Ballpark Field General Rallies the Troops
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
World War II had Patton. The Nationals ballpark has Ronnie Strompf.
And Strompf is irritated right now.
He's striding down a concourse at the ballpark-in-progress, and the loudest sound he hears is a single worker with a grinder, shooting sparks in one corner. "This is too quiet for the amount of work that should be going on in here," Strompf growls.
Trim from walking eight miles a day around the ballpark, he's the person who has to make sure the $611 million project in Southeast Washington is finished by spring. And that's why he's breathing down the necks of 900 employees, scattered high and low throughout the sprawling site.
At 62, Strompf is something of a legend in the world of Washington construction. He helped oversee work on the National Science Foundation in Arlington County, the new Department of Transportation headquarters in Southeast and office towers in Tysons Corner as vice president of Clark Construction. He was project superintendent of the city's most expensive building, the Washington Convention Center.
When city officials were considering whom to select to build the ballpark, they told Clark that "if Ronnie is not part of this, the deal's off," said Allen Lew, who was chief executive at the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission at the time and worked with Strompf on the convention center.
Accolades do not fall easily on the man who has taken only five days off since the groundbreaking May 5, 2006. "It's not about me; it's about the workers here," he declares.
In just the past 20 minutes, Strompf has eyeballed hanging water pipes, double-checked electrical wiring, run his hands over the seams of bathroom sinks and wrinkled his nose at bubbled-up wallpaper in a women's restroom.
He has made sure nearly two dozen electricians would be joining the job by week's end and that ceiling tiles in the team's clubhouse would be up by the time city inspectors arrived.
He has also asked nearly every worker he has met -- only half-jokingly -- "You gonna be done today?"
Construction projects are like battle campaigns. There are leaders laying out goals and planners plotting strategy. And then there are the field generals, who carry out the orders, make sure those objectives are met, care for the morale of the troops. The best field generals improvise when necessary and get the job done.
Strompf is only too mindful of the calendar, with an exhibition game between the Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles set for March 29 and the official season opener against the Atlanta Braves the next night -- to say nothing of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI scheduled for April 17.