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SK swim coach enjoys the view from front row
t Lester-Dame revels in gig away from the pool — behind home place as an usher at Safeco Field.
She doesn’t get to step onto the lush green field or kick up dirt in the batter’s box.
But 1984 South Kitsap High School graduate Tami Lester-Dame gets about as good of a view of the players doing that as anyone at Safeco Field.
For the majority of Mariners games this season, Lester-Dame works as an usher in the prestigious “Diamond Club” section.
She took the position in 2003 and has worked her way from right field to her current location behind home plate.
“Who wouldn’t take a position where you get paid to watch baseball?” said Lester, a three-sport athlete at South who later was a diver and javelin thrower at Central Washington University. “That’s what I enjoy.”
The opportunity affords Lester-Dame, 42, a physical-education teacher at South who also coaches the school’s boys swimming team, to get out of the house and catch up with her twin sister, Teri Tuttle, who teaches in the Federal Way School District and also works as an usher.
Tuttle, who became an usher in 2002, began working concessions as a volunteer at the stadium, and introduced her sister to the idea.
Lester-Dame said one perk with the concession stands is that the Mariners donate about 9 percent of nightly proceeds to employees to use toward specific causes.
She said her earnings helped fund half of a new scoreboard system at South’s swimming pool.
The job featured another important benefit to Lester-Dame — time with her sister.
“Because she’s in Federal Way, I don’t see her as much,” she said. “When we’re working together, it’s nice to go and spend time with her.”
Lester-Dame commutes with another South teacher, Laura Gallegos, who also works as an usher on the first-base side near the Mariners’ dugout.
They usually carpool to the Bremerton Ferry, park and then walk from the ferry docks to Safeco Field.
Getting home isn’t a problem when they work the 6 to 10 p.m. shift. The alternative — 4 p.m. to the end of the game — can be more problematic when the Mariners end up in extra innings.
Baseball’s 162-game schedule from April through October can create some challenges, though.
Lester-Dame sometimes takes the 10:15 p.m. Southworth Ferry, which means see doesn’t arrive home until after 11:30 p.m.
Her school day begins at 5:45 a.m.
She’s scheduled to take more games off than usual in September to “save myself.”
In past years, Lester-Dame has worked all 81 home games.
“It’s a challenge,” she said. “But the experience and time at the field ... far outweighs the commuting cost and being cranky every once in a while.”
Lester-Dame also takes pride in watching South’s baseball products with the Mariners. Three former Wolves — utility player Willie Bloomquist (2002-present), outfielder Jason Ellison (2007) and pitcher Sean Spencer (1999) — have played for the team in the last decade.
“When you come from a high school our size and you get to experience those kind of successes, it’s rewarding,” she said.
Her best memory came during the 2001 season, though. And it wasn’t because the team tied the major-league record with 116 wins.
“My favorite experience is when we got to work the All-Star Game,” she said. “The people and the celebrities we got to meet is indescribable. It’s an experience many people will never have.”
Lester-Dame said the position pays just $10 to $11 an hour for most ushers, but she has no plans to leave anytime soon.
She just hopes the Mariners, who have baseball’s second-worst record at 46-77 through Sunday, begin to turn it around.
“When they’re down, everyone’s down,” Lester-Dame said. “You have fans that just don’t want to be there. It’s a little bit tougher to go to work, especially during a 10-game homestand, when no one wants to be there.”
That isn’t always bad. Lester-Dame recalls a crowded game where a fan twice attempted to run out on the field. They cornered him the first time, and later had to wrestle him off the top of the dugout.
“We got coined the WWF girls,” she said of their unexpected prowess.
And left the field to the players.