Eileen Yunker was able to cross off one item — scratch that, the only item — on her bucket list earlier this year.
The Galion resident celebrated her 80th birthday by working as an usher for the Cleveland Indians spring training games at Goodyear (Ariz.) Ballpark in March.
“My story starts 68 years ago,” Yunker said.
Her father instilled the love of baseball and the Indians, but Yunker’s heart was set on the team after they won the World Series in 1948.
“I think that’s when I became an avid fan,” she said. “And I’m still waiting for them to win again.”
After school, Yunker would come straight home to listen to the games on the radio. She remembered buying potato chip bags with Indians players on them to cut and paste them in her scrapbook — but never found her hero, former Indians star Al Rosen’s picture. And during games she attended at the old stadium, which seated more than 70,000 spectators, Yunker would keep track of the game with a scorecard.
Her fandom took somewhat of a backseat, while Yunker would focus on family and other obligations. But her passion for the Indians never extinguished, but would later reignite later in her life.
Yunker has attended spring training games with family for the last three years since 2011. That was when she noticed the ushers attending to the roughly 3,000 to 5,000 fans that turnout at the 10,000-seat ballpark. She was encouraged to apply to volunteer in January.
“I told them it was my No. 1 on my bucket list,” Yunker said. “[But] that was the only item on it.”
After passing the background check, she received her shirt, cap and ID badge. The position, of course, came with several guidlines and expectations of the ushers. Her favorite rule was greeting all guest with a friendly smile.
Yunker’s first day as an usher was the most challenging. She was delegated to handle the seats near the right field in 80 degree weather. On the upside, Yunker said she not many people sat in that section and didn’t have much hassle with usher duties such as cleaning and taking fans’ trash.
She found support from other supervisors who would then position her at the seats behind home plate — much shadier compared with her original position.
“I had a marvelous view,” she said. “That’s where everybody wants to sit.”
Yunker said the job is a lot of responsibility by directing spectators to their seats and acting as first responder for any medical or other kinds of emergencies.
But the job came with a lot of perks, said Yunker’s daughter Marcia Yunker, and that her mother was treated like a queen. Yunker spent 10 days at Goodyear Ballpark with five as an usher and the other five watching the games for free.
“She had quite a time, and I think she got to usher for five games. They treated her like a queen,” Yunker’s friend, Cathy Moneysmith, said.
One of Yunker’s fondest memories was getting autographs from the players during morning practice. In March 2015, Yunker got her picture taken, while being hugged by the Indians first baseman and designated hiter Carlos Santana. The same photo was autographed by Santana earlier this year when Yunker served as an usher.
“It was a good experience,” Yunker said. “I have good memories.”
Yunker’s fandom of the Indians continues to flourish. She has a “tribe room,” devoted to two tribes — the Cleveland Indians and her family. On one side, Yunker has a collection of Indians memorabilia including bobble-heads of former players such as Bob Feller and Victor Martinez. The other side has a collection a family portraits.
Yunker said she doesn’t plan to usher for the Indians again but started a hobby of keeping track of game results (scores, winning/losing pitcher, etc.) in a simple notebook.
“My bucket list is empty,” she said. “Go Tribe.”
Reach Klein at 419-468-1117, ext. 2048 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.