A day in the life of an MLB event operations manager

Padres-CastroIt’s often said that referees are only noticed when something goes wrong. The same could be said for the event operations staff at a ballpark, and the fact that people rarely hear about them shows how good of a job they usually do.

At a recent Padres-Dodgers game at Petco Park, I had the opportunity to shadow SMBA ’11 alum Roberto Castro, a manager of event operations at Petco, to see for myself what this job is like.

“It’s always something new every day, so that makes the job interesting,” Castro said. “Sometimes it’s a difficult job to describe, but in a nutshell, we are the ‘behind the scenes’ employees who ensure that our guests have a safe and enjoyable experience every time they visit Petco Park.”

My day started at 8:30 a.m. for a 1:10 p.m. first pitch, yet Castro was already at his desk prepping plans for the day. Along with current SMBA student Samantha Berenter, we sauntered out to the outfield to watch Castro’s staff set up “Breakfast at the Park” on the warning track, which was no sweat from an operational standpoint since this happens every Sunday.

However, Genoptix was hosting a 1,850-person party in Park at the Park, which required a smattering of mini-tables to be set up. Dressed in business casual I was expecting a day of observation, yet I rolled up my sleeves to help unload the tables and rebuild them in their appropriate spots in Park at the Park as specified by a detailed map Castro held.

It was amazing to see the speed and efficiency with which Castro’s team worked on an assignment that they did not encounter every day. Miraculously (to me at least, but not to Castro) everything was set up by 10 a.m. in time for Genoptix to enjoy their day at the park.

Along the way Castro frequently received calls on his walkie-talkie, such as the one for a chair at an entrance to a ballpark that an employee requested. Flexibility was key as he ensured everything ran smoothly.

After taking in the event staff’s second meeting of the day to go over assignments (they also receive a sheet explaining all the promotions and special events going on), Samantha and I ventured over to the batter’s eye to meet the staff in there. I was most interested in the screen showing a variety of “eye in the sky” cameras scattered about the ballpark. Although it’s not constantly recording to catch everything that happens at the park, when there is trouble the staff can immediately zero in on the issue and alert other employees on the ground in the area.

We were told that people often complain that they didn’t actually do something when in fact the people working in the batter’s eye had in fact seen it. It was little surprise to also learn that the most incidents occur when the Dodgers come to town, which also seemed to be the case for me when I went to D-backs games growing up.

A policeman and fire officer also stay alert in the batter’s eye throughout the game, as they monitor the ballpark for areas in which they can be of service. They showed us the special cell that people are taken to after misbehaving at the ballpark and told us stories of how these people are often arrested if they continue their belligerence in the cell.

Castro came back to get us and we made another round through the ballpark, a frequent part of Castro’s day as he works to ensure that everything is going smoothly from an operational standpoint. We listened to the national anthem on the field and then helped clear the area before watching the first pitch next to the Dodgers’ dugout.

We ended the day with lunch in my old stomping grounds, the press box, as I got to remember how good press box soft serve is.

We were on the job for four and a half hours before the game and a few innings into it, yet the time seemed to fly as Castro was constantly buzzing around the stadium making sure everything was going as expected, often pitching in a hand to help where needed. Considering his work on special projects, staffing games and preparing for special events, I don’t know when he sleeps.

When I asked him what kind of person would be good for event operations, Castro said, “Somebody who is willing to work long hours, holidays, and odd hours.  Also, they should be able to work well as a team and have patience.  We get so many last minute requests and sometimes it can get to some people.  In addition, employees should be guest friendly both towards fans and their co-workers.”

Finally, Castro — the reigning SMBA Alumnus of the Year — is the only person in SMBA history to complete the program while working a full-time job, something I could not even fathom. He said there were many days when group projects were completed at Petco when he had to log hours there and that he used up plenty of vacation time to make it work.

As for what he got out of the program, Castro said, “It’s given me a better understanding of the business aspects of the organization.  I also look at everything that I do in new ways.  For example, if we are handing out a promotional item and we run out at a gate, I try and figure out how we can ensure that a situation like that can be minimized by using a formula (standard deviations).”

From pitching in to set up tables to thinking up smarter ways to do giveaways, the job of an event operations manager touches on a wide range of skills to ensure all the fans enjoy their time at the ballpark.

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