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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2007

Toledo 24: After the Hens game, a quieter pace

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jake Garber, and Mud Hens clubhouse manager Joe Sarkisian wash the players uniforms after the game. Jake Garber, and Mud Hens clubhouse manager Joe Sarkisian wash the players uniforms after the game.
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After the last pitch of an evening game, when tired but entertained fans shuffle out of the ballpark, three attractive young women head for the basement, where dozens of dream chasers are washing off the day.

The women plant themselves outside the Mud Hens locker room, lean against the blue cinder-block wall and chat, waiting for their husbands to shower, dress, and join them. They know the men will be in fine fettle: the Mud Hens tromped the Syracuse Chiefs, 6-0.

Lindsey and Lucy Hooper arrived today from Kansas to spend the summer with Kevin Hooper, who plays second base. Lindsey, 27, just finished the school year as a sixth-grade science teacher. Lucy, scampering around her mother s legs, turns 2 next week.

We just go with the flow of it, says Ms. Hooper of living in two cities.

It s a cool, damp June evening and 10 is past Lucy s bedtime. It s what you make it. We love it and we wouldn t have it any other way.

Rachel Karnuth, 29, wears a chartreuse sling across her chest in which Celia, 3 months, is snuggled.

It has its ups and downs, she says. There s nothing more exciting than seeing your husband doing well, and when he s called up to the big leagues. But being apart from each other for long stretches, and away from family and friends is challenging, she adds.

Jason Karnuth, 31, relief pitcher, exits the locker room carrying a foil-covered plate with a chicken dinner and kisses his wife and baby. In the eight hours since he s been at Fifth Third Field today, he s worked out, done batting practice and some cardio exercises, and had a light meal before the game.

Next out is Kevin Hooper, who grabs little Lucy and swings her up high. After she was born, he wore a T-shirt that reads I Love Lucy. He learned today that his toe was broken when a foul ball bounced off his foot the day before. He sat out tonight s game and iced his toe every 45 minutes.

As the grounds crew rakes and tidies the infield, workers shut down concession stands, and autograph hounds wait outside on the Washington Street sidewalk, R&B music blares from the locker room. Two papers are taped to the open door: Please keep the clubhouse door closed. Flies are nobody s friend and Batting cage is off limits due to water damage.

Tall, with movie-star looks, catcher Andrew Graham heads out for the walk home, gym bag slung over his shoulder. Growing up in Sydney, Australia, he was a bit of an anomaly he wanted nothing more than to play ball. He got to the U.S. on a baseball scholarship to Clarendon College in Texas, and was drafted by the Tigers in 2003.

I m chasing that dream, he says.

Mud Hens relief pitcher Jason Karnuth greets his wife, Rachel, and daughter Celia after a game. Mud Hens relief pitcher Jason Karnuth greets his wife, Rachel, and daughter Celia after a game.
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Mother hen to the players is the Clubbie, aka Joe Sarkisian, who has cooked the post-game meal of chicken breast, mashed potatoes, rice, veggies, and salad. Their favorite meal steak is a little high-end for AAA ball, he says, but fajita nights are a close second in terms of popularity.

As clubhouse manager, he and his small staff try to provide a home away from home for the guys.

It might be something a player s looking for, to take his car to a car wash, or a certain kind of creamer for his coffee, or to make tee-times for them, says Mr. Sarkisian, who s worked here 11 seasons and enjoys the camaraderie.

He s cleaning up after the meal, laundering the uniforms, straightening up the equipment and the locker room.

Ken Westenkirchner is also putting the stadium to bed. Here since 10:30 a.m., he walks the stadium from top to bottom, checking suites and restrooms, flicking off lights, making sure all the fans are out. I love this job, beams Mr. Westenkirchner, 25, assistant manager of ballpark operations.

Hens infielder Kevin Hooper carries daughter, Lucy, as he leaves the ballpark with his wife, Lindsey. Hens infielder Kevin Hooper carries daughter, Lucy, as he leaves the ballpark with his wife, Lindsey.
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

Down the hall, a couple of Chief players wait for the elevator.

We ll go back to the hotel and try to unwind from the game, which takes a couple of hours, says Erik Kratz, 26, catcher for the Chiefs.

Next to a trash can, Evan Simon, 17, and Paul Miles, 16, use wire brushes to scrape off the red dirt clotting the cleats of the Chiefs shoes.

I usually do the visitor s side, said young Simon. It goes by seniority. You pick the side you want to work.

They have cleaned the dugout of water, gum, and seeds, put away the bats, will help with the laundry, and might get a bite to eat.

Last to leave the stadium are often the people who work at the top.

Marcus Ritter, 28, is beverage manager and Megan Avalos, 38, is suite-level manager for Gladieux Special Events. They make sure the cabinets and refrigerators are locked in the 32 suites and televisions and lights are off. A cleaning crew will tidy up tomorrow.

Checking his voice mail, Mr. Ritter is delighted to find messages from two young women.

In a concession prep room, Ms. Avalos files a sheaf of paper lists of the food ordered by each suite and dials her husband, David Avalos, a Toledo police officer. It s 11 p.m.

I m on my way home, she says into the phone. How was work?

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.



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