At least Michelle Becerra now knows what the “seventh inning stretch” means.
In her second season heading up the cleanup crew at Petco Park, Becerra is not a sports fan, and cares little about what happens on the baseball diamond.
Her concern is what goes on in the stands before and after the game, and how tidy the ballpark appears when the gates open, and an average of 40,000 fans come streaming through.
Calm, cool and collected, Becerra was in her element during the Padres’ opening homestand April 7-10, escorting a few new workers to their posts, letting managers know where to go, and fielding a few phone calls before a night game.
“For me, this is the most stressful time,” said Becerra, whose title is general manager, Petco Park.
“Up until the time the public comes into the ballpark, I worry about anything that wasn’t done right, some glass was left uncleaned, or some peanut shells weren’t picked up.”
Becerra heads up a 150-person cleanup crew, most of whom begin their shift before the end of the game and work through the next morning, sweeping, washing and polishing up Petco so that it gleams for the next game.
A positive thing about being the general for cleaning a baseball stadium is seeing the results in a relatively short time.
“You really have a quick gratification. You see the final product right away,” she said. “Last night I saw the stadium in a complete mess. We had 42,000 guests. Everyone had a great time, eating and spilling things. It really is a shambles when they walk out, and you have a very small window to get it back.”
Asked what the worst type of mess to clean in a ballpark, Becerra doesn’t hesitate: “bio hazards.”
That’s vomit for those who aren’t in the loop. A close second is backed up toilets.
This is not a pretty job, but as Becerra happily and matter-of-factly states, “Somebody’s got to do it.”
Petco’s head cleaning lady wasn’t Becerra’s first choice of a career. The Houston native obtained her degree in microbiology from the University of St. Thomas and began a laboratory research job at the Baylor University School of Medicine.
After two years in the lab, Becerra knew she needed a change. “There definitely was a lack of interaction with other people. You’re literally in a lab with a microscope.”
Her mother, Anna, knew her daughter wasn’t happy with her job and told her about an ad she saw seeking an assistant manager at the newly opened Reliant Center. The complex encompasses four major facilities: Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Texans; the Astrodome, used for things such as rodeos and tractor pulls; Reliant Convention Center; and Reliant Arena, which hosts concerts.
Becerra got the job, and eventually moved up to become the general manager of the entire complex. Becerra’s actual employer is Aramark, a food and facilities management firm based in Philadelphia.
In her former job, Becerra couldn’t move from one facility to another (at least not too quickly) without the aid of a golf cart. At Petco, her job keeps her moving, but it’s all confined to a single building.
Before Petco Park opened a year ago, Aramark, which won the contract to provide cleanup services, provided the Padres with its best candidates for the general manager’s position, including Becerra.
“I think we talked to about six people, and Michelle stood out as the best,” said Richard Andersen, the Padres’ managing director of Petco Park.
“She’s someone who is not only a good manager, but is also one who has excellent leadership skills, and inspires people,” he said. “She’s unflappable, and to be a success in that position, you have to be.”
To help her charges get Petco back to spick-and-span appearance, a typical crew will go through about 500 gallons of cleaning fluid. Last year, about $2 million was spent on cleaning the ballpark.
While she’s worked for Aramark, Becerra has had experience working at some of the biggest sporting events in the nation, including the 2004 Super Bowl and the NBA Finals in San Antonio, but don’t ask her about who played or the scores.
“I’m just not a sports fanatic at all,” she said. “I only know the opponents (of the Padres) if they affect my work.
“I finally found out what the seventh inning stretch was somewhere in the middle of last season.”