The finely manicured grass, the smell of hot dogs and popcorn, the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and of course, the Green Monster in left field. All these and more signal the pleasures of attending a baseball game at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. While watching the home team and their American League rivals display their talents on the ball field, most of the 34,000 fans attending a game on any given night don't give a thought to the preparation that goes into making their experience go smoothly.
They Call Him "The Hammer"
Jerry "The Hammer" Smith knows quite a bit about that preparation. The gravelly-voiced native of Bangor, Maine has served as supervisor for ushers, ticket takers, and security at Fenway Park for the last six years. Smith tends to every detail in preparing the park for the nightly onslaught of fans. For 81 home games every season, plus playoff games (or so Red Sox fans hope), Smith organizes the 50 or so ticket takers, ushers, and security officials that work at "Friendly Fenway." He also coordinates with the 60 Boston Police officers on duty at the park - 80 for that little extra security when the arch-rival New York Yankees are in town.
The Hammer acquired his nickname in his youth in the boxing ring, and the respect he earned there has followed him to Fenway Park. Instead of being peppered with jabs and uppercuts, at Fenway Smith is showered with cries of "Here comes The Hammer of Fenway" wherever he goes at the ballpark, a sign that the philosophy of treating people well, which he never tires of repeating, is returned in kind and in volume. He hands the philosophy down to the staff, from the smiling ticket-takers at the ballpark's four entrance gates, to the ushers who are quick to find patrons' seats, to the comforting (rather than menacing) presence of the security staff.
It's Clear His Loyalties are at Fenway
You only need to hear Smith pronounce his nickname, "The Hammah," to know he is a born-and-bred New Englander. Smith grew up following the Red Sox of the 1930s and 1940s, when sluggers like Ted Williams and Jimmy Foxx led the team.
Laboring for 44 years in the canteen business after serving in the Korean War, Smith had retired, but he was reluctant to leave behind a profession that allowed him to exercise his philosophy, "Always treat people the way you want to be treated." When an acquaintance involved with the Red Sox approached him with the opportunity to work with New England's beloved sports franchise, retirement was out the window and The Hammer was back to work.
Best Perk: Free Baseball, Anywhere in the Majors
Does the preparation and coordination required to coordinate staff for Red Sox games lead to 80-hour work weeks and odd working hours? Smith said, "I work about six hours on any given game day," from arriving to the park early to tying up loose ends at the end of the night. The number of hours may be cushy, but the majority of Major League Baseball games take place on nights and weekends, so this job is not for the 9-to-5 crowd.
Anyone with doubts about where The Hammer's loyalties lie can note that Smith has not set foot in any Major League ballpark but Fenway in his 70-plus years, despite the privilege, which comes with his job, of being able to enter any park in the country without paying admission.
Yet Smith downplays the benefit of working within historic Fenway Park. "Going to the ballpark is not an unusual perk," he said, adding the not uncontroversial opinion that it is time the ancient stadium, built in 1912, was replaced with a newer, more modern facility.
Out in the bleachers, "two percent" need a little extra attention Smith's self-professed love of people is sometimes tested, but never conquered, by what he refers to as the "two percent." No matter how well-behaved the crowd is on any given night, there will always be some people in a mass of more than 30,000 who will need attention from the security detail, and sometimes even the police.
These people range from those who question Fenway's no-smoking policy, to inebriated patrons who cause disturbances, and on rare occasions heap abuse on the security staff and police.
In one recent incident, two women, asked to leave the park, smacked a security guard, and used "some of the dirtiest language you heard in your life."
Most people, however, understand that it is better to go quietly than to go under arrest if they break Fenway's rules of behavior in the stands. Of course, minimizing disturbances and settling down the miscreants plays right back into Smith's philosophy of treating people well. "We don't like to lock people up, but sometimes you have to," said Smith. "But only about two percent are troublemakers. Most people are good."
Keeping His Eye Off the Ball
While one might think the head usher for a major league baseball franchise would be able to rub elbows with the players, Smith said he has much more interaction with the players' wives, who frequently attend games to cheer on their spouses.
And although he has missed only five games in his six years on the job - including three for his 50th high school reunion, and one for his bowling league's banquet - Smith rarely gets to pay close attention to the games. That sad reality has led to one of the more unusual perks of the job.
One evening, Smith asked a radio personality who was standing nearby for the score, thanking him by saying "God bless you, sir." The radio host recounted the exchange on his highly-rated sports program the next day, giving Smith his proverbial 15 minutes of fame.
If you are looking to get into The Hammer's line of work, Smith said it's good to know people, so you'd best include some local team officials in your network. But most of all, as much as you love baseball, it's the people who come to the ballpark whom you need to keep first in your thoughts.