In the second installment in his series, Kase Johnstun remembers what it felt like to be old in a young front office.
I felt old walking into the Rainiers’ front office my first day. Young men and women, decked out in ties and skirt suits and full hairlines, moved between cubicles and shouted punch line after punch line for inside jokes. Nothing made any damn sense.
“Just like Wednesday night,” one young man yelled.
“Well that’s where the donkey lives,” a young woman said. They laughed until another young man, dressed in suit and tie with shiny shoes, walked by their cubicles and whispered, “The only donkey I saw was a chicken.” They laughed again, all before I took a seat at my desk.
My receding hairline and drooping jowls sold me out immediately; I had a decade on them all. I had been married for four years. I had a mortgage. I’d had multiple jobs. At 32 years old, I was a relic, decaying right in front of their eyes, an old man making a last-ditch effort to fulfill a dream.
My boss, two years my junior, had worked in baseball since she graduated college and had obviously worked hard to climb the industry ladder. She knew everything about running a baseball team. She was smart and confident—and pregnant, just starting to show beneath her shirt. And her smile, lips curved upward but hugging her teeth closely, was all business. I admired her immediately.
She met me at my desk, pulled up a chair, sat down, unconsciously rubbing her tiny, rounded tummy, and talked me through all the things that would happen on my first day. We made small talk about family and the baby and our spouses, and right then, I saw it in her eyes: because of her pregnancy, she had become old too. She had been pushed to the outskirts of the front office glee.
“Well, a donkey is no chicken at least,” someone yelled. My boss rolled her eyes at the idiocy of the comment. The baby and the teetotaling had cut her out of the joke.
She shook her head, placed her hand on her temple, rubbed her belly, and sat up in her chair. “I guess last night was a crazy one,” she said. “Come over to my desk and I’ll log you into the network.”
I followed her across the cubicle hallway. On her chair lay a support pillow. She bent her knees, put her hand on the arm of the chair, lowered herself down, and moved the pillow back and forth beneath her to get it in the right place. She typed in her password and clicked her mouse a few times before her desktop screen came up.
Photos lined the edge of her computer. One after another, she stood with coworkers and ballplayers. Her arms hung on their shoulders and their arms hung on hers. Most photos, if not all, had been taken in a bar, and blurry Coors Light and Budweiser signs hung in the background. Behind her computer on her cubicle wall, she had even more photos. She drove golf carts, held up beer cans, and sang karaoke. In the ballpark photos, she danced on the dugout with the mascot, swung a bat over home plate, and ran around the bases with young children—their smiles and laughter matched only by hers. Clearly, it hadn’t been long since she shouted about donkeys and Wednesdays and chickens, but it didn’t matter, the baby now made her different. And she embraced it with that same knowledgeable, tight smile.
I was hired to produce our game-day program from concept to print. Our program was unique because we had worked out a deal with a local printer to print the shells of each program (cover, bios, feature articles) but leave spots to drop in nightly recaps of the games, stats, as they changed on a nightly basis, and pre-game updates. Unlike other clubs’ programs, ours would have fresh content every game.
On game days, after spending the full day in the office designing the shell for the next home stand, I headed to the ballpark to watch the game from the press box and write the recap. This was the best part of my job. I sat with journalists and writers and bullshitted about the game During my first game I made the mistake of cheering for the Rainiers and was immediately hit with an old rule, “There’s no cheering in press box.”
It was flat out cool, but once the game ended, my real work began. I had to upload stats from MLB.com, write and edit my recap, send it to my boss for a proofread, wait for her edits, layout the stats and articles, and send it to the printer so it could get everything dropped, printed, and delivered by the next day’s game. My typical day ran from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
The morning before opening day, the interior of the antiquated stadium had yet to be painted by the contractor. Everyone from the corporate office threw on jeans and t-shirts to paint the interior of the old, concrete stadium. And there she was, my boss, four months pregnant, lifting paint buckets and carrying them up hard, concrete steps, opening them when she reached the top, and painting until five minutes before the first pitch. She left the day with the belly of her shirt covered in blue, red and green.
As the season wore on, her belly would get bigger and bigger. But every night, as I looked down from the press box into the stands, I saw her walk through her sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth months of pregnancy. She continued to greet fans, to escort players, and to lead children down onto the field to be a part of the inter-inning entertainment. She was a fan favorite. Every season ticket holder knew her by name and couldn’t help but stop her for a hug and a belly rub when she passed by.
At the end of the night, after midnight, when I sent her my articles to proof, I expected her, especially during her ninth month, to tell me that she could no longer do the midnight proof, but she never did. She knew, more than anyone in the front office, that if she showed weakness, one of those young twenty-somethings would smell blood and gun for her job.
She knew that youth and freedom are your best friends on the ladder to the Major Leagues. We shared not having either and that age and our devotion to our families might be the curve ball that struck us out.
This is the second in a series Kase is writing about his experiences working for the AAA Tacoma Rainiers. Read the first installment here.
AP Photo/The News Tribune, Drew Perine