Recently, Zabka hired her first paralegal to help her manage her responsibilities as general counsel, which include front office and corporate matters, baseball ops and player contracts, events and supporting the team’s Arizona-based Spring Training and Dominican Republic operations. She also deals with endorsements and sponsorships, PR matters and overseeing all aspects of Petco Park’s operations, including security and medical services and contracting for over 200 private events held at the ballpark annually. 

Fielding the legal challenges 

Unlike so many other legal departments across Major League Baseball, as the team’s sole attorney, Zabka is involved in player matters as they come up, including reviewing provisions for higher-value contracts as all are very aware of the importance of protecting players’ earning potential throughout their careers.  

It has been a busy offseason for the Padres.  

Terezka Peterka Zabka | General Counsel |  San Diego Padres 

In November, Padres owner Peter Seidler died, and a new temporary control person was named. It has been a tough few months for the organization grieving the passing of Seidler, whose grandfather Walter O’Malley brought the Dodgers to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in 1958.  

“There are many things to consider, including who represents the team at league functions and meetings, who is the ultimate decision-maker and who has signatory authority,” she explains.  

On top of all that, Zabka has supported efforts to handle the resulting changes throughout the organization—aside from the on-field product, the Padres also have various investment projects, construction , operations staff and a charitable foundation.  

“It has been a smooth transition, all things considered,” she says.  

Growing the fan base 

Petco Park is almost always near the top of any list ranking the best MLB stadiums, and the ballpark, located in downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp District, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this season—though you wouldn’t know its 20 years old by looking at it. 

Terezka Peterka Zabka | General Counsel |  San Diego Padres 

Zabka says regular maintenance across the stadium, like repainting steel and doing other upkeep yearly, keeps Petco looking fresh. The team is constantly monitoring trends in the industry and is always trying to improve everything from in-stadium Wi-Fi (tickets are all digital and ordering concessions from a phone require stronger connectivity) to the way people spend their time before, during and after games.  

The park’s suite areas were all remodeled in 2023 and now include more glass, leather and marble than before. Overall, the team spent millions of dollars renovating the luxury areas of the ballpark. 

For this year, a new premium seating area called the Cutwater Agave Club will debut on the terrace level and features luxury finishes and a coastal chic vibe, Zabka says. Club members will have access to food and beverage offerings and a private restroom adjacent to their seats.  

Outside of Petco, the team spent $20 million to renovate Gallagher Square, including adding a new LED video board to allow people outside to better watch the game and feel a part of the electric atmosphere. A new state of the art playground has been installed and other amenities catered to parents and kids—like Sunday afternoon activities—aim to create lifelong fans from their first experience.  

“It is not just about getting new fans in the door. It is about the experience once they’re here and how we create lasting memories,” Zabka says. “Whether that is offering more women’s merchandise in our team stores or designing City Connect uniforms with Nike that make people want to rock the SD, everything is about bringing more fans to the ballpark and to the team.” 

Social media also plays a part in driving Padres fan engagement, and being involved in the community is a big factor, too. 

“These players are superheroes to our fans,” she says. 

A perfect legal game 

Early in her post-secondary life, Zabka says she wanted to go into diplomacy, but she quickly learned that that world wasn’t for her. But she knew she wanted an advanced degree, so law school was a natural choice.  

After earning a degree in international relations from the University of San Diego and a JD from her alma mater’s School of Law, Zabka assumed she’d end up learning her craft in a law firm. Instead, she was recruited by Viasat and spent several years flying around the world striking deals to get Wi-Fi on commercial airliners.  

“The company had around 40 lawyers in-house, so It was like a boutique or mid-size firm,” Zabka recalls. “It was an intense six years going through five jobs with five bosses and moving through different business units.” 

Zabka spent six years in a continuous state of learning, and when she started looking for a new in-house opportunity, she came across a job listing for a legal role with her hometown Padres. Because there aren’t a lot of companies based in San Diego, she was excited about the prospect of being able to work in her home area. She joined the team as associate general counsel in May 2021 and was elevated to her current position in January 2023. 

“I became general counsel after 18 months, and as one of the youngest GCs in baseball—and as one of a few females in this role across the sport—I am proud of what I have achieved and look forward to accomplishing so much more,” Zabka says.  

While Zabka says she didn’t know a lot about baseball when she took the job, she has learned about the game and plans on spending a lot of time at the ballpark this season hosting clients or watching the Padres with her husband and two young kids.  

“To be successful in this role, you don’t have to love baseball, but you have to love the law and know how to apply it to the sport,” Zabka says. “I’m enjoying learning more about the game, its history and watching the passion our fans bring to each and every game.” 

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring IV 2024 Edition here.

Published on: May 20, 2024

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