- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

Erik Baten pulled on his black Pittsburgh Steelers jersey (Terry Bradshaw’s No. 12) on Monday and headed to FedEx Field, where he twirled his Terrible Towel, traded trash talk with Washington Redskins fans and cheered his heroes to a one-sided victory.

He is a typical Steelers fan - loud and passionate - one of thousands who stormed FedEx and made such a racket that the Redskins had trouble hearing their signals. Mr. Baten said he started rooting for the black and gold when they beat the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV. He was 6 and enamored with running back Franco Harris.

But among his Steel City brethren at the game, he was the only one who got in with a ticket from LaRon Landry, the Redskins safety. Landry is his friend, as are other Redskins, and he has open access to Redskin Park.

Mr. Baten, however, is neither a spy nor a traitor. What he is, with his mobile carwash and detailing business, is the Redskins’ Sultan of Suds. Or in recent political parlance, Erik the Carwash Guy. He is entrusted with the care and cleaning of the players’ and coaches’ vehicles, many of which are high-end toys with price tags that run deep into the six figures and require as much coddling as their owners’ egos.

The more expensive the car, the more finicky the car owner, and Mr. Baten makes sure his customers are satisfied enough to tolerate his loyalty taking a temporary detour.

“They all know I root for them unless they play the Steelers,” he said. “I don’t root against the Redskins. I just root for my team.”

Leaving his home in Montgomery Village, Mr. Baten shows up at Redskin Park several times a week between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. in a white van crammed with the tools of his trade. He has a 225-gallon water tank, a 15-horsepower pressure washer, four different buffers, soap, wax and more. He waits in the lobby for the players to arrive, takes their orders and their keys, and sets to work washing, waxing and vacuuming in an empty part of the parking lot while they practice and attend meetings.

And when they leave, their rides are sitting pretty.

“He does a great job, inside and out,” said Landry, whose pride and joy is a gigantic Ford F-650 pickup truck he uses for his drag-racing team. “It’s basically very convenient.”

Quality is important, of course, but convenience is the key. Professional athletes have neither the time nor the inclination for the mundane tasks of daily life. What they do have is the cash to pay for the best of everything and to make life easier. The key is that Mr. Baten waits for them. “He’s good, and he’s right there,” cornerback Shawn Springs said.

Linebacker London Fletcher, who mostly drives a Range Rover but occasionally a Mercedes CLS 500, said: “When I’m at practice, I can get my car washed. We don’t have a whole lot of time. You’re tired. Going to the carwash is kind of a bit much.”

Indeed.

Mr. Baten cleans some of the coaches’ cars, too. In fact, he said, defensive coordinator Greg Blache is his best customer and his best tipper. Mr. Baten sometimes makes house calls to sparkle up Clinton Portis’ fleet of cars, which includes a Maserati and a 62S Maybach, a limousine that Portis himself drives. The car is valued at approximately $325,000, about the same as Fred Smoot’s Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Then again, who wouldn’t know that?

Those are the most expensive cars on which Mr. Baten works, but he’ll take on all vehicles. He’ll clean anything with wheels, from Jason Taylor’s Bentley to Cornelius Griffin’s fleet of 1960s muscle cars to Casey Rabach’s F-250 pickup.

His favorite? “A dirty car,” he said.

Bada-bing.

Mr. Baten is always trying to recruit new customers. Some of the Redskins have their own carwash guys or prefer to go elsewhere - one place being a well-advertised auto dealership that uses several players in its commercials and cleans their cars gratis. Mr. Baten understands. “Why pay if you can get it done for free?” he said.

Then, there are those who simply don’t care about the dirt, such as Hall of Famer Darrell Green. “His car was always dirty, but he never wanted it washed,” said Mr. Baten.

Mr. Baten, 35, is a testament to hard work, hustle and, not least of all, knowing the right people. He used to have a regular job working for the Houston’s restaurant chain, but that got old. He always liked the idea of being his own boss, and a friend who waxed and detailed cars planted the car-maintenance seed.

“I took a severance package, bought a van on my birthday and just started doing it,” he said.

That was in 2001. Through his cousin, WKYS radio personality “Antonio the Cuban Cigar Smoker,” he met Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington, who carried considerable clout back then and gave Mr. Baten an in to the team. Four years later, he got a deal to clean the Washington Nationals’ cars at RFK Stadium. It lasted until they moved to their new ballpark last year.

After Arrington was cut by the New York Giants in 2007, Mr. Baten went to work as his “personal assistant.” Arrington, he said, told him he would invest in his business. But things soured, partly because Arrington was in a motorcycle accident that left him with serious injuries. Mr. Baten was riding on another motorcycle, headed from Annapolis to the District, when Arrington crashed. “It was just a hard deal,” Mr. Baten said. “It started a downward spiral.”

Mr. Baten returned to Redskin Park this year. Muscular and looking younger than his age, Mr. Baten could pass for one of the players, albeit an aging veteran.

He attended University of Maryland Eastern Shore but did not play sports after playing football for just one year at Largo High School. His uncle is former professional golfer Lee Elder, and Mr. Baten said he got sidetracked “going to all these … golf tournaments” instead of concentrating on sports.

“Somebody would be cleaning my cars right now, if I played all four years,” he said.

Mr. Baten is applying for a commercial driver’s license. He said he plans to drive big rigs and earn a steady income but will continue to work at Redskin Park and eventually expand his business.

“You don’t get rich working for yourself,” he said. “You get rich having people work for you.”

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