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The Mayor of Nationals Park

Alum, VP of Ballpark Operations, Had His Own Playoff Run

By Karen Shih ’09

Nats Park

Whether you’re Jordan Zimmermann throwing a no-hitter, or the regular fan eating a half-smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl, you can credit your Nationals Park experience this season in great part to Frank Gambino ’84.

As vice president of ballpark operations for the Washington Nationals, Gambino oversees a crew of about 500, handling everything from hospitality to security, from food options to field maintenance.

In preparation for the National League East Champion Nats' postseason run, which ended Oct. 7, he and his team created a detailed transportation plan for fans, built additional press areas, spruced up the paint, installed festive new bunting and more.

“It’s a terrific challenge,” he said before the playoffs started. “You have to enjoy it, because it doesn’t come around every year.”

He’s come a long way from being that boy from New York, cheering first for the Mets, then the Yankees, to now managing one of just 30 Major League Baseball stadiums across North America.

“I never would have guessed in a million years,” says the trained architect, who credits his UMD education with giving him the problem-solving abilities and adaptability that helped him carve out his unusual path.

It was the skyscrapers of New York City, infinitely tall and towering, that sparked his interest in architecture. As he watched the World Trade Center go up when he was a boy, story by story, he knew that’s what he wanted to do.

As a Maryland student, he worked for the Office of Facilities Planning. After graduation, he designed interior tenant spaces for DBI Architects Inc., then spent a couple of years in real estate development before joining Lerner Enterprises. At Lerner, he worked on D.C.-area shopping malls like White Flint Mall, Annapolis Harbour Center and Dulles Town Center.

As luck would have it, the Lerner family, owners of Lerner Enterprises, was awarded the Washington Nationals by Major League Baseball in 2006, and they put Gambino to work as one of their representatives on the new stadium.

Frank Gambino“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Gambino says.

He quickly had to learn the importance of making sure every fan has a sightline to the field, while catering to traditions in clubhouse culture, placing certain rooms in certain locations to make the players as comfortable as possible. Completed in 2008, Nationals Park became the nation’s first LEED Silver-certified ballpark, recognized for its environmentally-friendly features.

Gambino continued to work on renovations and other projects there until 2011, when he officially joined the team.

Though baseball is a huge part of his work, Nationals Park hosts all types of events that he oversees as well. These include major concerts (Billy Joel, One Direction and Jason Aldean all performed there this summer); a papal Mass in 2008; and smaller events like weddings, bar mitzvahs, blood drives and conferences.

With so many moving parts, Gambino feels lucky that the worst incident he’s had to deal with was a couple of lights going out at the very end of an extra-inning game.

His biggest nightmare is something like what happened at the 2013 Super Bowl, when a 34-minute power outage at the Superdome in New Orleans stopped a game that more than 108 million were watching.

“I felt so bad for the stadium operations director,” Gambino says.

As the “mayor” of the stadium, he doesn’t get to watch many games, but his favorites are no surprise: Game 4 of the 2012 division series against St. Louis, when Jayson Werth hit a walk-off home run; and the very first home game in March 2008 against the Atlanta Braves, won on Ryan Zimmerman’s homer in the ninth.

Day to day, however, it’s the fans—especially the youngest ones—that bring him the most joy.

“When you walk up to a kid and hand them a practice ball,” Gambino says. “That smile on their face—it’s really a special experience.”

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