- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

Lisa Pagano loves baseball. Loves it so much she left her job managing the downtown Sports Club/LA for a media-relations gig with the Washington Nationals.

Loves it so much that three weeks into the season, she barely had seen the team she works for.

“I’ve only watched a total of three innings,” Ms. Pagano said in late April. “I don’t have time.”

Ms. Pagano isn’t alone. Behind the scenes at RFK Stadium, a small army labors day and night, facilitating Major League Baseball’s return to Washington.

Think ushers and ticket-takers. Batboys and beer guys. Perky youngsters blasting carbon-dioxide-propelled T-shirts into the upper deck.

Stadium entertainment manager Josh Goldin was married on the Saturday following Opening Night. Three days later, he was back at work.

Enjoy the games? Fat chance.

“You don’t get to eat three balanced meals when you work at a stadium,” said assistant stadium manager Li Thompson. “You do get to know where the concession stands are. People here either gain weight or lose weight from the stress.”

Mr. Thompson’s staff lives by a simple axiom: Before games start, they control events; after games start, events control them. On good days, their walkie-talkies stay silent.

“Our stuff is the hidden stuff,” Mr. Thompson said. “If we’re doing what we need to be doing, you don’t see it.”

Not unless you look. Herein, snapshots of a day in the life of RFK:

7:50 a.m.

The rising sun peeks over the upper deck. Truck operator Vanessa Koolhaf sits in a Channel 7 production van, her workday half over.

Batting practice begins in nine hours.

“I got here at 4:30,” she says. “The [stadium] lights were still on. I imagine cleaning crews were still out.”

8:05 a.m.

After 33 years on the job, stadium electrician Aubrey Mayhew has an office crammed with tools, spare parts and other useful gizmos.

Better yet, he has a hammock.

When the television trucks leave late — and the stadium lights need to be shut off early — there’s little reason to go home.

“Sometimes, I’ll sleep in the office,” he says.

8:50 a.m.

Head groundskeeper Jimmy Rodgers slings a bag of soil conditioner over his shoulder. Before the game, his crew will set up the batting practice cage, smooth the base paths, line the field and paint the bases.

They’ll also water the grass. Twice.

“This is a big commitment,” says assistant groundskeeper Tommy Parks. “We’re here 16 hours a day, every game.”

Fellow assistant Phil Gordon rakes the warning track. Peanut and sunflower seed shells are everywhere.

“Especially by the dugouts,” Mr. Gordon says. “The players spit them all game long.”

9:25 a.m.

Anthony Brown can relate. The head of Knight FM’s cleaning crew, he walks the stadium every morning, hunting for rubbish.

“I hate the sight of peanuts,” he says. “If they could pass a law to where you couldn’t eat them in a stadium, I’d die a happy man.”

Mr. Brown gets to work at 8 a.m. He leaves after games. He’s been on the job for two months. His office is hammock-free. For now.

“I’m still trying to figure [sleeping] out,” he says.

9:52 a.m.

Event staff manager Kynny Sutton is something of a bizarro Santa Claus. Beyond coordinating the stadium’s ushers, he has final say over Nationals giveaways.

Bottled water? Uh-uh. Possible projectile weapon. Ditto for small flags, a popular freebee at soccer games.

“Voila!” Mr. Sutton says, producing a small, metal-tipped flagpole from his desk. “That could be used as a weapon.”

Fear not: Bobblehead dolls are still OK.

10:20 a.m.

Impark USA charges $10 for game-day parking at RFK. According to parking operations manager Ben Yohannes, this qualifies as a good deal.

How good? A Boston native, Mr. Yohannes attended the first game of last year’s World Series at Fenway Park.

“They were charging $50, and you had to leave your key,” he recalls. “Double parking everywhere. You got bored, you couldn’t leave early.”

In Washington, Mr. Yohannes adds, fans exit early for three reasons: (1) the Nationals are winning big; (2) the Nationals are losing big; (3) the stadium stops selling beer.

10:50 a.m.

A golf cart idles outside a concourse bathroom. On board are boxes reading ROLLO GIGANTE.

So, just how much toilet paper does the stadium go through? Says an Aramark stocker: “That’s a good question.”

Do the impromptu math: 20 boxes on the cart. Twelve rolls per box. One thousand feet per roll.

That’s 240,000 feet of paper, roughly the distance from RFK to Baltimore’s Camden Yards. Rollo gigante, indeed.

12:15 p.m.

The crack of the bat. The umpire’s bark. From the back booth of the stadium box office, ticketing manager Cheryl Robinson can hear the Nationals just fine.

Of course, watching is another matter.

“Everybody thinks when you work in the box office, you see all the best shows,” Ms. Robinson says. “But I don’t see anybody. I don’t meet anybody.”

On game days, Ms. Robinson’s office may sell as many as 2,200 walkup tickets. The most common request?

“Everybody wants the seats that bounce.”

1:45 p.m.

On May 1, presidential daughter Jenna Bush brought her boyfriend to a game. Stadium catering director Joe Castor delivered the couple’s meal — while nursing appendicitis.

“She cut the cake,” Mr. Castor recalls. “I went downstairs and got in an ambulance.”

A few weeks ago, Mr. Castor parked on the nearby D.C. Armory field, next to a catered tent party. A National Guardsman approached him. Move your truck. Now.

Moments later, a Guard helicopter landed on the grass, picked up a general and took off.

“Life in D.C. does not stop because of baseball,” Mr. Castor observes.

3:15 p.m.

From a perch over the first-base line, nestled above foul territory, stadium television production liaison Mike Mohamed points a left-field television camera.

Recently, a few Nationals players brought a driver and some golf balls to batting practice. They promptly managed to hit the camera.

“If the ball had hit the lens, it would have broken it,” Mr. Mohamed says. “That’s about $100,000.”

Mr. Mohamed smiles.

“They aren’t very good golfers.”

3:33 p.m.

As a player, Nationals manager Frank Robinson smacked 586 home runs. His forearms are still massive. He sits behind a card table, conducting his daily press conference.

A reporter notes that pitcher Zach Day has a broken bone in his right wrist. From the back of the room, a Nationals staffer pipes up.

“We have a release about that.”

“You do?” Robinson asks. “Where’ve you been?”

“I’ve been upstairs making it.”

“Well then, pass it around,” Robinson says, laughing. “Am I in it?”

4:02 p.m.

During the game the previous night, Atlanta’s Brian Jordan hit an apparent home run. The ball was ruled foul. The Braves lost 3-2. Television replays indicated the ball was fair.

Don’t tell that to Nationals third baseman Vinny Castilla, holding court with a group of reporters in the team’s clubhouse.

“It was foul,” Castilla insists with a sly grin.

4:20 p.m.

For now, the Nationals belong to Major League Baseball; once the club is sold, new owners could replace the team’s entire staff.

As such, everyone working for the club has what amounts to a one-year contract. Team radio announcer Dave Shea mills around the Nationals dugout. He comes from Boston. His wife and three of his children still live there.

“This being a one-year deal, it doesn’t make any sense to contemplate moving a family down,” Mr. Shea says. “But it’s tough. You’re missing out on Little League and stuff. They’ve gotten used to it. Me, I don’t know.”

4:38 p.m.

Clubhouse attendant Jeff Brown delivers player mail. He washes dirty uniforms. He even ferries Robinson to and from the parking lot in a golf cart. Some nights, Mr. Brown doesn’t leave the stadium until 4 a.m.

He can’t imagine another job.

“I love it,” Mr. Brown says, taking in batting practice. “Once it’s in your blood, it’s hard to get out.”

5:05 p.m.

Danielle Carneiro sits above third base. A graduating senior at Gaithersburg High, she will later sing the national anthem before 29,000 fans.

Any previous experience?

“I’ve sung at my school’s basketball games,” Miss Carneiro says.

Her mother, Yolanda, interrupts.

“She’s done some Broadway productions for school,” she says. “I wanted her to try out for ‘American Idol.’ She said no.”

Danielle rolls her eyes. “Oh, mom.”

5:17 p.m.

Baseball fare, it ain’t. Katrine Weiss leans against a stadium souvenir stand, munching on a turkey, brie and cranberry sandwich.

By day, she’s a consultant; tonight, she’ll sell hats and baseballs.

“I’m becoming a Nats fan,” she says. “I wanted to do something fun and out of the business world.”

Caps cost $37. Balls go for $12. .

5:40 p.m.

From the window, you can’t see the scoreboard. Which is something of a problem, given that producer Josh Rooney is standing in the scoreboard control room, high above the third-base line.

“That’s kind of a touchy subject,” says Mr. Rooney, laughing. “You know the old adage, ‘You’re in left field?’ Well, we’re actually in left field.”

6:15 p.m.

The mascot is missing. Stuck in traffic. Inside a converted storage room under the stadium, six members of the Natpack prep three carbon-dioxide-powered T-shirt launchers.

“Yesterday, I shot one out of the stadium,” says Tom Davis, also a Nationals intern. “They shoot hot dogs in Toronto.”

Says James Shugart: “We need to start shooting beer cans.”

6:57 p.m.

Pedestrians spill from the Metro station, crowding the Armory sidewalk. Ticket scalper A.M. El-Amin paces in front of a hot dog cart.

“Why is it so bad that a man buys a ticket for one price and sells it for another?” he asks. “I can buy a house for $150,000 and sell it for $300,000. Why not a ticket?”

Mr. El-Amin shakes his head.

“That’s not the American way.”

7:20 p.m.

The sun dips behind the trees on the Armory lawn. Metropolitan police Lt. John Alter clambers aboard his mobile command center, outfitted with a rooftop camera that can read license plates more than two blocks away.

Inside, two flat-screen monitors display images of the surrounding neighborhood. A third is showing the game.

“Third place!” says an officer.

“Who’s that?” Lt. Alter asks.

“We are!” says another officer, grinning.

8:25 p.m.

Beer vendor Eli Levine emerges from a concourse refill room, toting 24 bottles in an ice-filled bucket. A 22-year-old Cornell graduate who works at a nonprofit organization, he likes his side job so far. Except for one thing.

“After Opening Night, my buddies and I wanted to go out and drink,” he says. “But we were too tired.”

9:02 p.m.

First-aid coordinator Monita Golette-Lewis describes her typical night.

“You never know what can happen,” she says. “You have to be prepared for just about anything.”

On cue, a young man enters the concourse first aid station, his jeans covered in vomit.

“He’s had the flu for a couple of days,” says the sick man’s girlfriend.

“How do you feel?” asks Ms. Golette-Lewis.

“I feel fine,” says the man, smiling, ” … now.”

9:15 p.m.

Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson rips a two-run double, giving Washington a 5-3 lead over Atlanta. The crowd roars.

9:45 p.m.

Captain Morgan and Coke. Dewar’s and Absolut on the rocks. Such are the most popular drinks at the Diamond Club bar, according to bartender Johnny Ellis.

“And beer,” Mr. Ellis adds. Go figure.

9:55 p.m.

After yielding a home run and two singles, Nationals closer Chad Cordero strikes out two consecutive batters to seal a taut 5-4 victory. Fireworks explode over left field.

10:04 p.m.

Back in the press conference room, Nationals manager Robinson marvels at Cordero’s cool.

“Nothing seems to bother this kid,” he says.

10:15 p.m.

Cordero stands in front of his locker, penned in by a scrum of reporters and television cameras that goes three-deep.

“I was nervous tonight,” he says, a bag of ice slung over his right shoulder. “I didn’t want to let the team down.”

10:37 p.m.

Look around: The stands behind home plate teem with empty cups, spilled beer, half-eaten nachos and enough peanut shells to shame a circus. Cleaning crews work inward from the outfield seats. For them, the night is young.

11:03 p.m.

Crowd control and security supervisor Sean Holden can’t leave until the players and their families are gone. In the meantime, he’s doing paperwork, poring over plastic binders stacked on a handful of folding chairs in an office near Gate C.

“Oh, yeah,” says security administrator Kristen Reese. “The glamorous part of the job.”

Such is life at RFK: glamor on the field, anonymity off it. Fireworks won’t mark the end of Mr. Holden’s shift. Not that he minds.

After all, it sure beats a regular office gig. Even if he can’t watch the game.

“There’s never a dull moment,” he says. “I haven’t had one day the same yet.”

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