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Long-serving Mariners employee leaves after 37 years with hometown team

Tony Pereira, Sr. Director of Ballpark Operations for the Mariners, is leaving the organization after 37 years. (Josh Kerns/KIRO Radio)

As the Mariners keep on rolling, this weekend’s big series with the Astros is bittersweet for one of the team’s longest-serving employees.

After 37 years on the job, the guy in charge of making sure Safeco Field runs like a Swiss Watch is packing up and heading south, leaving with quite a legacy and a few regrets.

As long as the Mariners have existed, Bellevue native Tony Pereira has wanted to be a part of his beloved hometown team.

“When I was 14 I wrote an essay for a Seattle Times contest about why I want to be a bat boy for the Mariners. They liked me, but I was too young. You had to be 16. So I started off passing out stuff at the gates, stuffing envelopes, that sort of thing. Thirty-seven years later, here I am,” Pereira said.

He’s come a long way since that inauspicious start.

As the senior director of ballpark operations, it’s Tony’s job to oversee all facets of Safeco Field, from the front gates to the beer stands.

He’s truly worked his way up from the bottom, his first big break coming when the Kingdome director of stadium operations needed a gofer. The then-15-year-old jumped at the chance.

“So I just did errands for him, got him hot dogs, all kinds of glamorous stuff, but just stayed with it. When I was 20 they hired me full time in the mailroom,” he said.

He gradually worked his way up, ultimately securing a full-time job working in stadium operations in his 20’s. He was part of the team that led the transition from the dingy confines of the Kingdome to the shiny new Safeco Field.

Well before the stadium opened July 15, 1999, Tony and his team hit the road to figure out how to actually run the place right.

“In the Kingdome days, we knew it wasn’t a great building, for baseball in particular. So when Camden Yards opened in 1992 I was there in April, and my counterpart there said I was the first one to visit. I was so anxious to see what the new ballparks were all about. Throughout the 90’s even before we knew we were going to get Safeco Field, I’d go to Cleveland and see Jacobs Field, and Coors Field in Denver,” Pereira said.

Safeco Field has deservedly earned accolades across the country as one the best building’s in the business.

The secret? It’s a bit Mickey Mouse. Seriously. The Mariners have modeled their operation on Disney, with Tony and team attending what’s known as the Disney Institute. It’s an intensive program that teaches everything from customer service and operations to leadership.

“I would say we start with striving to treat our day of game staff the best that any team could treat them. Because the philosophy is very simple: you treat them well, if they’re having fun, they enjoy coming here, that’s what they’re going to exude to our guests,” he said.

But it’s not always easy. With 81 games a season, Tony admits it can be a grind.

“This is an 11 game homestand in 12 days. To perform at that level and ask everybody to perform day in and day out (can be difficult.) And we’ll say to them in training in March that September 30 is just as important as April 4th,” Pereira said.

And it’s not just baseball. Safeco Field hosts dozens of other events a year, from high school graduations to corporate fundraisers.

And then there are the concerts, which Tony worked for years to make happen.

“With Paul McCartney, we were finally able to do it. I went to Fenway because the Red Sox do a number of shows,” he said.

It was a rousing success, and Tony’s since booked Beyonce and Jay Z and Billy Joel, and this summer Safeco will host Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

But Tony won’t be there. His wife wanted to return home to her family in Phoenix, so he agreed it was time for a move. Lucky for him, an opportunity opened up to oversee University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL Cardinals and dozens of other events including Super Bowls and megaconcerts.

It’ll be just the second company he’s ever worked for. And although he’s excited about the new challenge, he leaves with a couple of regrets.

He never got Pearl Jam to play. And he never got to celebrate a World Series.

“We came really close. Three ALCS’ where we were just a couple of games from the World Series. And so that’s the piece that I really hope the team gets over the hump soon. The city deserves it, the region deserves it, the people that work in the front office deserve it. I’d love to be here for it. The next best thing though will be watching it. And I will be here in the stands when it does happen,” he said.

That would only be fitting because he’s been there since almost the very beginning.

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