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Operations keeps show moving — and then there’s gum

Chris Hornberger

Chris Hornberger

Sixteen or so hours overseeing game-day maintenance and clean-up inside Trustmark Stadium normally makes sleep a cinch for 28-year-old Chris Hornberger, the stadium’s operation manager.

But there’s always the gum to think about – or more precisely, the already-been-chewed variety that fans leave on the surface of the wrap-around mezzanine. If not scrapped up right away, the gum turns black and keeps Hornberger awake at night.

“Lately, I’ve made that one of my special projects,” says Hornberger, holding up a paint scraper and a bottle of Goo-Gone, the main weapons he brings in his war of attribution with the chewing gum.

The other principal asset is a willingness to go to his knees and scrape for however long it takes to remove the gum before it starts to occupy his pre-slumber thoughts.

The gum is always in the back of his mind. But he’s got a notebook full of other things to think about as well. Everything from plumbing, refrigeration, air conditioning, alarm systems – any kind of maintenance – is likely to land on his to-do list.

Hornberger is in his rookie year as head of operations at the Pearl ballpark. The New Orleans native and holder of a master’s degree in sports management from the University of Southern Mississippi got in a year of training as an intern at Trustmark Park last year. He took over the top job this year after the departure of his mentor, Matt McCoy.

His three-member crew is made up of intern Zach Evans, a Taylorsville native and graduate of Mississippi College, and veteran part time maintenance worker Joe Denley. The off-season that begins in September gives Hornberger  9-to-5 workdays – until January, when preparations begin for opening day of the Mississippi Braves’ Southern League season in early April.

Hornberger says he is not a natural-born “fix-it guy.” But with the help of Denley, or Mr. Joe as he’s known at the ballpark, the operations manager is getting plenty of instruction. Enough instruction, in fact, to fill up a pair of notebook binders.

He filled one notebook in his intern year and relies on it to help him guide the work of Evans. “Every single thing I did as an intern is in here,” he says, holding up the year-old notebook. “This helps me a lot.”

This year’s notebook stays in his back pocket and is pulled out throughout the day. By the end of that night’s game, Hornberger is jotting down everything he fixed that day and the tools he used. It’s just the first draft, though. Later he will rewrite it “to make it really neat,” he says.

“I am all about writing things down,” he adds. “My memory is not as sharp as it was in high school.”

On game days, Hornberger arrives about 7:15 a.m. – 7 a.m. if it rained the night before and the tarp must be removed from the field.

“I make a list of everything I want to do from everything that was on my mind from the day before,” he says. “I also make a list of what I want the intern to do.”

Next comes “the walk,” a trek that takes Hornberger to each restroom for a check of such essentials as toilet paper, soap dispensers, paper towels and overall cleanliness.

The seats are next – all 5,900 of them. “I walk each row to make sure there’s a cup-holder [clear of debris] for each seat. I take a broom and dust pan to sweep up anything on the floor.”

A walk around the outside of the stadium follows. He will be on the lookout for weeds that have sprouted against the building since his last check. He will also bring along Ortho for any ant beds he spots.

By afternoon, it’s time to make sure the concession areas are tidy and no light bulbs have gone out.  He also visits the upstairs suites to ensure they’re clean and the air conditioning is running well.

Not a day goes by that Hornberger doesn’t ride the Tennant sweeper back and forth across the concourse and VIP gate area three or four times. The Zamboni-like machine is a sort of buffer for cement, polishing up the surface after it applies a special cleaning solvent.

“It takes a lot of water… 25 to 30 gallons,” he says, and has the added value of sucking up any rain puddles.

By game time he is supervising a contract cleaning crew as well as the 24 ushers who work the stadium’s 24 seating sections.

With a list of post-game checks to make, he won’t leave until well after the game’s final out.

After a year in training and a few months into his supervisory role, Hornberger says he is starting to learn every crack and crevice, spider web and everything else about the ballpark.

If the Braves are on the road, Hornberger can get a couple days in a row off. If it rains, though, he and his helpers will have to come in by early evening to put the tarp on the field. And be back in the morning to remove it.

“It’s six months of craziness,” he says of the baseball season.

What’s he thinking about just before falling asleep?

“Just planning what to do the next day,” he says.

And the gum – there’s always the gum, he says.

“If I can get those gum stains up, I can get the concourse looking really nice.”

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