Behind-the-scenes workers keep Isotopes Park running smoothly - Albuquerque Journal

Behind-the-scenes workers keep Isotopes Park running smoothly

Don Laliberte mans the central elevator at Isotopes Park. (Jim Thompson/Journal)
Don Laliberte mans the central elevator at Isotopes Park. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

The next time you catch yourself talking about how much you love baseball, think of Willie Miera.

Ask yourself, if I were driving on the freeway and started to have a heart attack, what would I do? Drive to the nearest hospital, or to a baseball stadium?

Miera, 79, didn’t fancy the hospital option. He drove instead to Isotopes Park, where he works.

“We have medics here,” he said with a smile.

He is an usher at Isotopes Park – has been since that first game back in April 2003 against Oklahoma City. His view is one of the best in the ballpark, as he works between sections 101 and 103 behind home plate.

Willie Miera directs Gary and Robin Yesavage to their seat. (Jim Thompson/Journal)
Willie Miera directs Gary and Robin Yesavage to their seat. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

And believe him when he says that nobody gets to a seat in those two sections without his say so. A woman on Friday night tried to walk past Miera, saying she was a season-ticket holder.

“I still need to see your tickets,” Miera said politely.

Miera represents that faction of behind-the-scenes workers who help run Isotopes Park.

Miera returned to work just last week; his heart attack, he said, occurred May 7. Several fans remarked how glad they were to see him back at his station as they found their way to their seats before Friday night’s matchup against Memphis.

“I know everyone in Albuquerque, and they know me,” Miera bragged.

He played baseball in his youth. In high school, in college, even into his military service with the Army. He moved to Albuquerque in 1969, and through the ballclub’s job fair, appears to have found his groove with this gig.

“People,” he said, when asked his favorite part of ushering as he pats a woman on the shoulder. “The people. Everybody. This is what makes my job.”

Yeah, but does anybody ever try to sneak past him?

 Racey Maestas tells a driver where to park. (Jim Thompson/Journal)
Racey Maestas tells a driver where to park.
(Jim Thompson/Journal)

“Every game,” he said, knowingly. Often, he said, they’re ready with a handy excuse for trying to discreetly upgrade their seats. “They go down, and they never come back.”

Don Laliberte doesn’t have that problem. His is the familiar face who greets fans in the elevator just inside the southwest entrance to the stadium.

He’s been shuttling people up and down that incessantly slow lift since the stadium’s opening. And during this recent patch of broiling weather, his confined quarters feel a little like a sweatbox in the late afternoons of July.

“I don’t mind,” he said. “As long as I have my fan, I’m OK. But this is the hottest stretch I’ve seen.”

Laliberte, 79, was born in Maine, but considers himself a Boston guy even though he moved to Albuquerque from Cleveland. (For the record, he couldn’t care less about the Cavaliers winning the NBA Finals, seeing as how he’s a diehard Celtics fan).

He takes ticket holders from the first floor up to the Club Level and Suite Level, then takes many of those same folks back down when they’ve had enough. For Laliberte, he gets one 15-minute break per shift; he remains on duty until a few minutes after the conclusion of each game.

Willie Miera has been the usher of Section 101 behind home plate at Isotopes Park since the ballpark opened in April 2003. (Jim Thompson/Journal)
Willie Miera has been the usher of Section 101 behind home plate at Isotopes Park since the ballpark opened in April 2003.
(Jim Thompson/Journal)

He, like Miera, hooked up with the Isotopes through a job fair.

“The best part?” he said. “Just meeting people. Especially the kids. They’re comical. They say a lot of things you don’t expect them to say.”

Laliberte said he’s been stuck in that elevator only four times in 14 seasons, and never for very long. The team’s radio broadcast is piped into the elevator – an addition, he said, he asked the club to make not long after he took the job. He lives Albuquerque baseball mostly through the voice of play-by-play man Josh Suchon.

He will miss some coming games for a trip to the hospital, however – Miera’s medics can’t help with Don’s hernia – but said he’ll be back soon. But perhaps not next season.

“My wife,” the friendly Laliberte said, “wants me to do something else.”

If Laliberte struggles with the stuffiness of his small confines, he at least should be thankful that he doesn’t have Racey Maestas’ job. Maestas mans the third-base parking lot at Isotopes Park – Lot C – and he’s out in this 95-degree-plus weather every day in the worst heat of the day.

Racey Maestas is the gatekeeper of the west parking Lot C at Isotopes Park. (Jim Thompson/Journal)
Racey Maestas is the gatekeeper of the west parking Lot C at Isotopes Park.
(Jim Thompson/Journal)

But he’s a veteran at this: He has strapped his blue umbrella to a nearby post to give him shade, he’s got a mesh chair to rest in if he has a break and his small cooler of lemonade is close by.

“When they built the new stadium,” he said, “I was a ‘Simpsons’ fan. I came to the first game and I liked the environment, and it just seemed like a good place to work.”

His blue Toyota RAV4 – a nifty silver license plate with the Miami Dolphins logo catches the eye – is right next to his chair, but Maestas said he doesn’t cheat and retreat into the cab of the truck for a quick blast of air conditioning when the heat index rises.

“Staying cool is probably the hardest thing,” the 1977 Del Norte graduate said.

He is a Yankees fan, retired from the Social Security Administration. Occasionally, he gets into the stadium to take in a few innings. His lot is relatively small, and serves people with handicap cards, suite holders and the media.

“It’s really kind of a cake job,” he said, adding, “I just point people in the right direction.”

The vehicles that can’t get into his lot are redirected across the street.

“I love this job,” he said. He’s a job fair find, as well.

And that love for work is something all three men have in common. That, and their work backdrop.

“I’ve seen a lot of minor league parks,” Miera said. “And they don’t touch this place.”

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