Throng Greets Ballpark Job Fair

The Nationals want to hire local workers at the new park to strengthen community relations and ease parking.
The Nationals want to hire local workers at the new park to strengthen community relations and ease parking. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)
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By Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 10, 2008

Gerald Smith looked ready for a job interview: neat tie, dark suit, spiffy trench coat, résumé under his arm. And, for extra luck, a Nationals baseball cap perched on his head.

"You never know," he said. "It might help."

Smith, 37, was looking for a job in security and was among the nearly 2,500 people who converged on the King Greenleaf Recreation Center in Southwest Washington for a job fair for the new Nationals Park, slated to open March 29 with an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Applicants began lining up more than three hours before the doors opened, stretching around the block; many people wore Nationals caps or shirts. Some were from the neighborhood; others came from Prince George's County.

District officials have pushed to get city residents hired for construction jobs during the past two years at the ballpark. They are just as eager to get them hired for the hundreds of seasonal jobs, including ushers, maintenance workers and food vendors.

"I want to do everything I can so that residents benefit from the city's investment" in the $611 million ballpark, said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).

The Nationals want to hire city residents, too. Not only is it good community relations, but with parking at a premium, more employees could also walk to work.

"We're going to give first priority to those in the community," said Bettina Deynes, vice president of human resources for the Nationals. She said applicants yesterday would be ranked in part by where they live, with preference given to Ward 6 residents, who were let in a half-hour early for the job fair.

"I live just around the corner," said applicant Angela Davis, 38. "I won't have to catch the bus or subway."

The Nationals have advertised in neighborhood newspapers, distributed fliers and sent announcements to local churches about yesterday's job fair and another scheduled for Feb. 21. That one will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., also at the Greenleaf center.

Wells said the unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent in the area around the ballpark, well above the national rate of about 5 percent. And, he said, in one census tract in Ward 6, the unemployment rate is 25 percent.

"For some people, it may be their first job," Wells said. "For others . . . you never know who might want to supplement their income."

That is what Barry Leathers, 42, was looking for. He wanted to supplement his full-time job as a tow-truck driver and was applying to be an elevator operator.

"It's exciting," said Leathers, who lives in Ward 6. The ballpark "brings more money to the city."

Inside the recreation center, applicants crowded around tables, filling out questionnaires and talking with team representatives. The Nationals are looking to hire about 250 people as ushers, elevator operators, ticket takers and other guest-service jobs.

Centerplate catering, which has contracted with the Nationals to run the restaurants and concession stands, was looking to hire about 1,000 workers. Most of those will be seasonal, working on game days, but the company is also seeking full-time help.

And Global Spectrum, the company hired to maintain the ballpark, is seeking about 360 part-time and 50 full-time employees.

The Lerner family, which purchased the Nationals in 2006, is emphasizing the hiring of employees who interact well with fans, Deynes said. The team has hired Walt Disney Co. to train executives and supervisors on hospitality.

"Everybody who works for the Nationals is a fan ambassador," Deynes said. "We're selling entertainment. A lot of it is your personality: Do you smile and present yourself well?"

Deynes said the team likes to hire retirees, because they are dependable, and mothers looking for part-time work. "Parents have those basic skills of patience," she said.

The team is bringing about 240 workers from RFK Stadium but will pay them more at the new ballpark. Deynes said the pay range at RFK was $7.50 to $8.50 an hour; at Nationals Park, it will range from $9 to $14.

The Nationals did not make any hires yesterday. Team executives will pore over the applications this weekend and begin calling in candidates this week for interviews at the team's RFK offices. Deynes said job offers would be made at those interviews.

The team will follow a similar schedule after the Feb. 21 job fair. Deynes said the team wants to start training employees in early March.

After completing her application for a ticket taker or seller, Davis said a job at the ballpark. Plus, there's the big perk: "You get to see the games for free."

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