Sue Lucchi's cool sports job: Mets VP of ballpark operations
Sue Lucchi grew up in the Whitestone section of Queens, New York, in a house her grandfather built. She was a passionate Mets fan and wore Keith Hernandez's No. 17 as she played soccer and softball through high school. "He was my boy," she says. She often passed Shea Stadium on her way to work part-time in her dad's shop and daydreamed about what it would be like to play there. "I wanted to be a ballplayer," she says, laughing. "But I think I got the next best thing."
Lucchi has worked for the Mets for 23 years, starting as an intern in the video department while going to school at St. John's. Today, she's the vice president of ballpark operations, responsible for everything from the landscaping outside Citi Field to the signs on the outfield fences, the condition of the playing field, operations at the concession stands, the plumbing and electrical systems, the condition of bleacher seating and ballpark maintenance. Oh, and cleaning up all those peanut shells after a game.
Before she prepped Shea Stadium for the 2000 World Series and Citi Field for its opening in 2009 and the 2013 All-Star Game, she worked in the video production department. She finished her semester-long internship in 1993, then worked part-time before she was hired full-time.
She worked her way up the ladder to associate director of video productions, then moved into stadium operations, eventually becoming stadium manager, director of stadium operations, senior director of ballpark operations (in 2009, when the Mets moved to Citi Field), executive director of ballpark operations and then to VP in 2015.
Lucchi works with a group of about 225 people to keep the ballpark up and running all year for ballgames, concerts and even weddings. At work, she's tuned in at all times to a 10-channel radio, listening to everything going on in the park. During the season, the hours are long and the days off are rare. She recalls one stretch of 58 consecutive days with games or concerts. But she loves it.
"It's an awesome job," says Lucchi, 45, who still lives in the same house in Whitestone. "You meet great people and you do great things, and nothing is the same every day."
Here is Lucchi's story, in her words:
Her first job with the Mets
St. John's required an internship, and I reached out. ... I wanted to work for the Mets. That was my dream job forever. They found me an internship that actually was supposed to be in media relations with Jay Horwitz. But I came down with bronchitis, so I couldn't come in the first week. When I came back, the position had been filled so they put me in the video department. I loved it. I was on the field with the players. We did interviews with them. Back then we used to travel to their houses in the offseason to do video features. I learned how to edit video and did a little bit of everything.
What she fields now
The main thing is the field, the grounds crew, and you work with the team to make sure it's playing to their liking. The maintenance of the ballpark, including the exterior landscaping, is all under my umbrella. We have electricians, plumbers, engineers, maintenance staff, painters. I'm the person who's responsible for leaks. I'm responsible for the heat not working, the signs installed on the building and the outfield walls.
When you have a department that is made up like I do and you have people you trust to the get job done, it's a well-oiled machine.
Looking like a pro ballpark
You have to have the same-looking ballpark every day. It's got to be a major-league experience. The fans don't care if it was raining last night or half your staff called in sick or they didn't want to work in cold weather. You're always on your toes getting ready, and we have a certain level we like to keep to. I think we've achieved that, but it's an everyday task and you never know what's coming.
The fans don't care if it was raining last night or half your staff called in sick or they didn't want to work in cold weather.Sue Lucchi
The most challenging aspect
The weather. You're constantly attached to the radar. The intent is, people came to see a game and they want to see it. You've got to do your best to get the game in.
Somebody in the PR world, they'd probably tell you something very interesting, but in my world, my concerns are the leaks or pigeons that are doing stuff to fans that are sitting in seats. Those are items I like to make sure fans don't have an issue with. Same with ballpark seats. They get checked on a regular basis. You don't want a fan showing up and the seat being broken. You're part of their experience, even before they get inside the park, with the landscaping and atmosphere.
About those pigeons ...
You can't keep them out. It's an open-air ballpark. You put up the plastic wire over the seats and you send them off somewhere else. Other than that, there's not much you can do.
The command post
One of the other things I oversee is the day-of-game command post, which is a room located in center field that looks out at the field and takes every call that employees or fans make about issues, whether they need a cleanup in field level, whether somebody's at the gate who wasn't on the parking list or if there's a medical emergency.
Watching the game?
I may have the TV on in one of the weather rooms, watching to see what the score is, but I'm not listening to the commentators. I'm watching the weather and listening to the action on the radio.
Moving to a new park
The front office had actually moved to Citi Field about a month prior (to the final game at Shea in 2008), so we were going back and forth. I actually had a bike in my office and I rode it back and forth. We had two weeks to empty the ballpark of all personal belongings. While everybody was at Citi Field, I had a handful of employees back at Shea working on emptying the clubhouse, taking down stuff, signs, moving furniture, grounds crew equipment. It was quite an undertaking.
A bittersweet Shea farewell
Shea Stadium was built in 1964, so it was old. It was a great place to be at the time, but we were excited to come to Citi Field. It was also a little sad because you start seeing the building getting ripped apart. I had pretty much grown up at Shea.
Opening season at Citi Field
It was like being in the playoffs because the excitement that had built was similar to a championship game. Opening Day here was amazing. It was packed, people were very happy. It was like that for the first year.
Switching from baseball to concerts
We come out of a Sunday night game and as soon as that last out is made, we start taking down the outfield wall, and in comes the crane and up goes the stage, and we're just in go-mode for that entire week. As soon as the last song is played, in comes the crane and down goes the stage and it's back to baseball again. We laugh, we joke, we have a good time, we're serious, but we get our work done. I'm a firm believer in if you have a bunch of people and you all get along, it's that much easier to work long hours.
The Piano Man
One of my favorite memories is the Billy Joel concert (at Shea), because it was the first one I was overseeing, and I love Billy Joel. It was such a great satisfaction when the stage was finished and Billy Joel took the stage and you see the fans. You see big crowds in baseball, but when you see a park filled with fans on the floor and the stadium is full -- knowing you had something to do with that -- this is a good part of my job.
Flood of memories
In 2000 we played the Yankees in the World Series. I guess one of the fans threw a cigarette down the trash chute and started a fire. So the fire department showed up and decided to hook up to the fire stand pipe. I know it was never tested, because of the results, but when they hooked the fire hoses up to the fire stand it flooded out the visiting clubhouse during the game when the team was on the field and George Steinbrenner was sitting in the locker room. So I was in the middle of that one. I had my grounds crew running in trying to stop the water from flooding. When you're right in the middle of George Steinbrenner screaming, you don't forget that.