Beloved MLB employee Hilgefort dies in plane crash

Beloved MLB employee Hilgefort dies in plane crash

Susanne Hilgefort, one of Major League Baseball's longest-tenured employees and a key figure in the leaps forward for modern baseball broadcasting, was one of three passengers, along with her husband -- Michael Mydlarz -- who died in a small plane crash on Saturday near Albany, N.Y. She was 48.

"Susanne was a warm and caring person who lived life to the fullest," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "She was an avid world traveler who loved spending time outdoors. When indoors at 245 Park, Susanne always brought joy to those around her with her enormous smile, energy and positive outlook day in and day out. She made a lasting contribution to our game and will be sorely missed."

Hilgefort, who was MLB's senior director of broadcasting business affairs, was a fixture in MLB's broadcasting department for decades. She graduated from Tufts University in 1989 after majoring in political science and immediately began her career as a training coordinator for Christian Dior. A life spent in baseball began in January 1994, when she was hired as manager of production and programming for The Baseball Network, then a new TV broadcasting joint venture between MLB, ABC and NBC.

That network launched with the 1994 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, and it ended in Atlanta when Bob Costas made this call of the final out in Game 6 of the '95 World Series: "Left-center field ... Grissom, on the run ... the team of the '90s has its World championship!" It was the last call for that network, and Hilgefort transitioned to the Commissioner's Office as senior manager of broadcasting, then senior director of distribution development.

John Fillippelli, who is now president of production/programming at the YES Network, was Hilgefort's neighbor in Greenwich, Conn., when he and his wife bought a house there in the early 1990s. She would babysit for their children and "was sort of part of our family" at that time, and he soon gave her a first job in baseball.

"I got the job at The Baseball Network in '93, and I got to hire Susanne as my personal assistant, because I certainly needed someone to help me out with all the things that could fly through the cracks," Fillippelli said. "She was so terrific, so strong, in terms of her ability to look at a situation and understand what needed to be done and go and solve the problem. She was not just an incredible problem solver, but an incredible person."

MLB Network was introduced on New Year's Day 2009, and Hilgefort played a key role in the launch as senior director of affiliate sales and marketing. In May 2010, she assumed the role she would fill for more than six years until her passing.

"Susanne played a key role in the significant growth of MLB's media business over the past 20 years -- both at the national and local levels," said Chris Tully, her supervisor and MLB's executive vice president of media. "She will be remembered not only as a valued colleague, but also as a great friend who had a remarkable zest for life."

"For over 20 years, Susanne was a tremendous colleague and dear friend," said Bernadette McDonald, MLB's senior vice president of broadcasting. "She brought enthusiasm to every project, a willingness to lend a hand on a moment's notice and a zest for life that most of us can only dream of. Her warmth and spirit will continue to inspire us going forward."

Fillippelli heard the news when McDonald called him on Sunday night, and he spoke through tears in discussing her profound professionalism, the way she said "please and thank you," the way she could "melt the ice off the toughest person" while always being embraced and respected.

"Life can be cruel, and she was taken away from us way too soon," Fillippelli said. "I can't get my arms around this thing. She was so kind, so sweet. You know, it's not every day when it's someone you care about and someone that mattered to you in your life. It's a reminder that life is so fragile and embrace it while you have it. Just appreciate the good people around you. Susanne was one of those good people. Her presence made everybody better. She was a professional to the umpteenth degree."

Lisa Quinn, senior director of content development and events for the National Basketball Association since 2000 and previously employed by MLB in special events and public relations (1996-2000), also died in the crash, according to Schoharie County (N.Y.) coroner Matthew Coltrain. Quinn, 48, was inducted into the Robert Morris University Sports Management Hall of Fame in 2012.

Jason Klein, president and CEO of Force 3 Pro Gear based in Derby, Conn., was the only survivor and was being treated for severe burns at Westchester Medical Center's Burn Unit in Valhalla, N.Y. Klein created the "Defender" catcher's mask that Braves catcher Tyler Flowers this season became the first MLB player to wear.

Donations in memory of Hilgefort and her husband can be made to Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.