What would any of us do if we owned a big league baseball team?

Would we buy a round of beers for every fan in the local bar on opening day? Would we get our two best friends in on the deal and run it together? Would we suit up with our sons in hot dog costumes and race down the warning track on a sunny afternoon?

Michael Arougheti has been in the Orioles ownership group for three months, and he’s already knocked all of these items off the dream list.

“I’ve always loved the game. “I loved playing it. I love watching it. I love the sounds and energy of the ballpark.”

Michael Arougheti, Orioles co-owner

The bigger questions are still ahead for Arougheti and his partners. They declined to discuss whether they’ll allow the Orioles’ payroll to grow, sign homegrown stars to contract extensions or follow through with a plan to redevelop parts of the Camden Yards complex.

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More than any other person, Arougheti could have a major role in making those decisions for decades to come. Lead investor David Rubenstein told The Banner he felt Arougheti would be the “logical person” to one day replace him as controlling owner of the Orioles. They have not formalized a deal, Rubenstein said, and any transfer of control would require MLB approval at the time it is proposed.

For now, though, the 51-year-old CEO and president of investment firm Ares Management and New Yorker seems to be having the time of his life owning a part of the baseball team in Baltimore.

“I’ve always loved the game,” Arougheti said in an interview with The Banner. “I loved playing it. I love watching it. I love the sounds and energy of the ballpark.”

Before he made his fortune, estimated by Forbes at $1.9 billion, Arougheti’s first business was selling baseball cards. He still has two closets full of them, including a Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card. Before he imagined owning a piece of the Orioles with his colleagues in Charm City Sports Partners LLC, Michael Smith and Mitchell Goldstein — his best friends and partners at Ares — he was one of the founding members of a baseball fantasy league that carried on for 26 years (he had to give it up to buy a stake in the team under MLB rules).

Arougheti’s life is about numbers. At work, it’s about credit and debt, profit and loss. In his free time, it’s about at-bats and ERA, strikeouts and home runs.

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“I’m really excited about the way baseball teams are managed today, the probability of outcomes,” he said. “It’s a nice thing for me now to be able to live out a dream of mine.”

Arougheti’s dream has been decades in the making.

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A personal pastime

The biggest key to owning any sports team is wealth, so in one sense Arougheti’s path to owning a piece of the Orioles started when he joined Ares Management, a firm that manages more than $400 billion in assets.

But to Arougheti the other piece is passion. He’s loved baseball since childhood, and he played it in high school. You can pin the ownership dream to 1998, when he founded a fantasy baseball league with Smith, Goldstein and a few other friends.

The group consisted of young finance guys living in New York, starting with seven teams. The first draft was held in the offices of a French bank where one of the participants worked, pizza and beers spread on a conference table. On that Saturday before the MLB season started, the draft began at 8 or 9 a.m. and continued for 12 hours.

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“If you ask anybody in the league,” Goldstein said, “the best day of the year was draft day.”

Modern fantasy sports are automated, and all managing your lineup requires is a quick login on your computer or phone. Nearly three decades ago, it was a different beast.

In this league, which eventually became known as the Moneyball League in honor of Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, stat calculations were done by hand. Drafting was done with placards and whiteboards. Owners would scoop up the fantasy magazines sold in January and February, reading up on the insights they would need for that spring’s draft.

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For a group of statistics-driven finance workers, winning the league netted huge bragging rights — it represented a season’s worth of shrewd decisions and fanatical devotion to the numbers.

BALTIMORE, MD - MARCH 28: Representatives of the new  Baltimore Orioles ownership group David Rubinstein and Michael Arougheti look on prior to the game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Thursday, March 28, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
David Rubenstein (left) called Michael Arougheti the logical person to succeed him as control person of the Orioles when Rubenstein decides to cede those duties. (Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Ultimately, the league became less about the results and more about the kinship. This long into it, just about all of the two dozen owners managing 13 teams (most teams are led by two owners) have won the league at least once. The Moneyball League grew to feel more like the Moneyball Social Club, more about the connection among the owners than where they all stacked in the standings.

They would go to games together with their families and realize the starting second baseman of the visiting team was in their lineup. It helped jump-start immediate rooting interest, but the point was they were watching together.

“We really did, somewhat, build the business on baseball,” Smith said. “It made the whole experience kind of connect back to the camaraderie and the game.”

Next in line

The transition from fantasy owner to real-life owner began to take shape in 2022. Before Rubenstein’s own vision to buy the Orioles started to crystallize, Arougheti had been looking to buy a stake in a team.

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Rubenstein didn’t know Arougheti well, only that the younger man had a talent for investment, running Ares Management to a market cap value of more than $42 billion.

So, when Arougheti called him that year to ask if he was buying the Orioles, Rubenstein took note.

“I told him that I didn’t think I was going to be buying the Orioles,” Rubenstein said. “But, if something happens, I’ll call you.”

Last fall, as sale talks heated up with John Angelos, Rubenstein reached out to Arougheti, asking if he was interested — but in a larger stake.

“I told him, ‘David, nothing would make me happier,’” Arougheti said. “‘I would love to do it with you.’”

Arougheti also wanted to do it with his best friends in business and baseball. He called Goldstein and Smith to tell them about the opportunity.

“[He said], ‘This could be an option; this could be real,’” Goldstein said. “We quickly said yes.”

Rubenstein has learned a lot about Arougheti and his partners in the months since, sharing seats with the lifelong baseball fans. Learning of Arougheti’s voluminous baseball card collection, Rubenstein rued the demise of his own. “My mom threw them out when I was in college.”

According to Rubenstein, MLB owners cannot prearrange succession of franchises, and any future transfer of Rubenstein’s status to a successor would require MLB approval. But, in Rubenstein’s estimation, Arougheti, a shrewd businessman 23 years his junior — “He doesn’t seem to have any gray hair,” he said — with a passionate understanding of baseball makes for a natural successor.

“I’ll be at an age, at some point, where I probably won’t be as good at running things as I am now,” Rubenstein said. “He would be the logical person to replace me. … There’s no formal agreement, but Mike is a really easy guy to work with.”

There are many decisions in the coming months that the ownership group led by Rubenstein will have to make: the viability of long-term contracts for franchise players; renovating Camden Yards with a $600 million bond at their disposal; the future of MASN, the Orioles-owned broadcasting partner; and finding ways to reach more fans.

The Charm City Sports Partners declined to comment on these topics. Arougheti said the limited liability company was set up primarily to buy the team but could be used for baseball-adjacent projects that could help better Baltimore.

“We’ve seen that local sports franchises can better communities and cities,” Arougheti said. “So one of our goals would be to not just be stewards of the franchise, but I would hope part of what we can do here — besides bringing wins and the World Series to Baltimore — would be to make a meaningful impact.”

Keeping a good thing going

General manager Mike Elias has also gotten to know Arougheti, Smith and Goldstein. They went to Sarasota, Florida, to check out the Orioles’ year-round facilities in the spring, and as baseball stat heads, they relished learning about the tracking tools Baltimore has at its disposal.

As a former fantasy baseball owner himself when he was in high school and at Yale, Elias understands the dedication it takes for baseball nuts to maintain a keeper league for nearly three decades. “It’s honestly not that different sometimes from some of the back and forth you have [in the MLB]. … People bounce ideas. Some of them are crazy, and some of them aren’t.”

That doesn’t mean Arougheti and his cohorts are about to get too involved in baseball affairs — far from it. They have a deep respect for what Baltimore’s front office has achieved. Every owner who spoke to The Banner said Elias is the leader of baseball operations, plain and simple.

“David and I are both very aligned on this. We believe in empowering great leaders,” Arougheti said. “For us, it’s about letting Mike Elias and his team make baseball decisions. When we’re getting access to the operation, it’s about getting to a place of understanding and to be supportive. We’re not the kind of leaders who override decisions.”

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Added Goldstein: “We told Mike over and over again: Just because we played fantasy baseball doesn’t mean we think we’re qualified to run a real team.”

Elias had questions of his own for his new owners. For example, is it true the Charm City Sports Partners had been Yankees fans?

“I grilled them about that right away,” Elias said. “They said as soon as they knew they were getting the Orioles, they dropped it like a bad habit and immediately switched gears. … It’s kind of a joke, but when I give people my tickets to my box or something, you can’t be wearing out-of-town colors. I just wanted to make it clear that they can’t be bringing Yankee riffraff with them into Camden Yards.”

Added Elias: “Apparently, they didn’t need the warning.”

But Elias also has respect for the expertise the new ownership group brings. He understands the close eye that private equity and finance operators will bring to the operation, likening it to how a baseball front office pores over prospects to see which ones are worth investing in. The relationship has been easy, Elias said, and invigorating.

“It’s very nice because they’re very fluent in baseball, they follow the league really closely and they’re really passionate about it,” Elias said. “And it’s really clear that they want to win.”

In it for the fun of it

If you’re wondering how Arougheti, Smith and Goldstein wound up buying a round at Pickles Pub on opening day, Arougheti called it “totally spur of the moment.”

The three wanted to see how Orioles fans were getting ready to start the season. Arougheti, with a Miller Lite in each hand, wound up standing on the bar at Pickles and shouting: “We’re buying everybody a beer!”

It’s hard to imagine a more enthusiastic response to a new owner’s first move.

People get drinks at the bar inside Pickles Pub ahead of the game on opening day, March 28, 2024.
Some fans at Pickles Pub on opening day enjoyed a round courtesy of members of the new Orioles ownership group. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

“Going to the nearby bar and drinking a beer — that’s what I would do,” Arougheti said. “I wanted to be with the fans, get to know them and see what it was like in Baltimore. It was great to see the way everybody reacted.”

Most people will never funnel millions or billions into buying a baseball team, so it’s hard to understand what that purchase feels like. Drawing on the experience of their day jobs in Ares, the trio said the deal itself felt largely like work: complicated, nuanced and transactional. Logistics and process were the chief concerns as they worked with Rubenstein to acquire the team.

Though the sale and ownership group were announced in late January, it took two months for the enormity of the purchase to settle in. They soaked in the roar of more than 45,000 fans screaming in the blowout Orioles win — suddenly, the impact of their collective endeavor slammed into them.

“It’s your responsibility to the city and the state to make sure you do right as stewards of their team,” Goldstein said. “It really hit me on opening day. The passionate fans … really struck me.”

The passion is also in these owners. They’re not playing a major role in baseball decisions but trying to figure out how to support the front office. They’re also having a boatload of fun. One day this month, Arougheti dressed up as Ketchup in a hot dog race with his sons, 19-year-old Eli and 15-year-old Noah. Dressed as Relish, Eli won, with Smith waving the flag at the finish line.

Owning a baseball team was a personal goal for Arougheti but one that wouldn’t feel the same without the people he cares about in the owners suite with him — even if it meant abdicating the Moneyball League.

But, on this latest baseball venture, his buddies are still coming with him.

“It’s a thrill for me to be in baseball with my friends,” he said. “That’s what makes it special.”