By IAN WILSON
Long before Sportsnet 960 The Fan radio personalities Pat Steinberg and Will Nault were making waves on the air, they were teenagers in need of summer jobs.
For both of them, their first paycheques came as a result of the innings they put in at Foothills Stadium.
Steinberg was 14 years old when a job fair at the ballpark – which was then called Burns Stadium – landed him a role with the Triple-A Calgary Cannons of the Pacific Coast League (PCL).
“My initial job was being a Cannoneer, which is essentially an usher and cheerleader hybrid. It was my job to be in a section and direct fans to their seats, make sure foul balls didn’t hit anyone, and answer any questions people had,” said Steinberg of his modest beginnings in the world of sports.
“It was my job to stand out in front of my section and clap to the organ music, pump my arm whenever the ‘CHARGE!’ rally was played, and do some general entertaining. We danced on the dugout for the seventh inning stretch and YMCA, and a few other things, too.”
Steinberg – who would later do media relations and play-by-play work for the independent league Calgary Vipers – enjoyed watching past and future Major League Baseball (MLB) players up close, but his most memorable encounter involved the 1992 World Series MVP.
“There’s no doubt … Pat Borders,” Steinberg told Alberta Dugout Stories.
“As a massive Jays fan, anyone from those ’90s World Series winners would have been huge, but Borders is my absolute favourite ball player ever. He came through Calgary just once as a member of Seattle’s PCL team, the Tacoma Rainiers. He walked by me after BP one day, and while I wasn’t allowed to get his autograph, I said something to the effect of ‘Mr. Borders, I’m your absolute biggest fan, thanks for the memories,’ and he said, ‘That’s awesome buddy,’ and gave me a fist bump. Remember it vividly to this day.”
For the most part, he loved the job he worked for four summers, although the change room left something to be desired.
“The only negative thing I remember was the trailer where we changed into our uniforms. It was old, gross, and had mice everywhere,” said the broadcaster.
Steinberg was also struck by some of the cost-cutting measures he saw in independent baseball leagues of the mid to late 2000s.
“Here’s a great story that drives home the gap between a guy playing ball in the unaffiliated Northern League to, say, a top flight pro. My per diem was $18 per day on the road, which was the same as the players,” he said.
“Think about that – $18 for three meals! I believe an NHLer’s per diem is around $100 per day right now, with a bunch of team meals included. That was a lot of fast food that summer.”
Steinberg also learned a lot, especially during his lone season with the Vipers, that prepared him for his current role as a member of Calgary’s sports media.
“My job with the Cannons was my first job ever, so it taught me how to be professional and hard working,” he said.
“My one season with the Vipers had far more of an affect on my current job, though. More than anything, it taught me to roll with the punches. Nothing in minor pro independent ball runs like a well-oiled machine, so you had to be ready to broadcast right off the bus after 16 hours on the road. As a 19-year-old kid, it taught me SO much about what was to come.”
Steinberg’s coworker Nault, who also took on his first job at Foothills Stadium as a teenager, had his share of head-shaking moments when he worked for the Vipers, as well.
“The outfield fence at Foothills Stadium was constantly beat up and before one game an outfielder brought a hole in the fence – that was in play – to our attention and we quickly had to think of a resolution. We used plastic bags and taped it on to cover the hole from the back of the fence with duct tape, and then went back to the front of the fence to spray paint the bag black to match the rest of the fence. Little things like that happened almost daily,” said Nault, who started as an usher and later work with the grounds crew for the Vipers.
Another Calgary player complained to Nault and his colleagues about the lack of a batter’s eye – which helps hitters pick up the ball when it’s released from the pitcher’s hand – and took steps to remedy the problem.
“After learning there wasn’t much we could do about it, the player went out and bought a couple of six-by-eight wood poles and a tarp to put up on the fence. We laid it all out on the concourse, built it high, spray painted a blue tarp black to match the outfield fence and then he even helped us go put it up above the centre field wall to create the new batter’s eye at Foothills Stadium. That’s taking matters into your own hands, I guess.”
Nault also got to know Kevin Price, who played for the Vipers from 2007 through 2011, and they developed their own theatrical bond.
“I built a strong friendship with catcher Kevin Price, and we would often chirp each other, joke around, and all that good stuff. One day it turned into a full-on WWE wrestling situation with other players cheering on sides and acting as referees to declare a winner,” laughed Nault.
“He’s not a big star or a name many would be overly familiar with … but that’s a moment where you can’t really believe it’s happening. That happened quite often that season and it was a blast.”
Nault, however, was star struck when legendary Calgary Flames winger Theo Fleury made a cameo appearance with the Snakes in 2008.
“I was a massive Theo Fleury fan growing up, from wearing number fourteen in minor hockey, to his posters in my room, you name it … Theo was my guy,” recalled Nault.
“To be on the same field, setting up BP, getting to interact with him as a kid in high school just at this summer job … that was hard at times to believe it was actually happening.”
Reflecting on his summers with the team, despite some of the antics of indy league baseball, Nault has mainly fond memories of his time at the ball diamond.
“One of the best parts of the job was just being able to watch sports and get paid for it. That was one of the first times where I said to myself, ‘I could get used to this.’ As a massive sports fan and someone who absolutely loves watching baseball live, it was really a dream summer job. I didn’t love being an usher, but it certainly was a nice first step into the work force.”
For more on Nault’s memories with the Calgary Vipers, tune in here for his conversation with Ian Wilson on Sportsnet 960 The Fan.