Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor High students find similar calling for summer jobs

Rainiers employees and fans enjoy a dance on top of the dugout in 2007. The Tacoma Rainiers have been a steady employer for local high school students looking for summer work.
Rainiers employees and fans enjoy a dance on top of the dugout in 2007. The Tacoma Rainiers have been a steady employer for local high school students looking for summer work. The News Tribune file

Imagine interacting with fans and players, eating free food and signing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch on a warm summer day — all while receiving a paycheck for doing it.

Getting paid to have that much fun sounds like a dream, but for countless Gig Harbor High School alums, the Tacoma Rainiers have made it reality.

Summer break is a time where students transition from putting pencil on paper to putting money in their bank accounts. Landscaping, car washing and working for fireworks companies have always been traditional ways for students to make a little extra cash, but in Gig Harbor, spending the summer as an employee of the Rainiers has become increasingly popular.

Every year, hundreds of students apply for a position working for the Seattle Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate. About 30 to 40 students are hired annually, a fraction of the total number who apply.

This raises the question, “If so many people are applying for this job, how will I get it?”

The answer is simple: recommendations.

“If a former or current employee recommends someone, we are absolutely going to give them a look,” hiring manager Isaiah Dowdell said. “We also look for people with great personalities and availability.”

Samuel Morgan, a Gig Harbor alum who graduated in 2013, worked as a bat boy in the summers of 2012 and 2013. Morgan landed the gig because one of his classmates got hired, but the team needed more bat boys.

“I jumped at the opportunity and went all-in for it,” Morgan said. “It honestly wasn’t that difficult. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Understandably, not everyone is fortunate enough to land a job as a result of being in the right place at the right time.

This was a dilemma faced by Maddie Scheutzow, who, like Morgan, heard about a job opening through a classmate from GHHS.

Morgan’s and Scheutzow’s path to employment look nearly identical at first glance, but Scheutzow had to hurdle an audition before she was given the job. Looking to land an entertainment position, Scheutzow had to prove to her prospective employer that she had what it took to be one of many “ReinDears,” the Rainiers’ version of cheerleaders.

“As someone who grew up doing musical theater, I wasn’t intimidated by the process and walked into the audition ready to belt ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game,’” Scheutzow said. “It was easy and I knew it went well; the room had a good vibe.”

Connecting with fans and cleaning cleats is a nice change of pace from more orthodox job duties, but that doesn’t mean working at Cheney Stadium is always a walk in the park.

Hours are inconsistent. An employee could hypothetically work seven days in a row before going a week without work while the team is on a road trip. Workers have to stay up to an hour after the conclusion of the game — including the ones that go into extra innings — making for late nights while boosting that minimum wage paycheck.

Sure, staying past your scheduled shift can be a nuisance, but there aren’t many better places to be stranded at. Employees get to eat for free, but not the typical ballpark franks and peanuts one would expect.

Ribs one night, Panda Express the next. Sometimes workers are even given steak for their post-work meal.

Working as a ball boy is arguably the highest-pressure job given to students. Along with gathering foul balls, their duties include putting water out for the players and “mudding,” a process where dirt is rubbed into baseballs. The mixture gives pitchers a better grip; brand-new baseballs are so slick that pitchers have a difficult time gripping them and controlling the movement of their pitches.

In case those tasks weren’t enough, they also have to do their best to avoid a ball boy’s worst nightmare: Accidentally collecting a live ball.

“Sometimes the ball would bounce along the line and you’d have to wait for the umpire to call it fair or foul,” Connor Stephens, a 2015 GHHS graduate, said. “If you’re spacing out, it’s easy to just grab it by reflex. The biggest pressure was just not messing up the flow of the game. That was my biggest fear.”

With positions ranging from party desk managers to security, the Rainiers offer diverse ways to grow not only as a worker, but also as a person.

Dowdell, who graduated from the University of Puget Sound in 2015, made it his goal to teach students how to be professionals during their tenure working for the team. Sending professional emails, developing customer service skills and displaying flexibility with a varying work schedule are all things Dowdell says will better them in the future.

“I’m fresh out of college, so I feel like I’m able to teach these guys,” Dowdell said. “I’m close in age with them, so I kind of understand where they’re at in high school, looking at colleges. I know this is a fun job.”

Students looking to rake in a boatload of money over their summer vacation should probably look elsewhere, but for everyone else, working with Dowdell and the Rainiers could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience as well as a stepping stone for the future.

“Even though I didn’t get that many hours and it was minimum wage, it’s worth it because you’re getting paid to do something other people pay for,” Stevens said.

Twitter: @LukeAGarza