Memorial Stadium is this man's place Sommerhof leaves no detail unattended on his daily rounds

October 02, 1990|By Susan Reimer

If you want to talk to Roy Sommerhof, you'd better wear comfortable shoes. That's because this guy walks for a living.

He walks to the upper decks of Memorial Stadium, checking for broken seats and storm drains clogged with peanut shells. He walks the parking lot, checking for broken bottles. He walks the fence that rings the old structure, looking for gaps knot-holers might use to enter.

And if you want to talk to Roy Sommerhof, you have to wait your turn. All of the nearly 200 ushers recognize him, and most say, "Hi." The parking-lot attendants know him, too. They, like the ushers and the ticket-takers, interrupt his continual stroll to alert him to problems, thank him for some favor, offer him some cake from an usher's birthday party, show him a newspaper clipping about a relative.

But if you really want to talk to Roy Sommerhof, it might be easier to wrap your fist around a walkie-talkie and call for "Red 1." He could be anywhere around Memorial Stadium, but he is always at the other end of his walkie-talkie.

"Roy has a hard job," said Jay Boyle, general manager


ARA-Martins, the stadium concessionaire. "The 40,000 people here are his guests, and he has to keep them all happy."

Sommerhof is director of stadium services for the Baltimore Orioles, and that covers a lot of territory -- almost as much as he covers on his walking tours of the facility.

The Orioles don't own Memorial Stadium; they are the chief tenant. The city is the landlord, and Sommerhof is the link between them. He also is the Orioles' link with ARA-Martins, which stocks the concession stands, and with Broadway Services, which cleans up after everyone goes home. And he oversees the Orioles ticket office, the ushers and the parking attendants, and he works with the city police and the medical staff on call at the stadium.

"From the time someone buys a ticket until they leave the stadium, they are mine," says Sommerhof, sounding more determined than arrogant.

It seems that everyone in the Orioles front office began his career in some lowly capacity -- as an intern or a ball girl -- and Sommerhof is no exception. The 32-year-old Baltimore native worked as an usher at spring-training games while a sports management student at Biscayne College in Miami. By his senior year, he was ticket manager at the Orioles spring-training facility.

Sommerhof was hired as Orioles ticket manager in Baltimore in 1986. In 1988, he was promoted to director of stadium services.

"I remember my first season on the job," said Sommerhof. "I was having some dinner in the press lounge before the game started, and Larry [Lucchino, now the team president] walked out of the restroom.

"He told me there was no toilet paper. And I had no idea where in this huge place to look for toilet paper."

Few such details escape Sommerhof's attention these days. He carries a pocket daybook with him everywhere, noting under the day's date every missing light bulb, every cracked seat back, every messy mustard jar -- all to be called to the attention of the proper authority.

He is a trouble-shooter, certainly, but he also is a customer-relations expert on a grand scale -- 2.5 million fans visited his facility last year.

"We have what we like to call the Oriole philosophy," said Sommerhof, pointing to a motto printed inside the orange employee handbook that is part of the dress code of every usher. "Treat our fans as you would treat guests in your own home."

The Orioles schedule 81 games at Memorial Stadium, and Sommerhof is there for every one. But you can count on your hand the number of innings -- never mind games -- that he actually has seen.

"My wife will come to a game every now and then, but I can never sit for more than an inning," said Sommerhof. "I feel like I have to keep moving."

He meets briefly with Lt. Phil Farace, who is in charge of the police contingent at the stadium, and they discuss manpower needs for upcoming games. A doubleheader with an Orioles minor-league affiliate on a hot summer Sunday has Farace groaning with displeasure.

Sommerhof checks in at the Fan Assistance Center, staffed on this night by Vanessa Sandler, who is a dental assistant in her other life.

Her job is to handle the kinds of complaints -- ticket problems, parking problems, lost children -- that can be so minor but so damaging to the Orioles' image among fans if they are not handled smoothly. Occasionally, she is asked to step beyond the call of duty. "We had a girl come in one night and ask if Brad Komminsk was married," she said.

Next stop: the Designated Driver booth. Fans sign a pledge not to drink and are rewarded with a wristband that alerts vendors not to sell beer to them. Instead, they get two free sodas and a button. Fans can also come here to request free cab rides home, but they must surrender their car keys.

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