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They're lining up out of need, not greed, at Dodger Stadium

BILL PLASCHKE

Job fair produces thousands who would jump at the chance to work for the team for minimum wage.

March 01, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

A freshly pressed gray suit clinging to his small frame, a weathered leather folder wedged firmly in his hand, Willie Hunter stood elegantly among the sweating masses filling the darkened concourse.

Unlike others in the news recently, he doesn't need $55 million to work for the Dodgers.

He'll do it for $10.90 an hour.

Please?

"I'll be the water boy, I'll sell hot dogs, I'll do whatever they ask," the security guard said softly. "They're cutting my hours, I have six young children, I need to take care of my family."

An orange band with the number 2,162 attached to his wrist, a weary smile on his face, David Felix looked around the crowded seats and shook his head.

Unlike others in the news recently, he won't require three months to decide whether he wants to work for the Dodgers.

He'll start much sooner.

Like yesterday.

"I've tried for 20 years to get on here, maybe this will be my chance," the unemployed grocery clerk said. "Who wouldn't want to work here? This place is like home."

::

I woke up Saturday with a severe Mangover, head throbbing and sensibilities wincing after a week of following the negotiation circus around Manny Ramirez.

I immediately headed to the one place in the world where I was assured of not seeing him or hearing him.

I drove to a job fair at Dodger Stadium.

You know, a place with a bunch of people who actually want to work for the Dodgers.

"Hey, I'll take $45 million to work here," Felix said. "For that kind of money, I'll play left field and first base at the same time."

In the same week that the wacky left fielder refused to work here for more money than he can spend in many lifetimes, 4,500 people filed into the Dodger Stadium loge level to apply for Dodger and Levy concession jobs that will barely pay next month's rent.

They applied to be a security guard (fighting drunks) starting at $10.90 an hour.

They applied to be an usher (throwing drunks out of their seats) starting at $9.66 an hour.

They applied to be a janitor (cleaning up after drunks in the bathroom) for a pay range that tops at $11.37 an hour.

They're not pretty or glamorous jobs, you can't watch the games, and the gig ends in October, or even sooner if the team doesn't sign Ramirez.

"But it's the Dodgers, " Cesar Cuevas said as he walked through a crowded parking lot. "It's a team I've been following all my life."

He was in the parking lot because, as wristband number 2,400, he had no shot of being interviewed before the fair closed Saturday afternoon.

"It's crazy in there, man," he said.

He will return today when the fair resumes at the same hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., people lining up two hours early, people refusing to leave until they are thrown out.

"It's a sign of the times," said Adam Celories, a college graduate whose suit pants brushed against a pile of peanut shells. "People need work, and people will do anything to work here."

Well, not everybody.

"Tell you what, you give me $45 million, I'll move in here," said Maureen Mendez, whose wristband number was 1,300. "I'm sure Manny has his reasons . . . doesn't he?"

Ramirez' refusal to sign with the Dodgers even though he has no other offers stood in stark contrast with those willing to wait eight hours for a one-minute job interview.

The applicants came early and from everywhere, many hiking into the stadium from downtown buses. They filled up the loge level from Sections 150 to 168, sitting in warm seats watching replayed Dodgers games on the giant videoboard while waiting their turn.

They included unshaven elderly men propped up against walls, young business types balancing sack lunches on briefcases, and even a furloughed flight attendant who brought her 1-year-old son.

"His first word was 'Dodgers,' " said Erin Levang, holding Kieran in the middle of the busy concourse. "I figured it was a sign."

Some wore suits, others wore shorts, and even one particularly bold sort wore a Dodgers jersey bearing the name of "Pierre."

While the Dodgers treated them with dignity, from the big-screen replays to half-price concessions to kindly reminders from countless club ambassadors, it was still such a long wait that by midday, several people slumped over their loge seats overlooking the green beauty of the empty field, soundly sleeping.

"This shows how much everyone needs a job, and everyone loves the Dodgers," said Matt Lindblom, a chef looking for a second income.

Once the applicants were finally summoned to the actual job interview, laid-off retail worker Levi Board could only shake his head. The Dodgers asked him only a couple of questions before promising to get back to him.

"It was like I sat down and got right back up," Board said of the interview. "I hope I made a good impression."

You know, he did, All of them did. It was a day not of desperation, but dignity, thousands gracefully willing to wait long hours for a chance to perform baseball work, stadium work, honest work.

"I just hope I get chance to talk to them," said Willie Hunter, still standing on the dim concrete, his gray suit slowly wrinkling in the heat. "If they can hear me, see me, I know I've got a chance."

Meanwhile, negotiations between the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez continue.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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