Yard Work While You Watch And The Birds Play, These Folks Do Their Invisible And Essential Jobs At Camden Yards.

June 14, 1998|By Ken Fuson | Ken Fuson,SUN STAFF

Be patient, baseball players always say. It's a long season. The good and bad even out. As Mike Bordick said last year, "Hitters go through ups and downs."

No offense, Mike, but you don't know the half of it. The next time you enter Oriole Park at Camden Yards, stop by the press elevator and introduce yourself to Morris Richardson.

Now here's a man who knows the ups and downs of baseball.

He goes up.

He goes down.

The door opens.

The door closes.

All day or all night, for every Orioles home game, Richardson sits on a cushioned chair, punching buttons, hauling reporters to the press box, escorting television stars to the clubhouse, or making sure the president of the United States reaches his seat.

Up and down. Up and down. It's enough to make a mariner -- or a Mariner -- seasick.

"Some people can't take it," Richardson says.

The 76-year-old man is the guardian of the stadium's press elevator, one of the anonymous but essential people who make it possible for Brady and Raffy and Robbie to entertain an average of 45,000 fans each home game.

Think of it -- that's almost as many people as live in Towson. Seating, feeding and cleaning up after them requires a small army of part-time employees. Aramark, which handles all vendors and concessions, employs 1,200 workers at the ballpark.

But that's just for starters. There are also ticket sellers and ticket takers and ticket checkers and ushers and parking lot attendants and traffic cops and security police (44 for a normal game, 110 for the Yankees) and technicians and statisticians and first-aid nurses (three for a normal game, four for the Yankees) and groundskeepers and gatekeepers and seat cleaners and clubhouse attendants and batting practice pitchers and front-office workers and the three people who take turns bringing The Bird mascot to life.

They represent the team behind The Team. You see some: the attendant who takes your ticket, the usher who cleans your seat, the vendor who sells you a beer.

Wander through the park and you'll find the others, longtime Oriole fans like Richardson, who labor behind the scenes, making little more than the minimum wage but feeling as if they're part of the game.

They just rarely get to watch it.

Jim Bradley walks purposefully through the Orioles clubhouse, straight to the far corner, where Cal Ripken has just helped the home team defeat the Atlanta Braves.

"I've got your keys, Cal."

"OK."

"I'll put them right here."

"OK, thanks."

This is a moment. Not a real conversation, but a moment. This is something Bradley can take home with him to Glen Burnie -- Saw Cal after the game. He's a great guy. Just a brief exchange that your average Oriole fan would remember for a lifetime.

Bradley lives for these small moments. That's why he does it. That's why he stands in front of the Orioles clubhouse, next to a sign that warns AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY, making sure that nobody crosses this hallowed portal without the appropriate credential.

Bradley, 62, is one of two clubhouse attendants for the Orioles (the visiting team has its own attendants). They guard the clubhouse in shifts. The first shift begins four hours before the game and ends when the game starts. The second shift begins an hour and a half before the game and lasts until the players' wives and families leave.

If you work the first shift, you can watch a few innings before going home. If you work the second shift, you're stuck downstairs, in a tunnel under the stadium, listening to the game on a static-filled radio and visiting with a Baltimore police officer.

"You can't even hear the crowd down here," Bradley says.

He handled both shifts for the recent series against Atlanta because his partner, 68-year-old Reginald Disante, was in the hospital for an angioplasty.

The extra work was fine with Bradley. He didn't even know how much the job paid until he received his first paycheck. "My friends say I would have done it for nothing."

Bradley retired last year after 23 years as an electrician with the National Security Agency. His son-in-law's father worked at the stadium and wondered if Bradley would like to join him.

Was he kidding?

"I've always liked baseball," he says. "If I was home, I'd be watching it."

He thought the job would require him to prevent interlopers from reaching the clubhouse, but you'd need to be James Bond to penetrate ballpark security. There are three or four other checkpoints before you get to Bradley.

"If a guy looks like an athlete, I let them go," he says.

So he sits, greeting players -- "You get to say hi to them" -- checking names off his clipboard, listening to action on the radio and running errands, like getting sheets of statistics to Orioles manager Ray Miller before the game.

"Here you go, Mr. Miller."

"Thank you."

Another moment.

"I feel like I'm part of the team," Bradley says. "They may not know me, but I know them."

The elevator door opens.

Morris Richardson looks at you.

"Where do you want to go?"

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