Ballpark vendors would be hardest-hit by strike

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

DENVER -- The biggest losers in a baseball strike won't be the owners, the players or even the sport itself. They'll be people like Rose Williams.

Most owners and players probably could absorb the financial strain of an extended strike, possibly even millions of dollars' worth. But for many stadium vendors and concession employees, the work stoppage would mean a trip straight to the unemployment line.

''This is my only job,'' said Williams, a beer vendor at the Colorado Rockies' ballpark. ''If I don't make any money, I can go on unemployment, but it's not the same. I help them make money by selling a lot of beer, and it's disappointing to know that I'll be out of a job if they go on strike.''

From ticket-takers to maintenance workers to the guys who throw bags of peanuts behind their backs, it's the support staffers at stadiums across the country who will feel the crunch if big-league players go on strike Friday.

''This is my sole income. I was hoping to get to next summer and then retire, but this will make it tougher,'' said James Meyer, who sells beer in the aisles of the Milwaukee Brewers' ballpark. ''A lot of people around here will be hurt if they go out.''

The strike would be even more difficult for Matt Karlovic, an elevator operator who uses a wheelchair at the Cleveland Indians' stadium.

''Strike talk stinks. They strike and I'm out of a job. My dad is, too,'' said Karlovic, whose father is an usher at the ballpark. ''It would be pretty hard for me to get another job. The Indians are good to me.''

The effects extend beyond the walls of the stadiums.

Coors Field is the hub of an entertainment district in downtown Denver called LoDo. With limited parking, many of the bars, restaurants and hotels count on walk-up customers who attend Rockies games.

If the players strike, the Rockies would lose 13 home games and the businesses around the stadium would miss a big chunk of potential customers.

''The easiest way to put it in perspective is that 13 home games is virtually a sixth of your home season,'' said Fred Plessinger, manager of Sportsfan, a memorabilia store across the street from Coors Field.

''Eighty-one home games is our reason for existing in this location.''

A couple doors down from Plessinger's shop is Splinters, a baseball-themed bar that has photos and baseball memorabilia on the walls. Manager Katherine Fritzmeier says the bar already has felt the effects of a potential strike.

''I think it's frustrating people already,'' Fritzmeier said from the near-empty bar before a Rockies game against the New York Mets.

''This is horrible. I think people are just fed up. Most of the fans that come down don't really care about the Rockies unless they're winning, so if you have those fans and the threat of a strike, it's real slow.''

A strike's effect on vendors and business owners hasn't gone unnoticed by some baseball executives.

Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said he has gotten to know many of the ballpark workers during his 10 seasons in Denver, and the thought of them losing their jobs is difficult to accept.

''I know a lot of people that rely upon a paycheck working in the stadium,'' Hurdle said. ''I have a tremendous feeling for those people. I can't say it any plainer than, 'Shame on all of us if there is not a deal.' I will be embarrassed.''

Many of the blue-collar workers can't even comprehend the dollar figures the owners and players are fighting over.

''Millionaires going on strike. Only in America,'' said James Thompson, a maintenance worker at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. ''My daddy was a union man in the steel mills. They went on strike because of working conditions. What do these millionaires and trillionaires have that's bad conditions?

''Those people got their money. Most of them don't have to work another day in their life. I don't know of anybody that agrees with either the players or the owners. And the people suffer.''

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