Josh Otterline can’t count the number of times he’s pulled his phone from his pocket and clicked the home button to check the time, while simultaneously searching for excess trash or surveying the bathrooms at Riley Park.
Usually, it’s somewhere between midnight and 1 a.m. That’s about two or three hours after the Charleston RiverDogs have finished their game.
But after a particularly rowdy night — like a Thirsty Thursday, or the random, Monday earlier this year when New York Yankees’ slugger Gary Sanchez came to town — Otterline knows it may take a couple of extra hours to make sure the park is clean.
“That doesn’t happen often, but we’ve definitely had those nights where it’s like 4 a.m.,” said Otterline, the director of operations at Riley Park.
The 37-year-old is used to the night shift. Prior to Charleston, he was the facilities manager for the Washington Nationals, who play in an 18,000-square-foot stadium.
Now with the RiverDogs, the Yankees’ Class A affiliate, Otterline finds himself rooting for a different franchise.
And when the fans file out of the stadium, he’s part of a different team.
Close to the game
While Otterline is walking the stands searching for beer cups, peanut shells and other trash items, Connor Wohnig can be found on the field laying chalk.
Both are part of a crew of 75 to 90 folks who help clean the park each night.
For many of them, Wohnig included, the night shift isn’t their first job of the day. In fact, Wohnig has already clocked more than eight hours at his day job by the time he gets to the stadium in downtown Charleston.
From 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the 22-year-old is a production manager at the Charleston Cotton Exchange. And when the RiverDogs have home games, he changes uniforms and gets to the park by 3:45 p.m. to prep the field for the game.
After the ninth inning, as the stadium empties, Wohnig jumps back into action. He rakes the playing field dirt, to smooth it out and get rid of the clumps.
And he patches the mound from where pitchers have dug their cleats into the ground, gaining support for their fastballs.
Wohnig can usually escape before midnight. But by that time, 6:30 a.m. is right around the corner.
Still, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Baseball is my first love,” he said. “So I honestly don’t even look at it as a job. It’s my way of staying close to the game and being part of the sport in a different role.”
In nearly 20 years of baseball operations, RiveDogs President Dave Echols has worked in markets where employees leave minutes after the fans, and save the grunt work for the morning after. But Riley Park is different. Their partnership with the City of Charleston, plus their own standards, require them to tough it out that same night.
That’s why elsewhere in the ballpark, employees through a third party service are doing a more detailed cleaning of the stands while Wohnig is raking the field. Workers are picking up trash and taking garbage out of the bathrooms.
And upstairs, they’re wiping the countertops in the Riley Park clubhouse, and checking for waste in other parts of the stadium.
“It’s certainly an underappreciated job,” Echols said. “From the cleaning crew to our operations staff, they’re here until the early hours of the mornings.”
When Otterline is checking the time, the guy usually by his side is Jordan Wiley, an operations manager from Irmo. And similar to his boss, Wiley’s resume speaks for itself.
The Winthrop graduate interned with Charlotte Motor Speedway and also worked with the football operations staff with the Carolina Panthers.
It’s high-profile stuff. But Wiley likes getting his hands dirty.
Well before the first pitch, he’s with the parking crew, counting tickets and making sure things go smoothly.
Around, the eighth or inning, Wiley starts a preliminary walk through the stands to help out the night crew.
“We cover every row and every section,” he said. “We want to make sure our fans get a clean stadium the next day.”
From there, he turns to the dugout. For that, the leaf blower comes out to get all the peanuts and other debris. Often times, the dugouts alone can take a couple of hours.
And where necessary, Wiley pulls out the pressure washer to deep clean the walls.
All that said, he can usually duck out by midnight if everything goes well. But if it’s a big night, or the game goes extra innings?
“Who knows what time we get out of there,” Wiley chuckled.
Similar to Wohnig, Wiley is dedicated. He grew up an Atlanta Braves’ fan and played baseball in middle school before switching to football.
After working in Charlotte in the racing and football worlds, a return to baseball has been refreshing.
“There was a lot of nostalgia,” he said, after accepting the job earlier this year. “It reminded me of playing baseball in the 90s and early 2000s. Walking through the locker room and seeing posters and (George Steinbrenner) quotes, it brought back so many memories.”
It’s the gift that keeps on giving for Wiley. Because once the lights cut off for the night, he has as few as 12 hours of rest before he’s back on the field.