It takes a village

Boston Red Sox Spring Training

Dave Dombrowski (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) 

While the Red Sox players continued to prepare for the coming season in Florida—and it was exhilarating for Sox fans to see newcomer David Price strike out six Yankees in four innings last Tuesday night in what he expects to be the “most intense” rivalry he’s ever been a part of?—another team was being put through its paces on Yawkey Way last week.

Under the direction of Pete Nesbit, the Vice President of Ballpark Operations, Stephanie Maneikis, Senior Director of Fan Services, and VP Amy Waryas, Mike Danubio, and Kara Buckley of the team’s Human Resources Department, 175 new employees for the 2016 season went through two days of orientation. These are the folks who play a vital part in game-day operations, in a variety of roles.
These are the people without which no team could function: ushers and ticket takers, greeters and mobility assistance, quality control and security, raffle-ticket sellers and ambassadors and tour guides, folks who work in video productions and premium and group sales and for Team Wally. It takes a village to work a ballgame.

In addition to schooling them on the particulars of their jobs and the Red Sox Way, Pete arranged for Dr. Charles Steinberg and the team’s new historian—yours truly—to speak to the new hires. Dr. Charles took the first night, I had the second.

Steinberg , the man who appropriated the term “the Yes Business” to describe the Sox philosophy, eloquently laid out the essence of what it means to be a part of Team Fenway.

Me? I told a few stories. One was about a college student who as long as he could remember had nurtured the ambition of becoming a baseball general manager. For his senior honors program in college, he made it the subject of his thesis: “The Man in the Middle,” addressing the “contemporary purpose and function of the general manager’s place on a baseball team.’’

As part of his project, the student sent questionnaires to all of the GM’s working at that time. To his surprise, nearly half responded. One, Roland Hemond of the Chicago White Sox, noting that the student was from suburban Chicago, invited him to meet.

During the course of their meeting, the student asked what would be the best way for him to get a job in baseball. Hemond suggested he come to baseball’s winter meetings, which at the time had not yet become a magnet for job hunters that it is today.

The student saved his money, which in this case meant more than a few bucks, since the winter meetings that year were in Hawaii. With a buddy who accompanied him as a vacationer, the student went to Hawaii, and ran into Hemond in the lobby of the luxurious hotel where baseball’s power brokers were meeting. Hemond suggested they meet later that afternoon, and set a time.

In the interim, the student went to the beach, had lunch, then returned to his room, well before the scheduled hour. The phone rang. It was Hemond, inviting the student to come see him immediately. The student said, “But I’m still in my swimsuit.” No matter, Hemond said. Come on up.

So it was in his swimsuit that Dave Dombrowski, now president of baseball operations for the Red Sox, interviewed for his first job in the game. In a followup meeting, he was offered a sales position for $7,000. His father said to him, “Look, I know how much you want to work in baseball, but I can’t see how we can let you take a job for that salary.’’ Dombrowski, an accounting major, sat down and calculated his expenses. He came up with a figure of $8,000. He went back to Mike Veeck, who at the time headed the sales operation, and told him he couldn’t take a penny less.
“Well,’’ said Veeck, the son of legendary owner Bill Veeck, “we don’t normally start people out at that salary, but we’ll make an exception for you.’’

That’s how it began for Dave Dombrowski. “To work in baseball,’’ he said, “you really have to have a passion for the game. It can’t be your family’s passion, or your friends’ passion, it has to be yours.’’

One other story: This one was about an Arkansas farmboy, a rather introverted soul, who loved baseball and communed with the game through the short-wave radio that brought the St. Louis Cardinals intos his farmhouse.
The boy, who lived hours away from the nearest ballpark, attended his first major-league game when he was 8 or 9, under circumstances less than ideal. His father, who worked long hours growing soybeans, was lying in a St. Louis hospital room, suffering from a brain tumor. A Cardinals coach, Johnny Keane, somehow became aware of his plight and came up with his tickets for the boy to go see his heroes.

The boy, bedazzled, went to the ballpark. It was an oppressively hot day. The boy remembered drinking Cokes, many of them, but they did not keep him from succumbing to heat exhaustion. He wound up spending the night in the same hospital as his father.
The boy gave voice to a modest ambition. Someday, he said, he hoped to have a job that paid him enough that he could afford baseball season tickets.
That boy’s name? John W. Henry. I repeated something he once said, and is printed in the team’s media guide, to the new hires.

“I love to listen to and interact with fans,’’ he said. “Perhaps not every fan can identify with me, but I think I can identify with most of them because I’ve been a passionate baseball fan all my life. I know that even the best baseball team cannot win every night, but I want to make sure our fans win every night—that they enjoy as many aspects of our game, our tradition and the Fenway experience as they can.’’

You can help the Red Sox be winners, I told them. And I am confident you will.

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