Putting on the Pacifics | Marin Independent Journal | Danny Schmidt | http://www.marinij.com/sports/20150824/a-behind-the-scenes-look-at-how-pacifics-employees-and-interns-put-on-pro-baseball-in-marin
It’s 11:15 a.m. and San Rafael Pacifics players begin trickling into Albert Park two hours before their Sunday afternoon game against the Pittsburg Diamonds.
Shortly after, four of them begin a card game near the dugout on the first-base line. Many have already taken batting practice and warmed up elsewhere before arriving.
The hours leading up to games are leisurely for the Pacifics, but not for the club’s staff. It’s showtime for a group of employees and interns, ranging from seasonal and year-round positions in stadium operations, ticketing, merchandising, concessions, promotions, media relations and more.
“It has its moments,” said Eric Manlove, director of stadium operations. There’s a side to Marin’s independent minor-league baseball team that fans don’t see, and most may not realize exists. There are 16-hour work days with constant chaotic pacing from one side of the ballpark to the other, yet everybody who was asked said they would have a tough time trading the job for anything else.
Manlove recently moved from North Dakota after his fiancee took a job in the East Bay.
“Some days are better than others,” Manlove said while grooming around home plate. “But it’s rewarding to see how it all comes together.”
Players and coaches may also lend a hand. Manager Matt Kavanaugh and pitcher Ryan DeJesus tended to home plate and the pitcher’s mound, respectively.
Manlove showed up to work at 9:30 a.m. Sunday and didn’t leave until about three hours after the final pitch. He and Parker Brown are commonly the last to leave the ballpark, which, during the week, can be around midnight. There is trash to be disposed of, chairs needing to be stacked, promotional tents to be taken down and much more.
“It can be a bit crazy sometimes, but after all this hard work, it’s rewarding to see the fans screaming their butts off,” Brown said as he hosed down the infield dirt between first and second base.
WEARING MULTIPLE HATS
Brown, a junior at Santa Rosa Junior College, also assists in promotions on off days and away games. He’s one of many staffers to “wear multiple hats,” said Mike Shapiro, the Pacifics president, general manager and co-owner.
Manlove wore a few hats on Sunday. His voice echoed through the grandstand during Sunday’s game in which he was the substitute public address announcer.
Each game has a different theme, one of the ways the Pacifics remain relevant on a nightly basis, Shapiro said. Every game is looked at as an event — the front office has nine months to plan 40 events.
The club is Shapiro’s 4-year-old baby, and he’s raised it with his wife Jane and sons Harry and Jackson. It’s difficult to pinpoint what he’s most proud of — solid workers, grateful players, an embracing community — but he’s as eager to talk about the menu as anything else.
It all starts with the hot dog, he said. Most major-league stadiums’ dogs don’t impress Shapiro.
The ballpark’s menu features several different hot dogs and foods with local names: Sausalito Sausage, ‘The Drake’ Chicken Apple Sausage, Novato Nachos.
All of the food is created and thought of by Jane. Mike assisted in grilling prior to Sunday’s game.
Some fan favorites, he said, are Jane’s Mt. Tam Tri-Tip and Smoky Pulled Pork Sandwich, though nothing compares to the Around the Horn Chili, a Cincinnati-style beef chili that consists of, among other ingredients, cinnamon and chocolate, and can be poured over pasta.
There are also healthy and gluten-free options. Stadium Mustard, a brown mustard from Ohio, is flown in from Cleveland.
“This is Marin,” Shapiro said. “We wanted to have the best food possible.”
Opposite the food cart, on the third-base side, is the bar — built by a former player’s father — equipped with beer, wine, water and soda.
An hour before gametime, the grandstand opens to fans. That is Bill Spiller’s domain.
Spiller, a Pacifics season-ticket holder, worked at Levi’s Stadium for more than 20 years, doing everything from finance to information technology. He was ready to make a change and went to his friend Shapiro.
“Before I even knew it, I was in charge of a whole bunch of stuff,” Spiller said.
In Spiller’s first year as the team’s director of ticketing and merchandising, he said nothing major has gone wrong. Shirts may come printed in colors slightly different than what he expected, but that’s about as bad as it’s gotten.
“It’s not a big corporate thing,” he said. “I didn’t want to go back to that. It’s a family, close-knit group.”
Alicia Meyer is always nearby. The incoming junior at the University of Alabama manages the Pacifics’ social-media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the team’s app and Snapchat, which was her idea.
“We had wanted to do it for a while,” the public-relations major said. “It’s a fun way to get our fans interacting more.
“It’s a really fun job being able to be at a baseball park all day. I’ve learned so much already.”
This summer is also the first with the Pacifics for Miles Durant, the clubhouse manager. His day begins with picking up laundry that he began at Shapiro’s house the previous night. He prepares the locker rooms, rubs down baseballs, fills up water jugs, helps the grounds crew and so on. A little bit of everything, Shapiro said.
“Whatever players need,” Durant said. “Something’s always broken. It’s a lot of being on call, but for the most part, it’s fulfilling because I get to watch baseball.”
Durant, who is transferring to San Diego State University, studies sports medicine and physical therapy. Because of his appreciation of his summer job, he now plans to add a sports management minor.
Seroy, who is transferring to San Francisco State in the spring, called his role “the perfect summer job.”
Seroy studies business, and once the season wraps up, he will continue helping the club and get a glimpse of the business side.
The business side of the organization is another unknown facet to many.
“We have to put a lot of people in the stands and sell a lot of hot dogs just to break even,” Shapiro said. “Which we hope to do someday.”
Four independent leagues around the country folded this year. Shapiro said the Pacifics, who average 529 fans per home game, need to raise that number around 560-570 to break even.
“I think we serve a very important purpose to the community,” Shapiro said. “Whether it can continue or not is an open question. We haven’t made money yet, and we can only lose so much.”
Shapiro’s co-owner, Eugene Lupario, tended bar on Sunday. Co-owning the ballclub isn’t his day job. Lupario, who got involved with the Pacifics in August 2011, owns a staffing company, where he works during the week.
“It’s a passion,” Lupario said. “We try not to lose money, you want to make a couple bucks, but no one is getting rich here.
“This is fun. You’re at a ballpark, there’s a ballgame going on — kinda cool. Pouring beer — equally cool.”
Lupario said though there are plenty of differences between San Rafael’s organization and a big-league club, some components are the same: parking, safety, concessions, merchandise.
“They all have to synchronize, and if they don’t, the fan experience isn’t where it needs to be,” he said. “That’s all the stuff that no fans see. But that’s the hard part.”
Shapiro said he’d love to see the four-team Pacific Association expanded, but notes it would require people potentially willing to lose money owning a team.
MOM AND POP
Shapiro calls the Pacifics a family business. The first paycheck his children and Lupario’s children ever earned came from Albert Park.
The mom and pop feel is echoed by Vinnie Longo, who embodies the team’s “wearing multiple hats” theme. Longo began three years ago as an intern and is now the assistant general manager, public-relations director and play-by-play radio broadcaster.
Longo grew up watching independent baseball. He loves teams’ ballparks without video boards in the outfield, calling the entire experience “funky and old-fashioned.”
He still has his childhood mitt that was signed by Sonoma County Crushers’ players. He’s never used it.
“Fifteen years later, I’m here,” Longo said. “Who’da thunk it?”
Because of his love for indy ball, he is overjoyed when he sees players going out of their way to interact with children and fans during games and signing autographs afterward.
Longo said part of what makes San Rafael games unique is parents can bring their children and let them run free in the team’s bouncehouse, whiffle-ball field or any of the other kids’ activities, all supervised by staff.
Shapiro doesn’t mind if people leave the game unsure which team won. As long as they leave with a big smile, he said.
Longo’s days typically push 16 hours, but he absolutely loves it.
“I love every second of it,” Longo said. “It’s indy ball. It’s interesting, it’s fun and it’s unique. It’s a slice of heaven.”