Volunteers make Progressive Field go
Non-profit groups able to turn teamwork into help for causes
CLEVELAND -- On most days, Dave Jockers rolls into work before the sun rises and heads home before most nine-to-fivers start thinking about lunch. Such is the life for a radio morning show producer.But for Jockers, some of the best days this year have come when, instead of heading home after a long morning at WNCX, he changes into a blue shirt and ballcap and heads straight to Progressive Field to run the Miller Lite Corner Bar on the Toyota Home Run Porch. "Everybody at work laughs at me," Jockers said, "but I've had a blast." Jockers is one of many volunteers from non-profit organizations who help run Progressive Field's numerous concession stands on a nightly, and occasionally daily, basis. For his services, Jockers, who may be the butt of his co-workers' jokes, has laughed all the way to the bank, bringing in at least $60 for his son's school every time he dons that blue shirt and ball cap. "I like to call it a win-win-win situation," Jockers said. "Of course, the church and school benefit from the money we bring back. The Indians benefit because they're the benefactor of our help and the patrons benefit because it helps keep costs down." On most occasions, the individuals in each group bring in more than the $60 minimum, said Peg Kalberer, assistant concessions manager of Delaware North Companies Sportservice, which has partnered with the Indians since 1994. The non-profit groups, which are assigned their own stand and required to staff it with nine to 15 volunteers, receive 10 percent of the stand's net sales if they exceed the $60 minimum. "I'm the big tree hugger of the group," said Kalberer, who took over the supervision of these groups at the start of the season. "I'm really into being green, moving in the direction to involve the community any way I can, so this is perfect." Annually, DNC Sportservice donates more than $1 million to participating Cleveland-area non-profit organizations. Most of the organizations work the 12-game minimum as a way to "get their feet wet," while 13 groups work the full 81-game slate, Kalberer said. About 65 to 70 percent of the Progressive Field concession workers are volunteers. Bob Bura, director of fundraising for Spectrum Soccer School -- the largest volunteer group of the lot -- works about 70 games a year, himself, while nearly 200 other volunteers from the soccer academy help manage a Market Grill concession stand and two other portable stands. Bura leads other fundraising efforts for Spectrum, such as an annual poker tournament, but said working with the Indians and DNC Sportservice provides the bulk of the group's working capital. The income helps keep tuition costs down, provides additional help to those in financial need and takes care of the "little things," such as tournament and referee fees, Bura said. For Kris Helfeldt of the cheerleading school American Elite All-Stars, working 12 games is enough to make a significant difference. Parenting a cheerleader can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $6,000 a year, so the $30,000 the school brought in last year from working Indians corporate picnics goes a long way in making it affordable for everyone, Helfeldt said. "Maybe 25 percent of the families can afford (coming to the school) without any donations," said Helfeldt, who currently has two daughters in the program. "Without it, we wouldn't have the opportunity." Money isn't everything to these groups, though. The stories they take away can only be described as priceless. For Helfeldt, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., without a Major League Baseball team, just being around for the 2007 playoff run was enough to keep her coming back. "Just to be down there to see the excitement was a blast," Helfeldt said. "It was rocking all the way through the entire game." Bura was working the Market Grill stand by Section 158 for Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees. It was the night when the Indians took command of the five-game series with a convincing 12-3 victory, but, more importantly, it was the night LeBron James infamously showed up proudly wearing a Bronx Bombers hat. With James sitting nearby, Bura quickly became the guy angry fans went to for a venting session. "Everyone had a different version about it," Bura said with a laugh. "It was hilarious." As for Jockers, well, his favorite memory hit him hard. Literally. He has a welt on his back to prove it. In his required four-hour training session, Jockers had been warned to always watch out for home run balls when working on the Toyota Home Run Porch. Just three games into the season, Jockers learned the hard way when White Sox slugger Joe Crede smashed a home run that caromed off Jockers' stand and pegged him square in the kidneys. "I'll never forget that," Jockers said. No matter how many balls Jockers takes to the kidneys, he vows to keep coming back. Bringing in money for his organization while watching his favorite team with the regulars of the Home Run Porch is too rewarding to let a bruise or two get in the way. "I've ended up having a ball," Jockers said. "You can't beat it."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.