A clean sweep at Camden Yards Opening Day: At the ballpark, no one plays ball until every toilet flushes and the beer is ready to flow.

March 29, 1996|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

You think you've got a house full of springtime chores? Consider some of the doozies on Roy Sommerhof's Camden Yards checklist of 81 items:

Take red stain out of carpet -- left field corner of club level near left field ramp.

Baseballs on telephones need to be repainted.

Door to Paul Zwaska's sod farm needs to be repainted.

On and on and on.

Down at the ballpark, where Mr. Sommerhof is chief of operations, baseball is coming as sure as the tulips will bloom. And the last-minute rush is on for everything to function, sparkle and be in the right place on Monday when "Play Ball!" rings through Baltimore.

"I'm trying to sound like I'm cool," said Heather Tilles, a public relations assistant answering endless phone calls while preparing more than 500 credentials for reporters from as far away as Japan.

Imagine having to keep more than 550 toilets clean and flushing and then having the Secret Service sweep through the bathrooms.

(President Clinton is scheduled to throw out the first ball at the sold-out 3: 05 p.m. game against Kansas City.)

Hundreds of feet of beer lines have been flushed clean, Boog's barbecue pit is being assembled and thousands of programs are rolling off printing presses in Glen Burnie as the clock atop the scoreboard ticks away the minutes before 48,000 people stream through the turnstiles.

Mr. Zwaska, the head groundskeeper, has been so busy he didn't even know that the door to his 4,000-square-foot sod farm behind center field needed a touch-up.

"The only thing I have left to do is wash the warning track and put some top dressing on the infield dirt," he said yesterday.

But the detail did not escape Mr. Sommerhof, who, in preparation for his 16th home opener, has been working with more than 200 people from backstop menders to bullpen mulchers.

Putting in 12-hour days for the past week, he's been swimming through a sea of meetings, phone calls, memos and stadium walk-arounds, coordinating efforts among the Orioles, the Maryland Stadium Authority, ARAMARK food services, the police and the Harry M. Stevens Maintenance company.

Right up until Monday, he said, "I'll be putting out fires."

Training sessions were held to teach people how to roll and twist pretzel dough, flower arrangements were ordered for the big shots in private sky boxes, and red, white and blue bunting arrived to give the American game that American feel.

As the delegation of chores flowed downward from the suites to the streets, it fell to folks such as state employees Darryl Matthews and Venus Williams to carry it out.

For the past two weeks, Mr. Matthews and Ms. Williams have been on their knees and bellies with drills and ratchets, bolting hundreds of stadium chairs into recently poured concrete.

Asked if her sweat might earn her a pass to one of the seats she was fixing, Ms. Williams looked up from Section 9 and stated the obvious: "If I pay for them."

The last of the ushers who will guide fans to those seats picked up their uniforms this week, and photo identification cards for them and the rest of the ballpark's 300 "event employees" sat on a table inside team offices.

Ernie Tyler's mug shot was among them.

The ballclub's umpire attendant, Mr. Tyler has worked every Orioles game since 1960, a streak of 2,832 games dwarfing last summer's mighty Ripken feat. Just about anything an umpire needs, short of protection from irate managers, is Mr. Tyler's bailiwick.

"I'll work all day Sunday to make sure everything is finally set up," he said. "The umpires' masks, their caps, chest protectors and all the clothing they'll ever wear on the field. It all weighs about 135 pounds and comes in from the airport in big black bags. We put it in their lockers and gather in some soft drinks and snacks, make sure they have towels and soap and shampoo."

On Sunday, Mr. Tyler will also take 60 spanking new baseballs from their boxes and rub them down with river mud to take away their slippery sheen, the only objects at the stadium to have shine removed rather than applied.

"That's an easy job," said Mr. Tyler. "It'll take me 45 minutes."

It took three times that long to lay a new coat of black paint on each of the 85 steel gates around the stadium.

"We also did 605 handrails inside the stadium," said Rudy Schoolman, a foreman for O.T. Neighoff & Sons, who did the job. "I think it's the first time they've been painted since the stadium opened."

To the untrained eye, the 4-year-old stadium looks pretty much as it did at the inaugural home opener in 1992. To keep it that way takes a lot of caulk, a lot of paint and a lot of fresh cement.

"Half the stadium is steel, and the other half is concrete," said Sherman B. Kerbel, director of facilities for the Maryland Stadium Authority. "Steel rusts and concrete cracks."

Terry Elledge, owner of Sovereign Contractors, was sprawled out on the steps leading to the home plate entrance to the stadium for most of this week, removing old caulk and squeezing in new. "We're sealing it and dressing it up," he said.

And dressed up is what Stewart Mayes will be on Monday as the 80-year-old usher arrives for his 33rd consecutive opening day in Baltimore.

While everyone else has been running around, Mr. Mayes has been taking walks. "Just getting my legs in shape," he said. "You can't show up for the game cold."

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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