SBJ/Nov. 18-24, 2013/In Depth

The Building Managers: Jim Folk

Vice president of ballpark operations, Progressive Field, Goodyear Ballpark

In the summer of 1979, Jim Folk was a sophomore at Loyola University of Chicago working on his marketing degree with plans on going to law school when he took a part-time job with the White Sox, who were owned by sports’ No. 1 marketer, Bill Veeck.

Then disco changed his life.

On July 12, the White Sox hosted a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers, and White Sox director of marketing Mike Veeck, Bill’s son, concocted a promotion: hand each ticket taker a disco record and get a general admission ticket for 98 cents (a nod to the event’s sponsor, radio station WLUP The Loop FM 98). In between games, the club would put the records in a pile and blow them up.

Folk was an entry-level security guard that night. It became obvious early that trouble was brewing.

“By the second inning of Game 1, we realize that we have about 60,000 people inside this 45,000 [seat] stadium and a mass of humanity outside trying to get in,” Folk said. “They closed the Dan Ryan Expressway because there were 10,000 pedestrians blocking it. People were climbing on top of the ticket booths to get in, using the TV broadcast cables to scale the outside walls to climb into the press box, climbing the foul poles … .”

What happened after the Game 1 postgame record demolition is part of baseball lore.

“First of all let’s just say they may have used a little more dynamite than was needed,” Folk mused. “There was 10
Photo by: Cleveland Indians
seconds of smoke and fire and the roar of the explosion … then just suspended animation. Then they started coming over the outfield wall. And coming and coming. Like cockroaches, flowing nonstop out of every crack.”

Despite the riot squads, the flying wedge of police motorcycles and the fear he felt while bunkered down in the locker rooms with his co-workers, Folk stuck around.

For the next couple years, he scheduled his classes around his Comiskey Park work life, which was just three blocks from his apartment. In May 1984, he had a decision to make.

“Graduation day was a Sunday afternoon. We were playing the Twins. I was paid by the hour, so I went to work. I picked up my diploma a few days later, folded it up and used it to balance my three-legged dorm fridge and never looked back.”

During his three decades of experience, Folk opened and ran the $110 million Florida Suncoast Dome (now Tropicana Field, home to the Tampa Bay Rays); Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field); and in 2009 he was put in charge of developing Goodyear Ballpark, the Cleveland Indians’ $108 million spring training complex in Arizona.
He now helps operate the ballpark.

Looking back, Folk says this is the time of year when he realizes how much his job description has changed.

“There’s no offseason now. We used to be able to put our feet up on the desk in October and relax until February, when someone would realize, ‘Oh crap, we’d better start getting this place ready.’ Now as soon as you’re done in October you’re planning for next year’s stadium experience. And our job now goes way beyond the venue — it starts and ends in your garage. Everything in between is part of the Indians’ stadium experience. And if we’re doing it right, no one knows we’re here.”

What hasn’t changed, he said, is his job’s favorite reward: “Nothing is cooler to me — nothing — than seeing a kid at his first game. That look of awe never gets old.”

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