Stadium/Game Day Operations Management: Aaron Lowrey, Springfield Cardinals, Springfield, Missouri

Below is the results of an interview between Adam Witt, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Aaron Lowrey, Manager of Stadium/Game Day Operations for Springfield Cardinals in Springfield, MO. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2011.

What are some of your responsibilities as the manager of game day operations for the Springfield Cardinals? The best way to explain the nature of my job is to talk about things in season and out of season.  In season, my day is primarily focused on preparing the stadium to host people. So it has to be safe, it has to be clean, it has to be staffed appropriately assuming any of the special new events that are particular to that day’s event.  So there’s some grunt work: setting bar stools out, setting up tables and chairs, turning a wrench if something has gone wrong, troubleshooting electrical problems, air conditionings don’t work, which happened a lot this summer, getting the correct contractor out to do the work in a timely manner, to managing an event staff of about forty people per event.  We can get slim as about 30 people, but as heavy as about 50 people so forty is a fair average.  Medical services as well as security services are kind of under my umbrella. They do not require a lot of management to be honest with you.  We’ve got good people there, corporate sponsors with Cox. For our medical service that covers our fan base we use St. Johns for the players and on the field safety.  And we contract with the Greene County Sheriff for security, that all falls under my umbrella.  The best analogy that I have learned to use is people use to have what they would call open houses and it was a way to welcome neighbors or to get to know people. We would prep your house for an open house and it would be on an afternoon, a Sunday afternoon and you would have refreshments and you would invite people from church or whatever. Well my family did that and my dad’s a pastor and we would have open houses and it was kind of a way of letting the church know who we were.  Well to have an open house, were talking months of work, months and months of work.  Getting everything prepped, every wall painted, everything polished up, things in place, food and that’s kind of the nature of my job.  We have almost checked off our catch up list, things that when wrong during the season that we just didn’t have the time during the season to do things, you know like ballast out in a light fixture in and out of the way spot. That’s ok, it can go on a to do list and as soon as we are done with that list we immediately start the to do in preparation of the season list.  So when we’re in season in some ways I do less work, but longer hours. Its more management based, people based and I enjoy that and it does wear me out too.  In the offseason it’s more maintenance, budgeting, getting ready for the next season while cleaning up from the season before. So right now in the offseason I was trying to set up bids for different services, communicate with sponsors and we do trade outs, so we get certain services provided as part of their contract with us for signage and keeping that relationship up, at the same time getting the services rendered that have been promised. I power washed for three weeks after the season, ran a power washer and I loved it.  It was mindless, at the end of the day you can look at and see exactly what we did and it looks better. Other things aren’t always that cut and dry, clean cut.

Transitioning from what you do on game days and what you do during the offseason so you addressed two questions there. The nature is night and day difference. As Bill my boss, Vice President of the facility operations, likes to say, “You know the good thing about this job is we get to run around here getting dirty all day, but then just before people come into the gates we get to change and put on fancy clothes and people think we are important”.

They don’t know the brunt of it all really do they? People ask me, “What do you do at the ballpark all day”? And to make sure that 7,000 seats are in working order means that we walk every row and fold every seat.  Not every day, it’s just an unbelievable amount of stuff. Also, something that you just don’t ever really think about is just the scale. You might have only four things to do in a day, but every one of those four things is a 150 yards from each other and you get to that thing to do and you realize you left a tool at the other spot. And so there’s just a great deal of walking, great deal of planning to just be efficient.  I’m always amazed at how little I get done certain days. If it was all in one room you could get three things, three times as many things done in a day. In a stadium it just doesn’t work that way, you just walk endlessly and there’s no way to centralize tools or centralize computers. I will be on the opposite end and I know I’ve got an email that’s got an attachment that I have to print. I’ve got to walk 350 yards back to the office, print it. I mean I can view it, but if it’s something that’s requiring a stamp and a signature. So that kind of stuff just eats more time than you think.

Like I told you I have that internship and I’ve done stuff like video, I run the video board, run music. Do you guys do any of that? Does it consist of any of that kind of stuff for you guys? We have a position with an organization that, he’s the manager of promotion, he or she would be the manager of promotion and they are the button pushers. They would manage the camera crew, production crew; I think currently that spot is unmanned, it’s unfilled. I know we have interviewed a few people.  The person that left was the manager of promotion and production so the camera crew, all the production and our in game is the creative side also.  I don’t know if you have been to a game Adam, but in between every inning we have some kind of thing going where it’s a sponsor; Houlihans hula hoop contest, every inning that we break there is one of those. The manager of promotion and production is also a pretty big component in the creative side of that, not the only input.  From the operations side of the way we’re structured, we’re not the creative thinkers; we’re the ones that make it work.  So if there’s an issue with connectivity data wise, power cable, phone, that’s us to fix. Once it’s to your computer it’s you know, more for the individual and I guess that’s probably just by the nature of our personalities.  If perhaps we were different people, Bill and I, maybe we would, but in more on the creative side, we just try to get it done. There’s a saying in the construction world that says architects like to lay eggs that nobody can hatch. I think in our world, our little baseball sports world, marketing lays a lot of eggs that operations then has to figure out how to hatch.  And Bill and I pride ourselves in the ability to hatch a lot of crazy eggs, like playing the Wii from the top of the dugout linked to the video board in center field, Bill and I did that. We asked questions no one had ever asked and figured out things; no one had ever done that before.  Turns out it was kind of a boring thing, but what we were able to accomplish I don’t think had been done in minor league baseball.  It turns out it wasn’t the best in between inning promotion because even getting one round of home run derby pushed the edges of the time allotment. So yes we’re involved in the technology, but we don’t run the camera crew that usually falls on the production side.

It’s probably going to vary of course considering whether its game day or off season, but how long do your work hours consist of? Once again, very simply stated that during the season as long as I need to be here, in the offseason as little as I have to be. There is a little catch up to do, I will be honest with you we’re fairly busy during the offseason because things kind of pile up on us during the season and then there’s always the once we get caught up, there’s always the improvement.  So we have 28 suites and every wall and every suite is repainted by us, every square inch of the concrete in the entire facility is power washed, not all by us, we contract some of that out.  So 8:00-5:00, 8:30-5:00 is a good, it’s a good forty hours a week during the offseason. During the season, 8:30-9:00 in the morning that’s assuming we had a game the night before till 10:30-11:00 till 11:30 in the evening.  The way Bill and I make that work is by taking a small break in the afternoon.  So during the cool of the day we get out, we check seats.  We have furniture decks that are sponsored by Ashley Furniture, full of other furniture. We don’t just leave that leather furniture out, we’ve got to tuck it away, every day we get to pull it out and position it.  We’ve got 68 bar stools on the main concourse, spread over five decks of twelve-twelve-eighteen-twelve-twelve. I think that comes to 68 or 64 maybe, those are all locked up and bundled with bike chains. We didn’t do that originally and obviously we found reason to, so we have to unlock those and line them along the drink rails.  We function as quality control a lot, it’s not in my nature to be a squeaky wheel, but part of my job is to insure that were ready to host people. So sometimes that means that if the cleaning contractor missed something then just take care of it.  It’s a big place, if you beat people up every time they missed one thing you wouldn’t have anyone that would want to do business with you. Grace covers a multitude of sense you could say, but sometimes if it’s an error. Set stadium up, if for instance something’s gone wrong in a highly prominent area you’ve­ got to take care of it during the season or arrange with a contractor to get it taken care of. It seems silly, but just to get someone to come out and fix something requires a fair amount of effort on our part, because we have to meet them at the gates, walk them with our keys to wherever there going, open bathrooms, make sure they can get to and from their work truck or in and out as they need and until you have a real solid relationship with somebody or company you kind of babysit, you kind of hang out with them.  You learn a little bit as you go. I know more about air conditioning then I did a year ago because this was a great summer to test the quality of your air conditioning, ours did not pass but we’re caught up now. But just to get the work done requires a fair amount of effort on my part, which just keeps you from doing something else and now we’ve got some contractors that pull in and we will give them a key and at the end of the day they will bring the key back, we can trust them. Not very many that way though, also depends on what’s going on with the stadium so if it’s a slow time like maybe right now and you’ve got someone doing some preventive maintenance on something, here you go you know, but we will go back and double check that they have locked everything.  So very long answer, long days in the season, but as soon as you know you look at a schedule and anytime that’s gray that means there not here so that means I can go back to 40 hours a week or 30 to make up for the 85 that I just put in for five or six days so it evens out.

How many games do a minor league team play? At the AA level there’s 140. 162 on the major league level. 81 home games, Cardinals needed all hundred-sixty-two games this year. So 70 home games, we also host Missouri State Bears Baseball. Their schedule can vary from anywhere between as little as 20 games, one spring we only hosted 20 games, to as many as 30 games.  So in March we begin with Missouri State and those aren’t crazy long days, there’s less prep because the nature of the crowd is smaller and the games are usually earlier in the day.  But it still means that I’m here on a Saturday or Sunday. Once they get into conference play every series is a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday game.  The tricky part is when April hits and now the Cardinals are playing as well as the Bears.  So in April of 2012 I am going to have 11 Missouri State games and 10 Cards games in 30 days and there’s no double header so 21 of the 30 days is a game day. Which just means those other days you’re trying to play a lot of catch up on just keeping things going. May isn’t as bad in 2012 other than we’re hosting the Missouri Valley tournament, which is about 15 to 16 games depending on the double elimination and that’s all in one week.

And what, probably three to four games sometimes a day? I think it breaks down to four-four-four maybe one or two depending on how it’s shaking out and then the championship game and that’s always scheduled for a Saturday night so that it’s on Fox Sports Midwest, the Missouri Valley conference tournament game.  And they changed the structure a little bit where that Friday, it used to be on that Saturday if the first team won then you might have a second game but they have arranged it better now.  There’s a maximum of 15, a minimum of 13 so depending on how it shakes out so that kind of complicates things. What it takes is a six month season and makes it seven and that’s not assuming any games in September and if we make the playoffs then we have to keep things going through September, which then means we have a shorter window of usable time and after the playoffs to get as much done. And once its cold we try not to do things like power wash or work outside and we try to get that done when we can. I know just in our clubhouse there are 6,800 square feet of carpet that we have machines for and we do it ourselves.  It’s not something we hire some person to do, we do it ourselves because of the nature of the job and I think Bill and I are willing to get our hands dirty.  We have taken a three or four position department and made it two because we’re not too good to clean carpet.  You’re not too good to pick up trash or to change a light bulb and I really like that. I’ve left easier jobs because of that kind of stuff. I like that when you work in a private sector you have to make money or you don’t stay in business and when you have to make money then you have to treat people by the golden rule and it just seems to keep things, there seems to be some accountability to it and I really enjoy that. I worked for the city of Springfield and its fairly inefficient, people are always trying to prove how important their position is and there’s a lot of idle time and I didn’t like that. Even though my life was easier and my hours were better and pay was similar. I like that we just make it happen.

What’s a salary range for somebody in your field? I’ll speak at the AA level; I’m assuming that it’s graded just in a rookie level. A tiny little stadium is going to be less. It honestly can be anywhere from low twenties to low forties, kind of based on the structure.  When you look at where our money goes towards salaries we’re a little top heavy, which is ok if you’re trying to climb to the top. Right? It gives us younger people a little more motivation to keep climbing, but I know on the major league level the person that would be in my position, the nature of the job would be quite a bit different.  When they get a phone call about something they would then make a phone call.  A lot of times at the AA level here when you get the phone call you make it happen, there’s no one else to call.  It would really be anywhere from low twenties to forties and I know I could give you examples of all of them.

And obviously just by class it would just increase? I mean if you’ve got an operations guy that’s also really good with corporate sponsors and you know is good at sales and there’s reason to pay him a little more because it’s a sales person that also runs a stadium.  So there’s room for flexibility there and really most jobs you end up being paid what you’re worth. Everyone is always going to fill like they’re under paid, Adam whatever job you’re working right now you probably feel you’re under paid. That doesn’t go away. I could sit here and say oh the Cardinals and this and that, but it comes down to most people are paid what they’re worth. I guess I have this inherent belief that my superiors will see worth and I don’t worry about that stuff.  For me having a clear conscience when I go to bed knowing that the wages I earned were earned, that’s more important to me.  Some people are just wired more to be more materialistic, I’m just not one of those people.  I was raised on a farm; if I’m fed and I’m warm at night then I am fairly content.  There’s a lot of variety basically is what I’m saying.

Ok. You said earlier that there were 30, 40, 50 people that could be working for you and you manage all these people, I’m assuming at the stadium and what would their jobs consist of on a day to day basis? I would say all those people are put into a group I would call event staff.  So that goes from ushers, to gate attendants, to parking lot people, to a hostess in an elevator, to a hostess in the champions club, the official button pusher for the scoreboard; like balls, strikes, runs. He is actually an event staff member, there are two men that rotate that are old coaches.  They fall under the event staff umbrella and they come in a couple hours before the game. Basically we have about 7,000 legacy green seats from Husee, which is a dark green or hunter green.  Well they show dust horribly bad and it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing to keep the stadium clean. We call it the bowl so the lower seating, kind of the amphitheater, we call that the lower bowl. To get it really clean we have to use blowers; peanut shells, sunflower seeds, you can’t sweep in and out of all of those legs.  Well the blowers inherently kick up dust that then settles on the dark green seats.  So because we had to use blowers now we have to have our ushering staffs grab micro fiber towels and squirt bottles and go through and wipe the seats down, every day almost.  Unless we get a nice little shower in the afternoon, so there’s things like that to do. Prep work, we have early entries fairly often so a certain group gets to come in and have a tour. Or a group of a young baseball team and the coaches and parents go to come in and have a tour and get a chance to meet and greet with the players and have some autographs signed or you know maybe even play catch in the outfield.  They come in early so we’ve got to have people in place early to scan tickets, and then watch them, and help them, and monitor them, and host them.  So they come in two hours before the game time, gates open one hour before the game time so were kind of on before the actual official start time.  If there’s a promo were giving away then there’s things with that; basically the ushering staff and the event staff scans tickets, checks bags for safety and security.  A lot of rules changed after 9/11, we are kind of mandated any public facility, mandated to do a pretty thorough bag check.  We’re accused of doing it so people can’t sneak food in, it’s not really but if we do come across a stash of food we do ask them to leave it on a table set aside because if we knowingly let them bring food and drink in it breaches our contract with the concessionaire company.  To ushering they go down in between every inning get to know fans, check on any foul ball that might enter the stands, try to troubleshoot when there’s a personality conflict in the stands.  Those are perpetuated and heightened by alcohol sales. Just all kinds of stuff, a lot of things fall under them. There’s a media gate that someone has to staff and has them check in, we have a check in list for all the media members and have credentials.  There’s an employee entrance, you know not every employee that works for the Cardinals can have a code on a gate, and it just doesn’t work that way.  We have to staff a person there to check them in so it just ends up being 35 to 40 people.  The concessionaire, the concessions is a whole other group. We’ve subcontracted Delaware North Sports Services to be our concessionaire company, so that does not fall under our operations department.

So just about everything basically when it comes to game day. I’m not officially in charge of our accounting or sales people. I guess I kind of, I’m not a direct boss. I don’t ever use a title; everything I do is through relationship. I end up functioning in some ways as a mentor or a leader but it’s not because of a title.  The next person, if I were to go might come in and try to rework the way this job is done, there’s some flexibility there.  I’m doing it differently than my predecessor and I wouldn’t say better or different but the person before me had his kind of focuses and I had mine but that’s the 30 to 50 that we cover. We are the first people that fans see when they come and the last people that fans see when they leave and they’re paid a little more than minimum wage. We can’t really afford to pay and I tell them this, if we paid them what they were worth we would go bankrupt because we have great people. And when I say I manage it’s not like every single person has to be lined out on every single detail. We don’t have a high turnover rate and they’re good people, they’re nice people who want to be nice.  There are not a lot of super hands on management; in some ways the extent of my management with them is I’m a communicator. Every event has information and details that are specific to it. We have 70 games, every one of them is different, and every one of them we’re hosting a different group, special needs, early entry, this promotion we’re giving away or that promotion, every event is different. So in some ways we huddle in, we call it the huddle and kind of just encourage them and thank them being here and here’s the things we need to know. I make a little tiny sheet that’s probably about eight or nine font, they always tease me that they either need better glasses or longer arms to read it that shows all the groups and where their seated.  When someone says, hey where’s that group from Willard, we can help them.  Then if you’re an usher of A and B you know you’ve got a bunch of Willard people in your group and you can say, hey are you guys from Willard. There’s a table outside gate one and they’re checking you in and you get your ticket there.  Just stuff like that; I know it sounds silly, but this thing that we do out there can become unbelievably complex and one of the biggest struggles that we have is just communicating what needs to be known all the way through. We need our janitorial contractors to be able to answer questions like, hey why didn’t that Willard group do this or why didn’t that group from Republic, where are they seated again?  Because we as the Cardinals look bad if they ask someone that’s working at a Cardinals game; hey how do we go about doing this again? And they say I don’t know.  Then someone says that janitorial contractor doesn’t understand how things are going, they say the Cardinals don’t run a tight shift. The foods not good, the Cardinals screwed us over. You know we have the most to lose, the subcontractors don’t.  They have a certain amount of amenity in some ways so one of the things that I’ve tried to do is correct some of the breaches in that system and just get the right information from top to bottom in a timely manner.   Also, just train the staff when something has occurred and something slipped us to handle it appropriately and not freak out and to always judge or rule in a customer friendly way.  We’re not about rules; I’m not a rules guy at all.  If a gate attendant errors and lets something in that they shouldn’t have, but it was the fan friendly choice, I will never scorn over that.  I will correct them, like actually this is what we can do and this what we can’t.  We’ve got signage; they’re not the bad guy or the bad girl.  We’ve always got signage that’s says, see I’m sorry, so the sign is the bad guy.  So that’s probably how I do my job, when I say I manage 30 to 50 that might sound like it’s a really giant chore. It isn’t always a big chore, getting the information from top to bottom is maybe the biggest chore in it.

You told me the other day that you’re busy with the St. Louis Cardinals getting into the World Series and everything. Do you have a lot to do with them during the season or is it just since they have gotten into the playoffs and gotten to the World Series? We are owned by St. Louis, a lot of minor league clubs are independently owned.  We fortunately are owned by the major league team, I love that. There’s perks that we get as an affiliate. When they have someone to rehab they send them to us.  Memphis is privately owned, the Memphis Redbirds are privately owned.  They’re not in the Cardinals family; there has been talk for years about trying to make it happen. They want to sell and St. Louis wants to buy, but they don’t come anywhere near on price.  They overbuilt; they built an $82 million stadium, which is about twice what you should spend if you’re building an AAA stadium. St. Louis isn’t going to buy, the five not for profits are going to have to take a loss probably at some point.  That’s neither here nor there, but I don’t have a lot of involvement.  When the playoffs hit we get lots of phone calls, we help pass out tickets to sponsors. I have very little to do with that, what’s made it a little more busy is I’ve gotten to go up to some games. Sometimes there’s some work to do on them there, but usually I’m going as a fan, as a perk of my job, but what that means is that I eat half a day traveling that I’m not getting work done and when I get back I’m tired cause I was up till three or four so it just cuts into productivity.  The most interaction I have with St. Louis is over budget, they set a budget and I’ve got cost centers and printing.  Just all kinds of stuff, basically cost centers relate to game day so printing the materials like hand books, signage and stuff like that.  So that’s the most interaction I have with St. Louis, they set the budget and I stay within it and no questions asked. So that’s the most I have, day to day I have very little interaction with St. Louis.

What type of an education is needed and useful to be successful with the job that you have? Well I have a four year psychology degree with religious studies as a minor from Missouri State and I have a Masters of divinity from a seminary. I went to school thinking I was going to be a pastor and those are some good skills to have.  I’m not using my seminary degree as a pastor, but I would say some of the same skills that a pastor has are helpful in this field.  Ideally the person, if I were somehow hiring my replacement the things I would be looking for would be someone without a reactive personality. Reactive personalities are not the right person for this job; I don’t care how much experience, degree, pedigree, skill.  If they’re reactive, they’re going to mess up so I’m not a very reactive person. I usually take things, chew on them for about a day or two and do my little inner battles of I can’t believe that person did that and then I come back home.  That has really helped me; I like to say that I was smart enough to figure that out. It’s just a personality thing, it’s not like I thought hey to do this job well I can’t be reactive, it’s just who I am.  Having a degree helps, you could do this job and not be highly intelligent but it’s going to be a lot harder.  It’s the widest array of skill set; I can’t even begin the things that come across my path in a day. Troubleshooting things like an entire concession stand can’t cook food because we have a powering issue.  So it’s highly stressful, there are 40 to 50 people deep each line in that concession stand, people kind of yelling, freaking out.  Staying calm and being able to stay logical and think through, fix the problem. Then go right back out and do the public relations needed to say, folks I am so sorry, we have a powering issue. It’s just an odd variety of skill set; you might be able to find someone that could do one, but not someone that could not do the next.  Maybe because we are a small organization we have between 20 and 25 full time employees.  The rest are seasonal and you end up having to do everything.  I like that about the job, I like that there’s a lot of variety. I don’t like a whole day running a carpet shampooer, nobody likes that, but you know after a couple of three days after a lot of meetings and a lot of talking it’s  kind of nice to just zone in on a job for a day.  Some peoples vanity won’t let them do stuff like that. One of the things I do when I am training people is if you ever feel like you’re too good to pick up a piece of trash, you’re not going to be very useful to us.  We have had people that were a little to vain to really get their hands dirty, they felt like they were more important than that and that’s an attitude I will have no tolerance of.  I’m quite intolerant of certain things and that’s one of them. I also need someone that’s completely teachable.  If you wake up thinking you know it all there’s no way to go but down. If you know it all already then you’ve just been proven dumb so I guess if I were trying to hire someone to replace me or if I were to right on paper exactly what someone would need to be successful in this position it would be a wide variety of skills; strong people skills, strong communication skills, ability to problem solve, special reasoning. It’s an odd mix, if I have to build a little bit of blueprint to tell a contractor exactly what he needs to know, troubleshoot why this or that or whatever.  Then I also need to be able to manage 30 to 50 people and have the personal skills to do that.  I recently had to do this, your questions, so it was a good learning experience. A PDQ, a position description questionnaire, so I learned a few things about the nature of my job that I had never really put onto paper.  It’s not fair because the right person maybe out there without, but in this day in age you’ve got a have a college degree to even consider this position.  Anything further then that would be ok, but not necessary. If it was a Master’s in a particular skill set that might be handy, if I were hiring a person that had a skill set that was really media savvy, they could really help with production and stepping up our overall level of production that would probably be a good thing.  If they were really strong there but a little shallow elsewhere, not shallow but less deep in that skill set we would probably consider it. We can cover each other you know.  Organizational wholeness is more important than individual wholeness, now you can’t just pick someone that’s super good at this and weak everywhere else, but organizational wholeness is our approach or at least my approach and the way I think of things.  I built an ushering staff based on together or a whole, if I tried getting every person that is top notch it just isn’t going to happen.

What exactly was your career path towards this job? Did you know going into college you wanted to do this once you graduated? No, I’ve mentioned this before I have a psychology degree with a Master’s in divinity.  It’s a 90 hours Master’s Program by the way that took a lot of commitment, 90 hours is three Masters in one.  I am 20 hours away from a Doctorate, which I will probably never get and that’s okay. No, I did not plan on this at all. I worked for the football team when I was in college; this was before there were headless or wireless headsets.  So they needed guys to walk behind each coach that had one and roll the cords, wash towels, put equipment out on the practice field and take it out.  Just an equipment guy and I liked it.  I played a lot of sports growing up, comfortable in the sports world and comfortable with interacting with athletes; you know I don’t get weird around them.  Then worked at a golf course for years and eventually became the irrigation person there.  From there became an irrigation foreman for a landscaping company. One of the 550 properties we managed or I managed was Hammons Field and we converted the original install.  Got to know Brock, the head grounds keeper and was hired as his assistant going into season one, February of 2005.  Worked with Brock for four years as the assistant grounds keeper, I guess I won favor with our general manager and our vice president.  When this position came open they asked if I was interested.  It’s the most bizarre career path Adam, I wouldn’t prescribe it to anybody, but I mean there’s people that want to come to work and cheat.  They don’t want to work; they want to get paid without working. I will be honest with you most people want to come to work and work; I’m just one of those people.  I am willing to try stuff; I didn’t learn how to fix every type of irrigation on a golf course because I wasn’t willing to try.  Started out digging the holes for a guy that was retired and I learned when he retired again I knew how to do all that.  So just being adaptable, learning and I think general manager, Matt, and Bill saw that I had a bigger skill set maybe then my job was needed. Maybe there was some upside with me and they also knew what they were getting.  They also knew they were getting a guy that hadn’t called in sick one time in four years, was nice to people, it’s not that complicated.  Life isn’t that complicated, be nice and do unto others as you would have done unto you.  The door was open for me and I took it, I considered not taking it because I was happy doing what I was doing.  I miss working on the field, it was fun.  Grounds crew is fun, it’s a crew it’s like a little group, but I enjoy this a lot too.  I am pushed harder, I am probably better as a person because it pushes me. I have learned to be more patient and work with a wider variety of people.  So that’s how I got here, I know it’s an odd road and I am ok I with it.

What was the hiring process like for you? When I first got hired by the Cardinals in January or February of 2005, we played our first game April 1st of 2005 so when I was hired I just jumped right in.  Never worked in baseball before, never worked in sports like I had mentioned.  I met with Brock, he was the head grounds keeper and I knew him because I would come to the property here, Hammons Field, two or three times a year.  Check things, fix odds and ends or have a crew with me that fixed odds and ends.  Talked to Brock, talked about issues like hot spots, how to water evenly, check the programmer; just working towards water efficiency.  So I knew Brock, so I had a sit down interview with Brock.  The next meeting was a sit down interview with Brock and his boss, Bill.  Bill is now my boss, I work with him every day. His office is right next door and he and I literally split up if we have to but we will tackle things two prong, we just kind of work things side by side.  I guess I passed that interview, so the third interview was just me and with Matt Gifford, the general manager, who was brought from St. Louis, he worked with St. Louis several years.  I think he was head of marketing perhaps there and he was brought down as the vice president and general manger.  So I guess I had a good interview with Matt and I was hired.

Are you planning to take this job any further than where you are now; for example the big leagues? If St. Louis called and said hey we have got an operations guy that is retiring; you know we have noticed your good work.  I would clearly entertain it, but I am also not a guy that just because it’s there for taking I will take it.  It has to be right for me, I have an eight year old daughter and another baby on the way, been married 12 years with a wonderful wife and she has a good job here, we’re happy here.  Of course I would look into advancement with my own company, I am fairly motivated there.  It sounds silly, it isn’t really about controlling more. It’s getting the chance to exert more influence.  I know that sounds like BS, but I enjoy as I have been promoted the chance to influence more people.

What would you suggest to a student, like myself to get prepared for working in a similar field as you? When you’re at work be eager to work, if we have someone come that’s always chomping at the bit to work and they’re not as personal as you want then that’s not real good.  Then you have people that are really personable and aren’t maybe as motivated to just get in and get it done. There’s a right balance there, be personable and friendly but also show with your body language that you’re working.  If you’ve got to walk back somewhere to get something, do it briskly.  You’re selling yourself, people are judging you everywhere you go and everything you do. It’s what people do to each other, were judging you.  I mean not in a bad way, not in a critical way but we are always assessing behavior and judging it. With a good positive body language and being polite, you sell yourself. It doesn’t necessarily come real natural and I don’t think as a teenager anyone would have said, that Aaron’s got real positive body language just like any other kid. You know real sarcastic, but I wanted to work and if I was given a task I hopped to it. I would also recommend that when you get a job, work like crazy to keep it and if it’s just horrible the best time to find a job is when you got a job.  People are judging you so you might as well just sell yourself, not in a false way. You have to act your way into feelings, not feel your way into actions so I’m going to shampoo the heck out of that carpet.  It’s not like I’m feeling like running a carpet cleaner all day, but if I’m going to do it I might as well do it really good.  So I guess I feed myself a constant line of BS is what I’m saying, right?  It kind of sounds like it but it’s not and they’re paying me to do something and I might as well do it really well.

Is getting into this type of industry hard in today’s economy? Is it tough competition? We’re a niche; we are such a niche environment here. There are only 21, 22, 23 people that work in minor league baseball in Springfield, Missouri or anywhere in the entire southwest corner.  So it’s odd, getting into the sports world isn’t necessarily as hard.  If it’s a public institution like coaching or an athletic director for a high school that’s always going to be there, but the economy affects us.  If you were to categorize us we are more entertainment than we are sports, we’re entertainment. We can’t sell wins and losses; we’re about player development in the minor leagues.  It’s not about wins and losses; we have guys throwing no hitters and when they hit their pitch count they’re out.  Who cares? If you blow your arm at AA that’s stupid, we’re in trouble.  You belong to St. Louis and we are here to take care of you.  So we are entertainment and when the economy struggles the first thing that anyone does is come back to entertainment.  They have “staycations” instead of vacations or whatever.  We have seen that over the years, we have also clawed and scratched and done pretty good. We have seen the last couple of years where we do just great on weekends, on Thursdays and Friday nights.  It is an uphill battle on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.  Those are nights that people are doing laundry, after a weekend they’re ready to be home a few nights with their family.  So I am trying to think through how to answer this question the most honestly.  The way the people that work here got in were through internships with us and that’s your one season chance to just sell yourself.  We have a guy that we just hired, he started in January as an intern and he had to have it for his college degree and he did such a knockout job we hired him.  Every year there is a couple three that just really stand out and we usually hire them, we will find room for them.  Also the nature of sales, if you’re good at selling then you sell yourself and you sell yourself right into a better job, a higher paying job.  So there is a little turnover there, almost always good.  We are taking someone and we taught them some good stuff and they have been a blessing to us for a season.  Hey and they get to move up, that’s great we are happy with that.  You want to send people on to be successful because there’s a Cardinal fan now working at Empire Bank, that’s good for us.  When we call and say have you ever thought about bringing a group out for group tickets? We’ve got them in right? So the way a lot of our staff has come in is through internships, it’s not the only way.  If a position opened up and we had a really good usher for year’s then they would been in the running, but people usually kind of hire what you know.  Knowing somebody or recommendation if they worked with another type of club in another town.  We are looking at someone coming from another club in Texas; she just wants to move back closer to home.  We are considering her because of her experience in another AA club, but also because of the recommendation. She knows what she is getting into and we’re not going to have a sticker shock when the first day she has to work is 12 hours.

What are some of the pros and cons that go along with your job on a daily basis? One of the coolest things is that I get to work in sports; I get to work in a stadium.  It’s a great place to have an office, it’s fun.  There’s kind of the wow factor, oh you work for the Cardinals that’s cool, and not everybody has that.  Not everybody has that and I don’t want to lose that. Other people think it’s cool so it must be cool.  Long hours are rough, the nature of my job particularly in operations, when it’s hot I’m not in here making calls all day, I am kind of running the stadium.  So let’s say we’ve got about a 7:00 start and I come in about 8:30-9:00, were out on the stadium about 9:30 and I am out there until about 2:00. No lunch break, I usually work through it because it’s so hot anyway. I go home for about an hour and a half and shower and come back in dress clothes and do another seven hour to eight hour shift in dress clothes, in hundred degree weather.  That’s fun man. It’s one thing when you sweat through shorts and a polo; it’s another when all evening you’re trying to sweat through your dress shirt, that’s not fun.  It’s like when you’re supposed to be sweaty then it’s ok to be sweaty, but when you’re in dress clothes you’re not supposed to be sweating.  Just the nature of the elements with Missouri and its hot-cold, hot-cold, humidity, allergies, dust or whatever.  Those are some of the cons, pros I work with great people.  I think the nature of the season is so taxing that in some ways we bond, kind of like a military group might.  Like minded people, like sports, lot of fantasy sports and leagues. So just common interest with people you work with.  Obviously the clearest thing is I went to a World Series game yesterday, that’s a pro for working for a AA team.  That’s obviously a pro, I also went to a NLDS and NLCS game so that’s a pro.

Did you intern through college or anything? No, because of a psychology degree I didn’t need to really intern. BA’s don’t need an internship I guess or social science and humanities don’t need an internship.

Would you recommend to intern? Yeah I would, like what you’re doing now. Just to get a little a taste of it. We have had people that are for sure this is what they want and after a summer they are for sure they don’t and that’s good.  It isn’t always about broadening your horizon; sometimes narrowing it is good too.  Sometimes you think, oh yeah and other times you think actually I don’t want to do that I think I’m pretty happy just doing this.  So I would and maybe it just helps you to know what to expect.

Do you recommend getting involved anyway that you can with game day operations and working your way up even if it’s just taking out the trash? Not every organization is like the Cardinals.  We try to promote from within and there’s not a lot of organizations that do that anymore.  There are not a lot of organizations where you go from assistant grounds keeper to maybe a vice president some day and that’s what I am hoping to be; head of operations someday.  I think that use to be more the norm, I don’t know if it is anymore. That’s probably why I am with the Cardinals because they have provided me from within.  Being known is saying something; I didn’t know you from anybody. After our interview, you put in an application and maybe we have an ushering spot, you never know, but you have a better chance than a stranger.