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.
"I've got your keys, Cal."
"I'll put them right here."
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."
"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?"
There are five floors and two options -- up or down. Richardson can haul 22 people per load. One day, he counted: He stopped 720 times and hauled 3,000 people.
The only time he knows what happens in the game is when a fan tells him or when he stops, opens the doors and peeks at the first-floor television.
The job has its perks. He has visited with Tim Allen, the star of "Home Improvement," and last year he met Lynda Carter, the star of the 1970s television series "Wonder Woman."
Richardson introduced himself.
"I'm Wonder Man."
She kissed him.
It's almost obligatory. Nearly every television broadcast of an Orioles home game shows a shot of smoke billowing in front of the warehouse with a mention of Boog Powell's barbecue stand on Eutaw Street.
What they don't tell you is that most of that smoke has first wafted in Jimmy Garippa's face.
He's the head chef. Three hours or so before game time, Garippa fills three giant Weber grills with charcoal -- he'll use 11 bags during a game -- and then loads the meat.
For those keeping score, that includes 1,000 pounds of beef, 350 pounds of pork and 200 pounds of turkey, cut into 80 slabs that are about the size of Mark McGwire's biceps.
Although he has worked at the park for two years, this is his first year as Boog's chef. A student at St. Mary's College in southern Maryland -- he hopes to become a pediatrician -- Garippa, 20, says the job is a good way to earn spending cash.
"It's a lot better than McDonald's."
But the ventilation isn't. By the end of the night, Garippa has swallowed so much smoke he should qualify for a free lung X-ray.
"I just try to block it out," he says.
It's easier to block out the game. Just a few feet away from right field, Garippa has yet to see a play this year, although he was almost hit in the head by David Segui's home run when the Seattle Mariners were in town.
"I'd like to watch, but I can't," says Garippa, a second baseman for the St. Mary's College baseball team. He's too busy serving as many as 4,000 customers a night.
After every game, somebody takes a platter of sandwiches to the players.
"That's the closest I've gotten to the team," he says.
He assumes they like them. He hasn't gotten any complaints.
The elevator door opens.
Well, if it isn't Morris Richardson.
He gets to his post about two hours before each game; most of the players have already arrived. But he has gotten to know several ex-Orioles.
"Jim Palmer always rides. We know each other. It gets to the point where he's Jim and I'm Morris.
"George Steinbrenner rides my elevator when he comes in. Mr. )) Angelos always says, 'How are you doing?' He pats me on the back.
"He was really happy when we won the other night. He was all smiles."
French fries? No problem. A hot dog? Piece of cake. Spilled beer? You won't find Annabelle Franklin crying over it.
"The only thing I hate is those peanuts."
Franklin, 56, is responsible for keeping Eutaw Street and a portion of the concession area clean. Her life would be easier if someone would quit selling peanuts in a shell.
They're the ballpark equivalent of kudzu, and they're everywhere.
"They're really hard to pick up," Franklin says. "It's like they stick to the ground."
Franklin is a rookie member of Team Orioles. This is her first year with HMS, a cleaning company. She is one of 50 people responsible for keeping the park spotless -- well, as close to it as possible -- during each home game.
"I'm responsible for a bathroom with 18 stalls, and I take pride in it," she says. "I get a lot of compliments because I keep the bathrooms clean."
When she isn't cleaning the bathroom -- she does that several times a night -- Franklin walks along Eutaw Street with a broom and a long-handled dustpan. She pays little attention to what's going on during the game.
"I don't care about baseball, so I don't watch. I like wrestling and boxing. The only one I know is Cal Ripken because they always holler his name. And the one that got hit in the face with the ball."
Just when you get ready to mention Mike Mussina, she spots the offending objects -- there, by the lemonade stand -- and practically spits out their name.
"Peanut shells. Ugh."
The elevator door opens.
Richardson looks tired.
"It can get a little boring during a game," he says. A duffel bag sits at his feet, containing a sweater and his lunch, a pork sandwich.
Once the game begins, once the reporters and fans are in place, the action lags on the elevators. There are fewer people to hear Richardson's stories.
Let him tell you about a famous night in Oriole history -- Sept. 6, 1995, the night Ripken passed Lou Gehrig for most consecutive games played.
The elevator riders that night included President Clinton, Vice President Gore and a half dozen Secret Service agents.
"They told me to talk to the president. They said he likes to talk."
Richardson told how he was appointed postmaster of Owings Mills by President Harry S. Truman many years ago. Clinton's response? "I'll bet you're proud of that."
He asked Clinton and Gore to sign his game program.
"They won't let me ask for autographs," he says, "but sometimes I cheat."
Other than The Bird, Jeff Harris has the most unusual job at the park. He doesn't work for the Orioles, or for Aramark, or for the Maryland Stadium Authority.
He works for the players.
He cleans their cars.
That's not entirely accurate. Saying Harris cleans cars is like saying Ripken has played a few baseball games.
What Harris does is wash, wax and gently bathe their cars. The tools of his trade are a pressure washer, vacuum, 55-gallon water tank, generator, hand vacuum cleaner and various solutions for wheels, chrome and engines.
He does everything but pat on baby powder. And he does it all without leaving the player's parking lot.
Of course, these are no ordinary vehicles that Harris cleans. There's Roberto Alomar's black Mercedes Benz SL600. There's Eric Davis' red Mercedes 580SL. There's Brady Anderson's pride and joy, a 1949 Cadillac.
"It's kind of like magic," Anderson says. "You come here, and when you leave your car's clean, and you don't even see the guy."
Anderson is responsible for this. Four years ago, Harris met a friend of Anderson's personal assistant, who allowed Harris to clean -- he prefers to call it detailing -- the player's BMW and Chevy Blazer.
"If he calls you for the '49 Cadillac, you're in," the assistant said.
Harris got the call. Before long, Anderson referred him to Eddie Murray and other Orioles. A year later, Harris started showing up at the player's parking lot, taking orders.
While Harris works on the cars' exteriors, his assistant, Henry Brandon, handles the interiors. You can tell who they are. They're the only people in the players' parking lot who visit with fans.
Harris, 32, loves the work. He attended Howard University, and worked for the state highway administration for five years, but eventually returned to his first love -- cars.
"Kind of strange, isn't it? But I've always been a fanatic about cars. I treat them like they're my own."
Each of the player's cars takes about two hours to finish. The most he has washed at one time is 24 -- the day they were brought to Baltimore from spring training in Florida. He prefers not to disclose what he charges, but he drives a Lexus if that gives you a hint. He will reveal that the players are major-league tippers.
"Oh, yeah, they're pretty good."
Harris says he has cleaned almost everyone's vehicle -- make that vehicles -- except Ripken and B.J. Surhoff.
"I actually think Surhoff cleans his own car," he says incredulously, although it somehow seems appropriate.
Harris often gets to watch the last game of every homestand -- the players don't need their vehicles pampered before a road trip.
"I feel like it keeps them in good spirits to have their car shining when the game is over," he says."
In a small way, he says, maybe that helps them on the field. After all, Anderson hit two homers one of the days he brought the Caddy to the park.
The Orioles win. That's different. The game lasts less than two hours. That's unheard of.
On Eutaw Street, Garippa scrubs the grills and Franklin finishes cleaning the bathroom one last time. Downstairs, in the clubhouse, Bradley gets Cal his keys, and Norm Charlton and Harold Baines can relax. Harris has left their cars in the parking lot, gleaming and freshly waxed.
The elevator doors open.
Richardson waits until the clubhouse empties, then he, too, heads home.
Down he goes, one more time.
"Thanks for coming," he says. "Have a good night."
If he hurries, he may get home in time to catch the game highlights.
Pub Date: 6/14/98