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BASES EMPTY : Ticket Sellers, Ushers at Anaheim Stadium Feel the Agony of a Lost Baseball Season, But Not Only in Their Wallets-- They're Fans Too, After All

October 05, 1994|NANCY WRIDE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Marvin Wolff sat in the empty stands behind home plate the other day. He was dressed in a tweed suit, not the standard polyester ticket attendant attire he's been wearing to work half of every year since 1966.

He was growing faintly nostalgic about the first canceled baseball season since Anaheim Stadium opened, and his job at the front gate.

"A lot of people were interested in working around a ballpark, because there were no major sports in Orange County then," recalled Wolff, 59, a Detroit native who sounds just like Dennis Hopper.

"I am a very ambitious person, though, and I had just moved out here to California, and I was interested in selling insurance," he added, laughing. "So I figured this was a great place to meet people."

After 28 years of fans and planning their lives around the California Angels schedule--from family vacations to other part-time jobs--a dozen veterans who have been at the stadium since the beginning now find themselves grappling like the rest of us with a severed baseball season and the first canceled World Series since 1904. Last Sunday would have been the final game of the Angels' regular season; the playoffs would have started this week.

Like the other part-time employees--retirees to college students--they have depended on the income from April to October. Most of them now are working reduced shifts, if at all; some have filed for unemployment and a few have had to borrow money to make ends meet.

There are still the Los Angeles Rams home games, the tractor-pulls, the motocross events and assorted exhibit shows outside in the parking lot. But baseball, by far, occupied the Big A more than any other event. And the few workers not financially touched by the ended baseball season miss the game terribly.

"There are 1,200 to 1,400 part-time people here affected by the baseball season," said Phil Larcus, the stadium's operations director and one of the original employees of that inaugural season of '66. "It does have a dramatic affect on a lot of people. It's not just the ballplayer on the field."

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Looking out over the kelly green infield that has now been re-sodded for football, Frank Ventrola, 61, conceded that several of his co-workers have felt the pocketbook pinch far worse than he.

He is one of the lucky ones, a full-timer who has managed the stadium's wardrobe department since 1966, overseeing the care and cleaning of 600 uniforms.

"But there's a lot of sentiment involved in it," Ventrola said.

Head usher Chuck Plumberg has worked longer part-time at the Big A than at either of his two previous full-time jobs. He served 20 years with the Navy, then 23 years with the state Employment Development Department, retiring as a manager. At 70, he is like many retired professionals who found a great double prize in boosting his income while enjoying America's favorite pastime at the ballpark.

"In crowd control, we have over 200 people from all walks of life--retired military, retired from industry and very important jobs, people who are working now because they just want to be active," Plumberg said. "One of our best sources of manpower are those who are retired. We also have college students, spouses who are supplementing their income.

"I can't think of anyone who works at the stadium because they want to work there only; their paycheck at the least helps them enjoy life a little more. It affects all of us, and we, like the rest of the world, don't know what's going to happen next spring, when baseball is supposed to start again."

Growing up in Kansas City, Mo., before there was a pro team in town, Plumberg used to watch the Kansas City Blues, the farm team of the New York Yankees. It was a triple A team, and he fell in love with the game as he watched the wonder years of many Yankee greats, Phil Rizzuto Joe DiMaggio's brother Vincent, Johnny Stearns, guys who would become stars later.

"Now," he said sadly, "we don't get to see the playoffs or the World Series. As fans that's a disappointment."

*

Original crew members like usher Ron Kehoe don't mope much about missing baseball, though. The press of his full-time job as a music teacher, along with his sons--now 12 and 26--and their sporting events, has made the job more strictly work over the years.

"For the Rams, I'm on the field level by home plate, probably the worst area because you have more fights. But for baseball, I have a beautiful place, from aisle 102 to 130, which is just to the right of the press box (all the way) to right field, on the third level up. Probably the best seat in the house."

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