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Seven Levels of Angels: Arkansas interns break into baseball

The hours are long and pay is lousy, but you can’t beat living at the ballpark.

First Published Jul 16 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Apr 04 2014 04:32 pm

North Little Rock, Ark. • The sun penetrates the blinds on a July morning and Tyler Burchfield checks his clock, discovering he must report to work in an hour.

And then he goes back to sleep for another 55 minutes. There’s a lot to be said for living in right field.

At a glance

Arkansas Travelers

League » Texas.

Level » Double-A.

Home » Dickey-Stephens Park (7,200).

Average attendance » 4,558.

Record » 47-45 (14-9 second half).

2013 All-Stars » C Jett Bandy (.246), 1B C.J. Cron (.287), 2B Taylor Lindsey (.271), OF Randal Grichuk (.245), P Lay Batista (3-6); P Brandon Hynick (8-3), P Mike Piazza (4-2), P Kevin Johnson (3-3).

Utah ties » Cron is a former University of Utah catcher/first baseman.

Notable » On Aug. 14, the Travelers will play the 15,000th game in franchise history.

Meet the interns

Name Age College Hometown

Seth Flolid 24 Minn. St., Mankato Chanhassen, Minn.

Brock Haggard 24 Indiana Eaton, Ind.

Benny Barrett 22 Keane State Franklin, Mass.

Joe Peters 23 St. Cloud State Apple Valley, Minn.

Tyler Burchfield 22 Arkansas Tech Benton, Ark.

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Technically, the three-bedroom apartment that Burchfield shares with four other Arkansas Travelers interns is part of the maintenance shop, built about 50 yards from the right-field foul pole of Dickey-Stephens Park.

The sprawling Marriott property in downtown Little Rock frames the view from home plate. On this side of the Arkansas River, the interns’ dorm-style accommodations allow for a convenient commute down the ramp to the field. They assemble at 8 a.m. following every home game to remove the tarps covering the batter’s boxes and the mound, before launching into a full day’s — and evening’s — list of duties to prepare the stadium and help stage in-game promotions.

And they profess to love it. "We’re working at a baseball park," said Burchfield, sitting in the dugout during an afternoon break. "It’s kind of self-explanatory."

Maybe so, but it definitely is not for everybody. There could be no greater euphemism in sports management than "stadium operations intern." The job description includes 16-hour game days and tasks such as collecting trash in the stands soon after the last pitch and thoroughly blowing down each row of seats the next morning.

They earn several thousand dollars (just don’t do the per-hour math) for about seven months’ work, plus housing and leftover food from the players’ clubhouses. That’s good enough for Joe Peters, who’s reheating a late-night concoction of pulled pork, chips and cheese sauce. "It almost still feels like I’m on vacation," he said.

Four of the five are college graduates; Burchfield is the exception, hired as a replacement. None of them knows what’s next, after they winterize the stadium in September, although the word is that one or more of them may be added to general manager Paul Allen’s full-time staff. Brock Haggard’s stated goal is to "see how long he’ll keep me around."

Virtually every sports franchise employs interns, but the Travelers’ arrangement is distinctive. Bill Valentine, a former American League umpire who served as the Double-A franchise’s general manager, launched the program about 25 years ago with his own twist. He provided housing, about a block from the old Ray Winder Field.

During the design phase of Dickey-Stephens Park, built in 2007, Valentine made sure the interns’ quarters would be even closer to the field. That allows them to duck inside and cool off when the weather hits 100 degrees with 80 percent humidity.

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An element of bonding comes with the housing situation and workload, but so does the potential for wearing on one another. That’s why Allen, himself a former intern, instructs his staff to screen the applicants for personalities that will blend well. If anything, the interviewers try to scare them away. Allen proudly cites hiring three classes of interns with no attrition, in his previous role.

"They definitely told us it wasn’t going to be glamorous," said Seth Flolid, as he mopped an elevator floor.

The warnings should have dissuaded a couple of 2013 interns. They’ve quit, but not before one of them saved the season.

Rather than routinely covering the infield after games, a major undertaking for a small crew, they sometimes rotate hourly vigils. The departed intern was known for missing his checks, but he delivered a 4 a.m. alert that enabled them to respond to an approaching downpour. They ran across the outfield in the rain, carrying sandbags to hold the tarp in place.

And then they all went back to bed, until a few minutes before 8.

About the series

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Kurt Kragthorpe spent early July on the road taking stock of the teams, players, fans and ballparks of the Los Angeles Angels and their minor league affiliates. His purpose: to ferret out great stories at each stop and, in the bigger scheme, connect the dots between what fans love about baseball — especially the minor league version — and the players toiling to make it to the bigs. Tuesday » Little Rock. Wednesday » Orem.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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