Tryout for a spot in fan's nirvana Sports: The new ESPN Zone's job interviews bring out hundreds of devotees -- and some nonfans, too.

May 29, 1998|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,SUN STAFF

For sports fanatics, it doesn't get any better than this. Imagine receiving a 20-minute briefing, each and every afternoon, on the highlights of the day's games. Imagine watching a life-size Cal Ripken make a diving save on a 16-foot television screen -- while you wear a beeper that continuously flashes scores of games going on nationwide.

Imagine getting paid to do it.

That tantalizing possibility lured about 400 men and women to the old B&O Warehouse at Camden Yards yesterday, where managers for ESPN Zone -- Walt Disney Co.'s massive new waterfront restaurant-playground -- held interviews for positions from busboy to server to line cook.

"I figured, maybe I'll put my long hours of 'Sports Center' watching to use," said Chris Cormier, 26, a Fells Point resident who wants to trade his bartending job for a similar spot at ESPN Zone.

The odds are stacked against Cormier and scores of Baltimore residents, clad in everything from suits to gym shorts, who waited for up to five hours yesterday at the Designated Hitter's Lounge for an interview.

ESPN Zone has 319 openings, and as many as 2,500 people are expected to fill out applications during the open house, which continues at Camden Yards today, Saturday and Monday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

ESPN Zone would not disclose wages being offered to applicants, but would say only that they are competitive and will depend in part on the individual's experience.

Crowded into a waiting room was bartender Andy Gergel, 22, of Towson, who stared at a television tuned to ESPN's broadcast of the National Spelling Bee. If he lands a bartending job, Gergel said, he intends to work hard -- but a fan has to draw the line. Say Michael Jordan has the ball, the score is tied, and 10 seconds remain before the buzzer -- but an impatient customer wants a drink?

"I'd fake a cut," Gergel blurted. "I'd pour grenadine on my hand and pretend I cut myself. You can't serve if you're cut!"

Such displays of sports dedication were rampant. One applicant told general manager Jordan Naftal that he had moved to Baltimore from Nashville, Tenn., in hopes of landing a job at the eatery. Another, ESPN Zone sous chef Roger Ruzek, 30, recalled the time he spent three straight days one baseball season glued to the television. ("You gotta take little breaks. You gotta take naps!")

But that level of enthusiasm isn't required to work at the ESPN Zone complex, Naftal said.

Although interviewees were quizzed on things like what year ESPN started (1979), he said he is really on the lookout for people with a great attitude and work ethic.

"I'm more of a casual sports fan," he confessed.

Naftal's viewpoint was shared by more than a few people hoping for a job at the sprawling 35,000-square-foot complex, which will include a sports arena, souvenir shop and video-game area. Anariza Figueroa, 19, who hopes to become a waitress or hostess, held a bottle of spring water with flawlessly manicured orange fingertips as she waited.

"Football has all those good-looking guys," she said, "but I'm not really into sports. I'm into girlish things. I'm into fashion."

In preparation for ESPN Zone's anticipated late-June opening -- the first in a national chain -- the city liquor board approved a seven-day beer, wine and liquor license yesterday. But other hurdles have stymied the complex's planners. Originally, they wanted to erect a giant flaming "sports kebab" to mark the attraction's entrance. Instead of meat on the skewer, the kebab was to have held a flaming basketball, soccer ball, football and baseball.

But this concept befuddled members of Baltimore's Architectural Review Board, one of whom wondered, "Aren't the animal- rights people going to be upset?"

The kebab has been relegated to an indoor location.

ESPN Zone might be wise to hire a few sports-challenged employees, given the decadent "screening room" inside the complex. Customers can lean back in massaging recliners that face a 16-foot television -- which is in turn surrounded by 12 smaller screens -- and use individual remote controls to select which game to listen to over custom headsets. Oh, and they can have their cheeseburgers delivered while they recline, too.

Pub Date: 5/29/98

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