The fans on the third-base side of Nationals Park don’t know all that much about the usher patrolling sections 116 and 117, just above the third-base dugout in Washington, D.C.
They know he loves baseball, and that’s enough for these Washington Nationals fans celebrating their teams’ World Series matchup with the Houston Astros.
“After the elimination game and the wildcard game, I was hugging strangers and high-fiving strangers. My arm was sore the next day from all the high-fives,” said Paul Smith, who is in his 10th year as an usher for the Nationals, who happen to be playing in the World Series.
Readers of The Lima News better remember Paul as a fixture in our sports department. He may have a generic name, but he’s an unforgettably gracious man. He spent 33 years here, including nearly a decade as sports editor. He raised two sons in Lima with his wife, Sue, and helped countless organizations, usually without much fanfare.
Full disclosure: Paul hired me right out of college for my first stint in Lima back in 1997. He was easily the best boss I ever had because he’s fair, thoughtful and thorough.
In 2003, he and Sue moved to the D.C. area to be closer to his grandchildren, originally working as the managing editor for a weekly newspaper for about seven years. Then, 10 years ago, the lifelong Detroit Tigers fan decided to become a gameday usher for the city’s Major League Baseball team. He also works as a stadium tour guide when the Nationals are on the road and as a greeter at corporate events, commuting 40 miles from his home in Haymarket outside the beltway. He and a few fellow ushers car-pool in through the notoriously slow and frustrating D.C. traffic.
On Friday night, he got to see that stadium — his workplace for nearly 1,000 games, concerts and other events over the past decade — at its absolute best.
“This team has taken years off my life, but I feel like a kid,” Paul said Saturday morning, after the Nationals’ first loss of the World Series. “The atmosphere was electric. People were waving red towels, and there was a sea of red in the seats. That’s 44,000 people. Even thought they lost, it was something.”
The Nationals held a 2-1 series lead going into Saturday night’s game. The fifth game of the World Series today is also in D.C., with Paul scheduled to usher his section in both games.
He worked the All-Star Game there last summer. He said he enjoyed the home-run derby, won by then-Nationals star Bryce Harper, the most.
Harper bolted for Philadelphia in the offseason after being part of four playoff runs that ended in the first round. Around Memorial Day, there was talk in the city of firing manager Dave Martinez. To say no one expected this in a city that lived without baseball from 1971 to 2005 until the Montreal Expos relocated there would be an understatement.
Paul had been to the World Series more recently than D.C. Washington’s previous World Series game had been in 1933. Paul went as a fan to Game 7 of the Oakland-Cincinnati series in 1972 with fellow Lima News all-star Mike Lackey, who eventually became a columnist for the paper.
Paul found the stub for that, $15 per seat in the upper deck loge box. On Friday night, a fan in the standing room only section behind him paid $850. Some of the seats in those 45 rows separating Paul from the field were going for $2,500 to $3,000, he said. Meanwhile, Paul was paid to be there.
He doesn’t get to watch every out of the game, by any means. Working about 75 games a year, he checks people’s tickets as they enter his sections. Fans in Washington are a late-arriving crowd, with some people showing up in the third or fourth innings.
Still, he gets to see things out of the corner of his eye, like when the public address announces plays “Baby Shark” when Gerrardo Parra walks up to bat off the bench or the National Anthem gets sung by D.C. Washington.
“I’m lucky enough to work in professional sports,” Paul said. “I get paid to watch sports.”
I reminded my one-time boss he spent decades doing the same thing, chronicling high school and college sports in the Lima region. He laughed and said it wasn’t quite the same thing. Now he could play his own small part in a World Series championship, perhaps hugging and high-fiving his regulars in sections 116 and 117.
“After all those years, it’s amazing to think Washington is still so close to winning a World Series,” he said. “It sure would be nice to do it in D.C. when I’m working.”