O's honor guard long on years, satisfaction

Employees: A senior corps that has quietly formed the `backbone' of the Orioles' operation for nearly 50 years earn rings of their own.

April 01, 2003|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

The first day Ed Hojnacki tried to land a job with the Orioles was a bust. So was the second day. And the third.

But he came back one more time in 1967 and he has been on the payroll ever since.

Yet, the 36 seasons of service logged by Hojnacki are nothing compared to John Rachuba's nearly five decades, Henry Wolf's 46 years or Gordon Kennard Sr.'s 43.

They are what Camden Yards operations director Roger Hayden calls "the backbone" of the behind-the-scenes crew. This year, a dozen of them will be given rings for their work as ushers, gate greeters, ticket takers and crew supervisors.

"These guys live and die this stuff," says Camden Yards events manager Doug Rosenberger, a 32-year man himself who started his Orioles career parking cars at Memorial Stadium. "You have a meeting and they're there early. It's different today. It's hard to find people like them."

For a lot of the men, the ballpark gig began as a way to make a little extra money to supplement their Bethlehem Steel paychecks. Like baseball managers, one would get a job and hire his childhood friends or co-workers.

Even though they've each been part of opening days from Brooks to B.J., they still look forward to them.

"I've never missed an Opening Day. I've been fortunate that way. All my illnesses have been in the offseason," says Hojnacki, 67, who started as a bullpen guard and is now a crew supervisor.

"This is what I do now. This is my six months of work," adds Bob Krysiak, 66, who spends his retirement days supervising the party suites.

They cherish the jobs and can't imagine doing anything else.

"It's because of the people," says Rachuba, 82, an usher on the club level. "They stop by and say `Hi.' You see them come in as children, and now they're bringing in their own children."

Rachuba remembers his first home game - and the Orioles' as well - on April 15, 1954. He parked cars for fans who came to see Bob Turley pitch the team to a 3-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

"Imagine, there were only 100 [reserved] parking places then. General parking was 25 cents," he says, shaking his head.

Three years later, Wolf was recruited by Rachuba, a co-worker at the Sparrows Point fire station who promised him $5 a game parking cars at Memorial Stadium and another $5 to be a vendor pouring beers. For a Beth Steel guy who got 50 cents spending money a week, the job was a gold mine.

"I never left the Orioles, no, never," says Wolf, 71. "It's like family. Every fall I say I'm not coming back and every spring I do."

Recalls Hojnacki: "We'd get off work at the Point, come here for a night game, finish at midnight and then get up to be at work at 6:30. It was like a relaxation place. You could come out, meet people and watch a little ball."

Kennard, who lived three blocks from Memorial Stadium, began as a ticket taker "when they needed me" in 1960, the same year as Orioles umpires' attendant Ernie Tyler.

Kennard, 77, has been field supervisor at Camden Yards for the past 16 years, controlling pre-game access and directing the celebrities who have made appearances.

His claim to fame, he says, was predicting in 1966 that the Orioles would sweep the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

"If I had put money on it, I wouldn't be sitting here," he says, laughing. "Now, they can't fire me because I don't do anything."

Ask the longtime employees what's changed and they'll mention more fair-weather fans and security worries and less contact with the players. But almost to a man, they say they'll keep showing up at Camden Yards as long as the Orioles want them.

That these boys of summer are in their personal autumns is the reason Hayden and Rosenberger lobbied for the service rings.

"There are tears and handshakes at the end of the season because when Opening Day comes around, we find that we've lost a few," says Rosenberger.

Says Wolf: "I'm going to come here as long as the good Lord lets me. I'm hoping someday I might make 50 years."

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