Stadium crew feeling empty

March 28, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

While baseball's management and union negotiating teams play a bluffing game trying to divide shares of a billion-dollar industry, more than a thousand workers at Camden Yards are without jobs as Opening Day approaches.

Most are avid fans. Many earn minimum wage or slightly above. Few comprehend the complexities of the negotiations.

And nobody understands why, with so much at stake, there can't be a settlement to the dispute.

During any given game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, approximately 1,200 people are working. That's not counting those on the field.

With the strike now in its eighth month and Opening Day already a washout, stark realization is setting in for those game-day employees.

There are no replacement jobs. And the prospect of a long, hot summer is an unpleasant thought.

Myrtle Farinholt, 57, is a die-hard fan. But that's not the reason she would like to see the strike end. Nor is it the reason she's part of the maintenance operation at Camden Yards.

As is the case in the dispute between the owners and players, money is her primary concern. "I'm just living from one day to the next, hoping something will happen," she said.

"Enough is enough. It's time for them to stop acting like little children, sit down and talk this through one thing at a time and try to iron it out.

"Both of them [owners and players] are to blame -- it's like they're saying, 'You don't want to give, I don't want to give.' Nobody can trust anybody."

Farinholt is upset by management's apparent indifference to ballpark workers. "Personally, I don't think it was very good the way it went down," she said. "It was in poor taste -- they [the Orioles] could've come and talked to us. They should've let the employees know what was going on -- what we could expect.

"They could've had the courtesy to tell us something. . . . They at least could've sent a form letter saying, 'I'm sorry, but this is the way it's going down.' This is our livelihood, and a lot of us don't know where our next meal is coming from. I felt like they slapped us all in the face."

Farinholt works two hours a day as a lunch aide at Franklin Elementary School. Beyond that, her source of income is from her work with Harry M. Stevens Maintenance Service, a subsidiary of Aramark, the company that runs the concessions at Camden Yards.

"Come June 20 [when school ends], I'll have no other steady income. I've been with the company five years, but if there's no baseball, I'll have to try to get any job I could

-- and at my age people say, 'Thank you for coming in,' but nobody wants to hire you."

Larry Chambers is another Stevens employee who could be looking at a lean summer. Like many workers who paid little attention to the disharmony of the early negotiations, Chambers was caught off-guard by the strike. "It seemed like it came all of a sudden," he said.

Now, he finds himself following news of the strike -- and has formed an opinion shared by many. "It almost looks like they're not trying to settle," said Chambers, who puts most of the blame on the players.

"I'm hoping they'll play, but right now it doesn't look like it," he said. "I'm not really a baseball fan -- it's kind of boring to me -- but I like being down there. The feeling you get with the crowds and all the hollering, that's what makes it exciting. But I'm not there to watch the game; I'm there to do a job. That's what I get paid for."

Robert "Butch" Bailey, 46, is a teacher at Poly, so he doesn't depend on the money he makes as a ticket taker. "It doesn't affect me too much," he said. "The little bit of money is nice, but I don't need it to live.

"But we've got a lot of retirees who depend on that money. It's another case of the little guy getting hurt. I don't think a lot of them will come back because of this mess. It's just a pain in the butt to everybody.

"To be honest," said Bailey, who's been a game-day employee with the Orioles since 1979, "when they first went out, I didn't miss it at all. What I did miss was being with the people -- that's why I did it in the first place."

Bailey is among those who says neither side is right. "They are both at fault," he said. "I think Mr. [Peter] Angelos has the best approach, but nobody wants to listen to him.

"And I never thought I'd see the day where I said the players have gone too far -- but when you're getting over $1 million, how far can you go?"

Mary Meyers, 30, is part of the younger generation of daily employees at Camden Yards. Her job as an usher supervisor is important in two ways.

"The biggest way the strike affects me is financially -- I had to borrow money to go to school," said Meyers, a part-time student at Villa Julie. "The money helps pay my tuition."

But the job also has its recreational aspects. "Socially, I really miss seeing the people I work with," said Meyers, who works for the state of Maryland in the Health Benefits Budget and Fiscal Planning Department.

She's also a fan. "I try hard not to think about there not being baseball," she said. "At this point, both sides are being hardheaded. I'd like to see it settled by Opening Day, but I'm starting to think it'll be more like midsummer."

Harry DeBaugh has been working as an usher since 1983. He's 68 and retired from the Baltimore County Fire Department.

He enjoys the perks his Camden Yards income allows him -- but he doesn't need it. "I don't depend on it," he said. "It's nice to make a trip to spring training once in a while, but it's not necessary."

What DeBaugh craves the most is the atmosphere.

"I really miss it," said DeBaugh. "I've been around baseball all my life. I can't wait to get back down there."

He just doesn't know when that will be.

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