Interviewing David Rinetti in the hours leading up to an A's game is a little like playing a fast version of Whac-A-Mole. The moment you hit him with a question, something else pops up.
David is the A's Vice President of Stadium Operations. He is the Solver of All Problems, Great and Small. He is The Guy Who Knows The Guy. If he had his own walkup music, it would be "Do You Mind If I Take This Call?" by Jerry and the Breakneck Pacemakers. (Don't bother looking up the lyrics.)
When it's Showtime and something must happen, David Rinetti is the man everybody calls.
I learn this firsthand prior to Monday evening's game against the Mariners. In his office, I try to take David's picture with my trusty camera. Trusty camera jams. With zero hesitation, David says, "Why don't you take the picture with my cellphone and I'll email it to you." Problem solved. Legend grows.
I settle in and the phone rings. David makes the universal gesture for "Do you mind if I take this call?" and picks up the handset. "Does it have a Z129 on it?" he asks. "Yeah, those are his keys. He's been looking for them."
His focus returns to me for a moment, but the phone rings again. "Yeah, I've got your tickets," David says. Then, to me, "Sorry. I'll be right back."
When he returns, five minutes later, he says, "I should just check my messages, in case something happened." In five minutes, he misses four messages. None of them involve sewer problems, however, so he continues the interview. Then his cell phone rings.
"The press elevator is down?" David says. When he gets off the call, he says to me, "That's typical of an old facility like this. It's always something. Our scoreboards are so out-of-date we can't get parts for them. And you may have heard, we recently had an issue with the sewage."
I heard. Intrigued by the elevator dilemma, I ask, "How will you get Ray Fosse, a man with no functioning knees, up to the press box?" David informs me that they have an alternate route for Fosse. Then he is interrupted by another cell phone call. "I know about the press elevator," he says immediately. "Oh, I thought you were calling about the press elevator."
The reason we're doing this interview on a Monday afternoon (with a smallish crowd anticipated) is, this is what passes for a slow day in the professional life of David Rinetti. I ask, what are his busy days like? "On an Opening Day, things happen non-stop."
I try to imagine what he means by "non-stop." D-Day, maybe.
During David's 33-year career, the A's stadium operations have changed dramatically. There are now computers and software systems tracking scheduling and incident occurrences. Video surveillance now covers virtually every corner of the facility. Communications technology makes response times almost instantaneous. It's a bold new world within a stadium relic from the 1960's. But, even with all the technological wonders, the A's still need a guy who knows the guy.
"When I first started with the A's, nobody had a cell phone," David says. "Nobody had text messaging, no email, no Twitter. Your voicemail was a pink slip of paper with handwriting on it. In those days, you could even bring your own beer into the ballpark."
Bring your own beer! Now that would be an interesting "Turn-Back-the-Clock" promotion. The phone rings again.
I can see how our conversation is going to proceed if we remain in his office so I ask David to take me along on his rounds. Soon, we're wending our way through the Coliseum. First stop, the Plaza Level entrance where David greets a Dad and two kids. One of the kids was smacked by a ball during batting practice. As a goodwill gesture, the A's offered the family a field visit prior to the game and David is the guy who makes it happen. At field level, he takes a photo of the kids and Dad in the dugout. Smiles all around. Another problem solved.
The A's first hired David in 1981. He was a junior at Bishop O'Dowd High School. The A's, newly acquired by the Haas family, were recruiting part-time grunts to pass out promotional items and flyers at games and throughout the community. David kept coming back for more. And every time he came back, the A's expanded his role. After getting his business degree at Cal-State Hayward in 1986, he went to work full-time for the A's. His first assignment: managing the luxury suites. Ever since, his duties, his titles, and his phone contacts have evolved at a surprising rate.
We move along the players' passageway and pause briefly in the photographers well adjacent to the diamond seats. "When we have to change over for a Raiders game," David says, "all this [the diamond seats, the backstop, and the gear] goes away. Then we have a giant crane lift two entire sections of seats from the lower stands and drop them in right where we're standing. We put the pitcher's mounds on a cart and store them behind centerfield."
Gee, I have trouble just straightening up my desk.
For a sold-out game, the A's utilize more than a 1,000 support people, ushers, security, food service, ticket sellers, ticket takers, parking attendants, and grounds crew. For a lightly-attended game, maybe half that amount. No matter, David seems to know every one of them. He runs a core group of A's operations people, including the grounds crew, but then works directly with AEG, the company contracted to manage the Coliseum facilities, and other sub-contractors like Aramark Food Services, Staff Pro (which provides security, ushers, ticket takers, and the ticket sellers) and Ace Parking which is contracted to provide the parking lot attendants. He has 60 different entities on his regular scheduling contact list, everyone from Cal-Trans to AEG to...who knows? The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
"This is the most complex complex in the country," David says.
At field level, our trek continues behind the diamond seats where there are three things: a food service bar, a beverage bar, and Ray Fosse. Ray is not amused.
"You know the press elevator is down," he says. Fosse himself seems to be unaware of any alternate route to the upper levels. He's wants the damn elevator to be fixed. David reassures him that the engineer is on the way.
"Right now, we are 22 feet below sea level so water leakage is always a problem," he says. We pause by a door frame that looks as if it has been dissolved by metal-corroding aliens. Wonderful! Who knows what other nastiness lurks in the infrastructure of the Coliseum? No wonder Lew Wolff is not anxious to renovate the present structure. He would have a better shot at rehabbing the Roman Coliseum.
Then it's up a flight of stairs to the locker room level, the visitors' locker room and the umpires' room (where the umpires once did the "Bernie" with actor Terry Kiser.) A tall security guard greets David and says, "You've heard about the press elevator?"
On an odd tangent, I keep thinking "Rinetti" sounds a little like "frenetic" but there is nothing frenetic about this guy. If a meteor were to hit the Coliseum in the third inning, David would be the least-surprised guy in the house. He would simply get on the horn and make something happen. "Just like the players, you can't get too high or too low about the job," he says. "You just have to keep moving and make it happen."
Thus, we keep moving.
Grant Balfour passes us in the hallway outside the A's locker room and does not curse, not even a single four-letter word for my benefit. (Grant, where's the Rage?) Further along is the weight room and the indoor batting cage where Josh Donaldson and his non-committal Mohawk are taking swings.
There is nothing palatial about these digs. The concrete walls are painted a drab institutional yellow. Every corner of every hallway seems to be piled high with gear of every description. I ask David what he would like to see in a new stadium (wherever it may be located). He is very succinct: wider concourses, easier access between seating levels, a consolidated operations center, all the communications and video cabling hardwired into the structure, durable seats, and storage space. In the immense Coliseum, the A's are simply out of storage space.
Our tour takes us further along to an exterior loading dock where two enormous TV production trailers sit. There, yet another A's staffer alerts David that the press elevator is down.
It seems as if David's entire existence has suddenly gotten stuck in the press elevator.
"My job is really about passing along information," David says. "But it's not the kind of job you just walk into. You have to know things, and you have to know people. The relationships are very important. Our staff here is really close. We've worked together so long and we've all been through so much."
This is not the first time I have heard this refrain from an A's staff member. Though they are under constant pressure, the A's staff members are a relentlessly upbeat group. They obviously like each other. They feel a kind of communal pride of being with the storied underdog Athletics.
I ask David about the infamous third-deck tarps. He tells me they cost more than $200,000 originally. It was quite an operation rigging the upper deck initially. Now, however, the 10-15 crew members are so efficient, the tarps go up (or come down) in just one day. The operation is so fast, the A's and Raiders can actually swap out tarps during the time the teams share the stadium.
We finally get back to the main concourse where David checks in at a kiosk adorned with A's merchandise. He notices the lighting isn't quite right. The clerk behind the counter pinpoints the problem. "The lights don't work," he says. David makes a mental note and we move on. "I'm not specifically responsible for merchandise," he says. "If the lighting is out, though, somebody is going to call me."
It never hurts to be proactive.
David stops every 20 paces to talk to someone or to allow someone to talk to him. Everybody knows him. This time he stops to banter with a couple of veteran season ticketholders. While he's chatting, Bob Rose, the A's Director of Public Relations, approaches him with a weary, God-what's-next look on his face.
"I assume you know the press elevator is not working," he says. Though I am sworn to background anonymity, I almost burst out laughing. I have this mental image of Rose surrounded by members of the press corps. They are dressed like Balkan peasants bearing pitchforks and torches and shouting, "The elevator is dead!"
David simply says, "Yes, I know."
At the end of our tour, we find ourselves back in his office where he shows me a trailer of the movie, "Moneyball." He freezes the clip at the moment the Brad/Billy character overturns his desk, angered by movie Art Howe's (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) decision to play Carlos Pena rather than Scott Hatteberg. There is something very familiar about the scene. "My office was used as the model for that set," David says as proudly as any man can while watching Brad Pitt trash his office.
Without doubt, the filming of "Moneyball" was one of the biggest thrills of his career. David was the A's liaison to the movie production, the guy who made things happen, in Oakland at least. "In 2009, maybe 2008, Sony Pictures did some work here, preparing the site," David recalls. "They were ready to start filming in Arizona when everything got shut down. At the time, I remember thinking, this is never going to happen.
"Then in 2010, Billy called and asked me to come in on Martin Luther King Day (normally a day off.) Brad Pitt and Bennett Miller (the Director) were going to be in town to walk through the stadium. So I figured, since Brad Pitt is here, something is going to happen after all."
Indeed, it did. Soon after, production crew members showed up and schedules were established. During an eleven-day period in late July-early August, 2010, the film crews restored the Coliseum to its 2002 appearance, organized a casting call for thousands of extras, and then started filming the exterior scenes for the movie. (The interior scenes were all shot on Hollywood sound stages.) Most days the work schedule ran from 4pm to 4am. And David was right in the middle of it all.
"It was a great experience," he says, "but it was a ton of work." For his effort, the film crew gave him his own Hollywood Star which hangs on his office wall. (You can see it in the photo above, on the wall to the right.)
Given David's proximity to the "Moneyball" production, I ask him to assess Brad Pitt's performance. Was Pitt playing Billy Beane or Brad Pitt?
"Billy Beane," he says immediately. He points to an autographed photo on his office wall. In it, David is flanked by Pitt and Jonah Hill. "That was taken at about 2:00 am on one of the nights we were filming. You see how Brad is standing? That's precisely how Billy does it. It was amazing how Brad got all the mannerisms down."
As David tells me about his involvement in "Moneyball," I suddenly envision a re-write of the "What's the problem?" scene in the movie. Instead of Grady Fuson and all those geezer scouts, David Rinetti is at the table when Billy Beane says, "The problem we're trying to solve is that there are rich teams, and there are poor teams. Then there's fifty feet of crap, and then there's us."
David would simply say, "The engineer will be here at 6 o'clock. In the meantime, we can move everybody into the Raiders locker room."
"Oh," Billy says, suddenly defused. "Well, uh, make it happen."
On second thought, a re-write probably wouldn't have quite the same dramatic impact.