By STEVE RUMAN
NILES — They’ll sell you a treat, and help find your seat.
They’ll pour you a beer, and lead you in cheer.
They’ll give you the score, and provide entertainment galore.
They are described by Mahoning Valley Scrappers General Manager Dave Smith as “the backbone of our organization.”
From concession workers to ticket takers to the scoreboard operator, Smith relies on his team of workers much like Scrappers manager Tim Laker relies on his players.
While it is the players who provide the main attraction, Smith is quick to point out that without his own “team,” a night of baseball at Eastwood Field just wouldn’t be complete.
“Each and every one of our workers play a key role in making Scrappers baseball the whole entertainment package that it is,” Smith said. “It takes a lot of dedicated employees to do what we do night after night.”
In fact, on an average game night, approximately 125 employees — players excluded — are scattered all throughout Eastwood Field. Many work behind the scenes, while others have become more recognizable than even the players.
Since the Scrappers’ first home game in 1999, Rachel Pappa has manned one of the portable grills in the stadium concourse.
She has become such a fixture at Eastwood Field that many of the season ticket holders know her on a first-name basis.
“Every year, opening day is like a reunion,” Pappa said. “Most of the fans I never see once the season ends. Then come June, it’s like being reacquainted with old friends.”
Pappa noted that the summertime job is a perfect fit for her schedule — she’s a teacher in the Youngstown City School District.
Her only regret? An avid baseball fan, she rarely gets an opportunity to actually watch the Scrappers.
“I sometimes get to see the final few innings if we close down the grill early. I’m a big Scrappers fan, but for the most part I have to show my support from underneath the stands.” Pappa said with a laugh.
Richard Buffone of Warren also would love to catch more of the Scrappers in action. Still, the retired Packard Electric employee wouldn’t trade his job as head ticket taker for anything in the world.
Buffone says he is living out his dream of working for a professional baseball organization.
“When I was younger, I always played ball. Then I always said that one day I’d love to work for a professional team in some capacity,” Buffone said. “I never imagined there would be an Indians affiliate right in my backyard.
“The interaction with the fans is great, because it seems as though everyone who passes through those gates are in a great mood.
“And the Scrappers front office, from Dave [Smith] on down, they’re jewels to work for,” Buffone said.
While Pappa and Buffone rarely get to catch more than an occasional glimpse of the Scrappers in action, Scott Hansen hasn’t missed a single game — or a single pitch for that matter — since 2001.
That’s when he began serving as a scoreboard operator. In charge of working the linescore, Hansen has recorded every ball, strike, out and error which has occurred at Eastwood Field for the past seven seasons.
An avid baseball fan, Hansen enjoys predicting which players will make it to the big leagues as he watches them develop fresh out of college. Hansen correctly analyzed a pair of former Scrappers who are now with the Cleveland Indians.
“Ben Francisco was a hitting machine, and he was one of the fastest guys I’ve ever seen play here. Victor Martinez, the way he handled himself both in the batter’s box and behind home plate, you just knew he was headed for greatness,” Hansen said.
Time with Church
Though Hansen was just a spectator in 2000, he closely followed outfielder Ryan Church, who is now a starter with the Washington Nationals. The two even became acquainted while sharing drinks at a local watering hole.
“Ryan was my all-time favorite Scrapper. He had tremendous power, he had a cannon for an arm, and he was just a really cool guy,” Hansen said.
Like Hansen, Sarah Vadaj must pay close attention to the action on the field. She is part of the production crew which runs the video and sound board. The 20-year-old Streetsboro resident, working for the Scrappers as an intern, is majoring in advertising/public relations at Marietta College.
Vadaj and the rest of her crew begin preparing for a game nearly 10 hours prior to the first pitch.
“Every day we put together a script, depending on the theme for that night’s game,” Vadaj said. “Whether its a foul ball sponsored by a business or a sound we use for an exciting play, we have to react to nearly every pitch.
“It’s a lot of fun. The crowd feeds off of a lot of what we do, which is kind of our way of knowing they enjoy what we do.”
Though Dan Stricko doesn’t see every pitch of every game, he does spend more time on the playing field than anyone associated with the Scrappers organization.
Stricko, a Canfield resident, is the head groundskeeper at Eastwood Field. On days when the Scrappers play at home, Stricko spends nearly 16 hours at the ballpark.
Earlier this summer, when the Mahoning Valley was in the midst of an extended dry spell, Stricko found himself watering “the greenest lawn in Niles” five to seven times per day.
“Then last week, I found myself sitting helplessly as nearly two inches of rain fell in a short period,” Stricko said. “Maintaining the field to keep it in tiptop shape is a never-ending challenge.”
Perhaps no one spends as much time at Eastwood Field during the summer as Ryan Mulford.
After working on the Scrappers’ grounds crew for two years, the Titusville, Pa., native is the clubhouse manager. He sometimes finds himself leaving the stadium as late as 2 a.m. Though his job is demanding, Mulford said he treasures the experience.
“I love baseball, and being around the players every day really opened my eyes to what these guys go through,” Mulford said. “Their dedication and work ethic is something that can only be appreciated if you see it for yourself. Plus, the players and coaches have all been absolutely wonderful to work with.”
James Lowry doesn’t spend nearly as much time at the ballpark as Mulford, but Lowry’s antics have made him one of Eastwood Field’s most recognizable workers.
The outgoing 20-year-old Youngstown resident, whose voice can often be heard all throughout the stadium, loves to interact with fans while working as a concessionaire.
“The fans are here to have a good time. I think they know that what I do is all for fun,” Lowry said.
Earlier this summer, Lowry made a sales pitch as he walked through the stands. If he sold at least 125 lemon shakes during the course of a game, he would shave his head. The customers responded, and Lowry had his head buzzed by another Scrappers employee. Fans watched the event unfold on the video scoreboard.
Just another night at the ballpark, Scrappers style.
“We know that not everyone who comes out here is a hardcore baseball fan,” Smith said. “Our goal is to entertain each and every fan who walks through our gates.
“It’s a difficult challenge to always have to come up with new, fresh ideas. But that’s our job, and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a group of dedicated employees who are the best in the business.”