Game days start early, end late for Hens staffWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
The first crews start arriving at Fifth Third Field up to 14 hours before a typical evening game and the last ones don’t leave until three or more hours after it’s over.
“There are times when there’s not anybody here, but it’s not very often,” said Greg Setola, manager of game day operations.
“For a typical 7 p.m. game, the day really honestly starts around 6 and 7 a.m. for some departments. Actually, the cleaning crew is usually here at 5 a.m. The grounds department gets here next along with food service. Tickets and fanwear start between 8 and 9 a.m., then everything falls in on an hourly basis.
“[After the game], we don’t lock anything down until every single fan is out of the ballpark,” Setola said. “Then there’s a variety of shutdown procedures. It’s not just locking the gates and everybody go home. Most departments are here at least an hour and a half postgame. Depending on the promotions, it could be as late as midnight. When there are postgame events, with scouts for example, it’s been known to run past 1 a.m.”
For morning games, such as school day games for students, the whole schedule gets shifted even earlier, Setola said.
“There’s a little bit more prep that goes into those days based on the sheer number of kids and making sure it’s a safe environment,” he said. “Shutdown on those games also takes a little longer, with 6,000 to 9,000 kids to get counted and safely on buses. But those are the nice days because you get out while the sun is still shining.”
The first to arrive on a typical game day is the cleaning crew, which comes at 5 a.m. to clean the stadium, finishing around noon, Setola said. Afterward, staff members start setting up any concourse displays needed for that night’s game.
The box office and Swamp Shop are open all day, but extra game day staff start arriving around 4 p.m.
Ushers, ticket takers and security personnel arrive about two hours prior to game time, Setola said.
A pregame meeting with staff happens around 5 p.m. with gates opening between 5:30 and 6 p.m.
Sports Turf Manager Jake Tyler is used to working long shifts during the season, but Opening Day is especially drawn out.
For evening home games, Tyler is normally on the job for 16-18 hours, he said. On April 11, Tyler, whose seasonal crew of 20 turf tamers has been working since mid-March to perfect the playing surfaces, plans to arrive at the field at 4 a.m., three hours earlier than normal, to accommodate the TV news people who traditionally file reports from the playing field for morning news shows. But he doesn’t seem to mind. Like many baseball fans, Opening Day is a hallowed annual milestone for Tyler, his 17th since he started work as a groundskeeper.
“It feels like summer is around the corner,” Tyler said.
Craig Nelson, president of A Cut Above Catering, the official caterer of Fifth Third Field, said crew members start arriving at 7:30 a.m. to receive deliveries and distribute inventory so it’s ready for game day staff.
Stand managers arrive around 2 p.m. and the rest of the staff arrives by 4 p.m. Workers start spinning cotton candy and popping popcorn early to have enough in stock by game time. Walking vendors start at 5:30 p.m.
Opening Day is one of the busiest business days of the season, Nelson said.
“Typically Opening Day starts real early just because we want to make sure things are just right and in place and be able to have time to correct anything that may pop up after being closed down for five months over the winter,” Nelson said.
Focus on fans
Making sure all the departments are running smoothly is Setola, who usually arrives around 1 p.m. for a
7 p.m. game.
“A lot has changed over the years. It used to be 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. or midnight,” Setola said. “We all used to do the long shifts and that’s kind of the norm for minor league baseball.”
He starts by answering emails and voicemails and checking the weather. Then he checks attendance numbers and adjusts staffing levels. He does a walkthrough of the ballpark, making sure everything is set up correctly.
“My main focus on the day is to make sure the fans are getting the experience they are paying for,” Setola said. “That’s to a whole new level to what it was even five years ago. It really is about the fact that we draw so many nonbaseball fans and how do we make that experience just as good [for them] as the people who actually come to watch the game.”
Issues that arise could be anything from misprinted tickets to a spilled soft drink, Setola said.
“Our philosophy is basically ‘We fix it now,’” Setola said. “The last thing we want is the fan to walk away with a bad taste. It’s very, very, very rare that we can’t turn a negative situation into a positive.”
Setola is also the guy who makes the call on rain delays or cancellation. “Those are usually coming from me,” Setola said. “It’s the one part of the job that’s probably the most stressful, but we have a system that allows us to make good decisions.”
Setola, a New Jersey native, has been with the Mud Hens since 1997, starting as a part-time cashier in the Swamp Shop. He’s also served as the Swamp Shop’s assistant manager, a ticket sales consultant and box office manager.
“I’ve had the ability to basically work throughout each department, which is rare,” Setola said.
Setola said working behind the scenes at a ballpark has changed the way he watches sports.
“When I visit another ballpark or arena, it usually amounts to me getting there early, which was never the case before. Now I have a list of things I want to check out,” Setola said. “I’m looking at the way the ballpark is set up, the kind of entertainment they’re providing, what they are doing with the video boards, how are they interacting with fans, what are they providing for guest service, down to the concessions experience.
“I look at it as we’re always in the business of being better and if we can find something out there that we can use to improve what we have, we need to do it.”
Game days for Home Clubhouse Manager Joe Sarkisian usually start with running errands, such as grocery shopping. He gets to the ballpark by noon, where he checks that laundry was finished, works on paperwork and handles any player issues that arise.
“Somebody might need a car detailed, somebody needs you to pick this up, somebody’s wife needs to get picked up from the airport — there’s just a million little things the players could need,” Sarkisian said.
“The way we’ve always looked at it is the players need to come here and focus on their work, so we try to provide an environment where they won’t have to worry about those outside things as much as possible,” Sarkisian said.
For morning games, the clubhouse opens at 8 a.m. to serve breakfast. For evening games, players start arriving around noon to eat and relax. After players hit the field for batting practice at 3:15 p.m., clubhouse staff tidies the locker room and lays out a spread of food. Sarkisian used to cook the food himself, but the catering department handles it now, although he said he occasionally makes his special Mexican lasagna.
Between 5 and 7 p.m., players eat and relax before the game.
“[Sixteen years ago], everybody had pagers; now everybody sits around with an iPad,” Sarkisian said. “It was Nintendo 64; now it’s PS3 or they sit on their iPad. But we still have a lot of guys who play cards.”
After the game, Sarkisian’s staff serves a postgame meal and starts doing laundry. Clubhouse staff stays about two hours after the game, with one person staying later in each clubhouse to wait on the last load of laundry.
Sarkisian, a Maumee High School graduate, never played and had only watched a few baseball games before he got a job in Ned Skeldon Stadium visitor’s clubhouse 16 years ago.
“I always thought that was kind of a good thing because I just treated everybody exactly the same because I had no idea who they were, as far as prospect or not prospect,” Sarkisian said.
The most stressful part of the job is when things go wrong or schedules are tight, Sarkisian said.
“Maybe there’s a player transaction and we’ll have a guy coming in from the airport at 5:30 p.m. and we have to make sure he has all his stuff, but we have no idea what sizes he is until he walks in,” Sarkisian said. “There’s a lot of details that go into making sure everything’s running right. It’s just like putting on a show every night at 7 o’clock.”
Travel days are also stressful, loading the bus and making sure everyone has everything they will need on the road. Buses from road games may get back at 4 a.m. and staff must meet them to unload and do laundry.
The best part is the camaraderie, Sarkisian said.
“You get to meet a lot of different personalities. You make friends with them,” he said. “These guys are living their dream and playing a game for a living, which is amazing to me and I just get to be a part of it.”
Opening Day is always electric, Sarkisian said.
“You just feel like you’re shaking off the winter when Opening Day comes around,” he said. “It’s just cabin fever at this point and you’re just kind of waiting to go.”
Toledo Free Press Staff Writer Dave Willinger contributed to this report.