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Leslie Lindsey holds a clipboard in one hand while her Cat Crew stands around with a large tarp depicting hamburger patties sizzling on a grill.
“Leslie to Steven,” she says, speaking into the walkie-talkie on her shoulder. Little kids surround her holding sliced cheese-shaped bean bags, waiting to throw them on the tarp. The child that gets the most “cheese” on the hamburger, wins.
This is just a typical day on the job for Lindsey, coordinator for day-of-games events for the Sacramento River Cats minor league baseball team.
She arrives at Raley Field for a night game (which begins at 7:05) around 3 p.m. She holds a Cat Crew meeting near 5 p.m. to let her staff of about six, plus Dinger, the mascot and interns, know what they need to do throughout the game.
Behind the suite entrance of the stadium, down the stairs, past “Dinger’s Closet” and down the long tunnel out to the field, Lindsey and her crew stay positioned right behind home plate for most of the game.
Throughout the game, they are the ones responsible for in-game entertainment that fans see in between innings. With events ranging from the Kraft singles cheese toss, to the mascot races, and the seventh inning stretch and dance to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” Lindsey and crew literally run around the field making sure fans of all ages are entertained.
They begin prepping for the pregame show around 6 p.m. This includes gathering the national anthem singers, the lets-play-ball bat kid, on-field recognitions and sometimes a check presentation.
“We gather all of them and take them down to the field. We get them lined up, there’s a schedule that we follow,” she said.
The fans, Lindsey said, are usually enthusiastic to participate. They are mostly chosen at the entry gate before the game.
“We are very fortunate, for a triple-A baseball team, to have a lot of fan support. People are really excited to be here, and excited to participate,” she said.
Those who get to throw the first pitches are chosen before the game and are mostly people from the community. Recently, a child who survived the Haiti earthquake participated after he had recovered. An average of three people throw the first pitches during a home game.
When fans hear a kid saying “Let’s play ball!” to announce the beginning of the game, that is the “Let’s play ball” bat kid, chosen through a contest by Raley’s groceries.
Dinger’s Closet, underneath the stairs and before the tunnel that leads to the field, is the closet that holds just about everything for the Cat Crew. From Dinger’s outfits, to other mascot clothes, to tricycles, first-pitch balls, multicolored “rally pants” and, of course, the T-shirts they shoot out of the hot dog cannon.
It has a distinct smell, which Lindsey said the crew has tried to cover up by using Axe men’s cologne, although it has yet to succeed. Her crew can be seen running through the tunnel back and forth from the closet to grab necessary items for certain events.
Lindsey’s crew recently began the tradition of putting on “rally pants.” Late in the game, if the River Cats are trailing, Brad Kilby runs to the clubhouse to put on these super-tight-fitting white baseball pants, dubbed the “rally pants.” Crew members follow Kilby’s lead and wear their own pants — one member has black leggings with bright neon colors that also fit rather tightly.
Ron, who has been working at the stadium since 2002 and directs people to their seats, pointed out during Saturday’s home run in the seventh by Travis Buck that the team will throw cups of water in a players face after he gets back to the dugout after a home run.
Lindsey said some of the biggest challenges of the job are the things she can’t prepare for.
“Like contestants not showing up. Because there are some things, that no matter how much you prepare, you just have no control over,” she said.
With something going on every half inning, the Cat Crew does cut it close sometimes. On Saturday’s game against the Las Vegas 51’s, contestants not showing up on time did cause them to move an event to later.
Lindsey said they only have about 90 seconds for some events, and if they don’t show up on time, things need to be moved. If fans listen closely, you can hear her shouting “Run run run!” as she and her crew sprint off the field after finishing an event, with just seconds left before a new play.
Mascot races typically occur every game, along with the most popular event, the hot dog cannon that’s not loaded with hot dogs, but T-shirts with free hot dog coupons.
“When I got this job, all people asked me was, ‘Do you get to shoot the hot dog cannon?’ ” she said.
The grounds crew, now known as the Coca-Cola Groove Crew, made up of four men, break out into dance at the bottom of the sixth inning, much to the fans’ delight.
At the end of a game, when all the mascot outfits are put away, the T-shirts dispersed and Lindsey’s crew in a slight sweat from running around the field all night, she said the best part of her job is making the baseball experience memorable.
“Realizing that you did something that you think of when you were a kid, and you went to a baseball game and you remember something that was really great that happened…I want to be able to do that for people,” she said.
For more information on the River Cats, visit rivercats.com.
Photos by Leah Kellgren.