This piece is one of six usher profiles I wrote that were published by Major League Baseball on the San Francisco Giants website in 2004. They originally appeared in my Guest Services paper newsletter, ‘The Home Plate.’ To read the piece online, click here.
As models of consistency go, Bob Polacchi is a terrific example of one.
For 28 years, until May 1, 2001, he worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative for Eli Lilly & Co. After taking an early retirement, he brought his brand of creative communication to the Giants, where he was rewarded as the winner of last season’s departmental “Very Important Employee” award for Guest Services. That explains his work-related nicknames: “I was ‘Prozac Bob,’ but now I’m ‘Baseball Bob’ to my neighbors,” he says with a laugh.
Polacchi is a second-generation San Franciscan who was raised in the Sunset District; his Italian grandparents came to America through Ellis Island. Of his longevity with Eli Lilly, he reflects the philosophy of his upbringing when he says, “Our parents’ generation, that’s how you did it.”
Polacchi got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UC Berkeley and in l973 began his sales job in the company’s San Jose territory. After moving to the Oakland/Berkeley territory in l976 and settling in Hercules, where he still lives, he took over the Contra Costa County area in l979. There he launched the sale of Prozac for the company, earning his first nickname and enjoying a successful career.
Though his favorite sport remains football (he has season tickets to both Cal and the 49ers), Polacchi also grew up following the Giants. He “vaguely remembers” going to games at Seals Stadium and recalls numerous trips in the early ’60s with his mother and sister to Candlestick Park on Ladies’ Day. While he never played organized baseball, he did play with his friends, “back in the days when you could play in the street outside your house in San Francisco.”
With retirement looming and “lots of hours to fill after working a 10-hour-a-day job,” he came to the open interviews the Giants held in January 2001. At the time, Guest Services was adding staff for XFL games, which Polacchi couldn’t do because he was not yet retired. He was encouraged to call back in March, ahead of baseball season, and the rest is history. After only four or five games, Polacchi was assigned to the Marina Gate greeter/ferry transit assistant job he still calls his primary position.
He enjoys the variety of how he spends his time during the game. As a greeter, he first sees the “bleacher creatures” come through the gate, followed by the more typical season ticket holders.
“They’re creatures of habit,” he says, “They come through the same turnstile every game.” When the ferries arrive, the Marina Gate sees its busiest times.
“We get ’em in pretty fast,” Polacchi says of the crush, which on a full, three-ferry night can see between 1,000 and 1,500 passengers enter there.
After the first inning, Polacchi provides breaks for ushers in the bleachers, and by the eighth inning he’s back out at the Marina Gate, overseeing line management for the ferries and making sure fans get on the right boat. He finds the biggest challenge is helping fans who have missed their ferry get home via alternate routes, such as buses or BART.
Polacchi’s main non-sports interest is his involvement with the Rotary Club in Hercules. Rotary is a community-based service organization similar to the Kiwanis or Lions, and Polacchi took over the presidency of his chapter in July. His one-year term will coincide with Rotary International’s centennial anniversary, and his goal is to grow chapter membership and continue to find opportunities for local community involvement.
For the last two years, Polacchi’s main contribution as a Rotarian has been advisor to a service club at Hercules High called the Interact Club. The Rotary Club sponsors the group, and Polacchi has been helping the students find community service projects around town, as well as advising on how to organize and implement their ideas. “It’s my offseason job,” he explains.
One such project was called “Books for the Barrios,” which benefited rural students in the Philippines (Hercules has a large Filipino community). Under Polacchi’s guidance, the Interact Club students identified a need, conducted a local book drive and sent the books off to help those less fortunate.
“One thing I learned in pharmaceuticals was how to pull different ideas together to get a successful message,” he says by way of illustrating how the book project integrated three main areas of interest to the Interact Club — literacy, international understanding and youth service.
John Culhane, the gate captain to whom Polacchi typically reports, says, “Bob is great to work with — friendly, polite, and he gives good directions. He’s a great person and a good Guest Services employee; he steps right in.”
Guest Services manager Harry Siebert adds, “Bob always does an outstanding job. He is instrumental in making sure that the guests who come on the ferries are taken care of every game.”
Polacchi confesses to being surprised and honored by the award he won. “I was not expecting it,” he says. “The main thing is, I basically do what I’m supposed to do.”