The Man Who Keeps Fenway Park Running
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
So who has the toughest job in baseball? It might just be Donnie Gardiner. He's the facility superintendent at Fenway Park in Boston. That means he makes sure that the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball keeps running. Shira Springer of member station WBUR visited Gardiner as he got ready for another Red Sox season.
DONNIE GARDINER: Come on in. Welcome to Fenway.
SHIRA SPRINGER, BYLINE: Donnie Gardiner greets me at Gate D, then quickly walks to the visitors' clubhouse. He doesn't want to waste time, not with the Red Sox home opener fast approaching.
GARDINER: We have city inspections we have to worry about. We have construction we have to finish up. We have just all kinds of things going on right now.
SPRINGER: When you step into the visitors' clubhouse, you see what he means.
(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION TOOLS RUNNING)
SPRINGER: Workers are installing walls, putting ceilings back together, painting, sanding, sawing, hammering. As Gardiner moves from the new whirlpool room to the new training room to the new video coaching room, he gets updates and gives advice.
GARDINER: Now we’ve just got to see if we can find some room up there to change the filters.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It'll be close. We'll get them in.
GARDINER: Everything's been close.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I would wait on this because I don't know where we're going to cut the line. But I think we're going to cut the line.
SPRINGER: The same thing happens when he visits the Red Sox clubhouse area and checks on manager Alex Cora's new larger office and other upgrades. Teams have outgrown Fenway's cozy clubhouses. So there's always plenty of work to do for the Red Sox and the visitors.
GARDINER: I'm not playing one side over the other. Whatever we do for one, we do for the other.
SPRINGER: Donnie Gardiner is 5-foot-3 and a soft-spoken but commanding presence in the clubhouses. It's clear he knows how to handle the unpredictable challenges that come with renovating a 107-year-old ballpark. He should. He's worked there for three decades.
GARDINER: You know, everything we've done to this place has not taken away from the allure of the park. The feel is still there. This building has a feel to it. I mean, it does for me personally. You know, I've touched every inch of this place at one time or another.
SPRINGER: And with a footprint as small as Fenway's, every inch matters. Gardiner likes to say he plays a game of inches. He's constantly figuring out how to make the best use of limited space, especially in the clubhouse areas. Sometimes he's also working around brass waterlines that have stood the test of time. And during offseason renovations, sometimes he's uncovering remnants from Fenway's past.
GARDINER: When we ripped up the concourse a few years ago, we were - it was like an archeological dig, you know, finding the old nip bottles, old shoes. And the place was, I'm assuming, heated by coal because we found a lot of coal ash out in centerfield.
SPRINGER: When the ballpark reopens for business each season, Gardiner's focus shifts from renovations to preventative maintenance.
GARDINER: Game days are actually easier for the most part. If we do our job right, the building runs itself.
SPRINGER: But before the games begin again, there's a lot to do - turn on the water to concession stands, test generators, check emergency lighting, finish the construction in both clubhouses. The punch list goes on and on. And Gardiner's busy staying on top of it all.
GARDINER: It's unlike any other building. It's not Joe's Pizza. It's not a high-rise. It's not a supermarket. It's a very unique building. And the way it's used is very unique. And that's what I love about it. I'd get bored anywhere else.
SPRINGER: Even if that means putting in 100-hour weeks and occasionally sleeping in his office. One thing Donnie Gardiner doesn't do - watch the Red Sox play. He's too busy monitoring what's happening off the field. For NPR News, I'm Shira Springer in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.