From April until September, Opening Night through the playoffs, first pitch to final out, gameday employees are always there. These largely unsung individuals are part of the fabric of the Minor League Baseball experience, whether they're taking your ticket, guiding you to a seat or catering suites. If you attend Minor League games with any regularity -- and especially if you're a season ticketholder -- chances are there's a gameday employee you look forward to seeing every time you're at the ballpark.
"For the love of the game" is one of baseball's oldest clichés, but it's a sentiment that often applies to Minor League Baseball gameday employees. Many are retired and work at the ballpark because they love the game and want to be around it. They also love people and find community, comfort and a sense of purpose within the social atmosphere of the ballpark. To be a part of the team on a day-to-day basis is to be a part of a family, one comprised of fans, players, front-office members, and of course, fellow gameday employees.
This article pays tribute to four gameday employees who passed away in 2020, a year with no Minor League Baseball. A proper goodbye at the ballpark often wasn't possible, but they all will be deeply missed as the warm, kind, caring ballpark fixtures they were.
Margaret Smith -- Bowie Baysox
Smith, a longtime member of the Double-A Baysox's gameday staff, passed away suddenly on Dec. 9. Phil Wrye, Bowie's assistant general manager, provided the following testament to her ballpark impact:
"Margaret was an absolute joy to have around the ballpark. She was the most enthusiastic and passionate employee the Baysox had. She always had a smile and was always upbeat and positive. She was our 'utility player' on the gameday staff. She worked for many years as an usher, ticket taker, kids park attendant, bag checker, fan assistance attendant and front desk receptionist. She absolutely loved being at the ballpark.
During games, you could find her dancing in the aisles when she was an usher; saying hello to every fan when she was taking tickets; cheering on her 'Boys of Summer' from everywhere in the ballpark, no matter what she was doing that day.
Margaret loved baseball. She loved Baysox Baseball. She loved being at the ballpark. She loved meeting all the fans and interacting with kids. She loved to dance. Whether we were up by 10 or down by 10, she was always dancing when the music came on. She never had a bad day – or at least if she did, she would never show it.
When she passed, fans reached out with amazing tributes and stories about interactions they had with her at the ballpark. From playing and dancing with the little kids to helping fans prank their friends, Margaret was part of the ballpark experience.
Baysox game days just won't be the same without Margaret here to share them."
Dennis Brady -- Frisco RoughRiders
Brady, who spent nearly two decades as a Double-A RoughRiders usher, passed away on June 23. His obituary noted that, "Early on in those years [with Frisco], he started looking out for the players' families -- finding better seats for them, soothing the babies when they were fussy, patting the heads of those children who stood beside him. They loved Mr. Dennis and he loved them. He would look for children in his section that seemed to need a lift and would give them a game ball. Everyone he met was special and he made them feel special."
"Dennis Brady loved the fans and we loved him," wrote RoughRiders chief operating officer Scott Burchett. "He was a kind, gentle soul and a wonderful ambassador for the Frisco RoughRiders. Dennis connected with thousands upon thousands of Riders fans over the years and made each one of them feel special. From giving away foul balls to kids, to a warm hug or just a simple smile as you shuffled past his post on the concourse, he brightened everyone’s experience at the ballpark. Riders games will not be the same without him … he will be missed."
John Bukovits -- Kane County Cougars
Gate 3 is located on the first-base side of Class A Kane County's Northwestern Medicine Field, adjacent to the Will Call ticket window. For decades, this well-traveled thoroughfare was manned by John Bukovits. Bukovits, a Korean War veteran, passed away on Nov. 19 at the age of 89.
Per the Cougars, "John was a fixture at the gate for fans for most of the last three decades, greeting everyone with a welcoming smile, and youngsters usually got a freebie he had stashed away. All game long, fans, season ticket holders, MLB scouts, sponsors and employees could be found chatting with John, and he was one of the biggest supporters of Cougars baseball you could find. No matter where he went, he would talk up the Cougars, and even offer up some free tickets when he met people who had never been to the stadium before."
"John was a dear friend who absolutely loved being around his Cougars family at the ballpark," added Kane County general manager Curtis Haug. "A true Cougars legend that will be sorely missed."
Harry Brook -- Tulsa Drillers
Brook, a beloved Double-A Drillers mainstay, passed away on Oct. 17 at the age of 96. Drillers vice president of public relations Brian Carroll, who knew him well, provided the following remembrance:
"Most everyone associated with the Tulsa Drillers remembers and admires Harry Brook for the things he did in the 30-plus years that he was involved with the Drillers organization. But Harry was affecting people long before he joined the Drillers. Harry was a World War II veteran who served in the Pacific theater before beginning a longtime career with AT&T.
A common term used by staff members in Minor League Baseball to describe their daily duties is 'We wear a lot of different hats.' Though a part-time employee, no one with the Drillers fit that description more than Harry Brook. And unlike most of us, he constantly wore those hats with a smile on his face.
Harry’s time with the Drillers began as a quasi, part-time groundskeeper with the club during one of the hottest and driest summers on record in Tulsa. During water rationing, he would come the ballpark at midnight to run a makeshift, portable sprinkler to try to keep what grass remained alive.
Undeterred by that assignment, Harry began to serve as an usher for the club. The love and admiration that he showed for the game of baseball, and for the attending guests, set the stage for Harry to help out in other areas. He eventually took on the title of head usher, but his role with the club included delivering tickets, delivering schedules, serving as team courier, game-day employee recruiter and team ambassador.
Harry had the ability to make everyone from company CEO to general admission ticket holder feel welcomed and appreciated at the ballpark. He never struck out a batter and never delivered a key hit, but his efforts were critical to the success of the Tulsa Drillers.
Harry was one of Tulsa’s all-time greats."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.