Eric Oliver, a retired physical education teacher, is in his first season as home clubhouse manager for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. He's a 56-year-old rookie, in love with his new surroundings and enthusiastic about mastering even the most menial tasks.
But, like all rookies, at times he finds himself flustered and overwhelmed.
"I knew baseball from the outside -- all my friends would tell you that -- but now I'm learning from the inside," said Oliver, speaking as he folds clothes in the clubhouse during a game. "How do you deal with a player who gets promoted, or released, or demoted, as far as their gear and helping them with the transition? All that stuff you never think about ... ever ... as a fan."
And sometimes, the details of the job begin to seem endless.
"I might forget to bring the mail down for the players, or to take the pass list to the ticket office," said Oliver. "Sometimes you get so consumed.… A new player might come in and need caps, and then somebody else might say, 'Hey, I ripped my pants last night. Can I get pants?' and then somebody else, 'Hey, do we have any bug spray?' And I'm running around.…"
In lieu of words, Oliver makes a confused, bug-eyed expression, like a cartoon character who has found himself in the shadow of a falling anvil.
But whenever it gets to be too much, Oliver knows just where to turn. He can ask for advice from the best clubhouse manager Cedar Rapids has ever known, a man who literally lives at the ballpark.
What would Roady do?
Roady -- real name Ron Plein -- is, at the age of 71, a Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball legend. The Dubuque, Iowa, native began his Minor League Baseball career working for the Quad City Angels in 1975, doing, as he says, "everything."
"Work on the field. Paint," said Roady, a man who uses his words with great economy. "Clean up. Chase the little rug rats."
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He got the "Roady" nickname, shortened from "Roadrunner," because "I ran so fast. You can see me run."
Roady eventually found his calling as a clubhouse manager. He did the job so well that when the Angels changed their Class A affiliation from Quad Cities to the Cedar Rapids Kernels in 1993, Roady made the change along with them. When the Kernels opened a new ballpark 10 seasons later, it included on-site living quarters for Roady. His apartment, which he lives in year-round in a "night watchman" capacity, is located directly next to the laundry room.
"When Jack Roeder was the general manager, he told the owners to build a room for me. I don't drive a car and I'd be doing laundry until three in the morning," said Roady. "Like last night, the game went until 10:30 and I didn't go to bed until 3 or 3:30. I laid down, then got up and did the rest of the laundry."
For years, Roady served as both home and visiting clubhouse manager in addition to traveling with the team. His responsibilities have since been reduced, beginning in 2009 after he broke his ankle in a collision with a batboy behind home plate (they were both racing for a foul ball). This accident briefly confined Roady to a wheelchair, but when asked how much time he missed, he's incredulous.
"None. When we came back home, I had the coaches and the trainer look at it and got some help. I said, 'I've got to be with the team right on the field with the wheelchair.' I did."
The Roady legend only grew in 2012, when the Kernels gave away bobbleheads in his honor.
"They surprised me," he said. "Yeah, with the [key]chain, it looks like me."
"40 years of big leaguers know Roady," said Kernels general manager Scott Wilson. "Joe Maddon, he got to know Roady when he was in the Midwest League. He had us send him the bobblehead."
These days, Roady works in the concession stand at the start of the ballgame and then transitions to the visitors clubhouse. Oliver, in his first season as home clubhouse manager, appreciates the expertise that Roady provides.
"Yeah, I'm his protégé," said Oliver. "With this job there is no manual, no training. Nobody comes down and says, 'Okay, here's what you do.' But Roady has done this his whole life. He's forgotten more than most clubbies will ever know. He's very kindly helped me along.… If I forget anything, he reminds me. He's doesn't have anything on paper. Nothing written down. He's just lived it."
Eric Oliver, a retired PE teacher, is learning the ropes of being a clubhouse manager in Cedar Rapids. (Benjamin Hill/MiLB.com)
He continued, "We both have a passion for baseball, and if you love baseball and work in this environment, you can't help but become good friends."
So, might Oliver take a cue from Roady and change his place of residence?
"I'll never live in the ballpark," he said with a laugh. "My wife's ready to shoot me for all the hours I put in, but she knows I love it."
That's OK, as Roady isn't planning on vacating his place of residence any time soon.
"I'm happy to be in baseball," he said. "They ask when I'm going to retire.... When I can't walk. But I keep doing it."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.