During baseball season, St. Petersburg resident Claude McKenzie heads for sections 302 and 304 at Tropicana Field, where he works as a "fan host" for the Tampa Bay Rays.
"It's not the type of job you can really live on, but it offers socialization and a good time. It makes me feel special," said McKenzie, 55, who also holds down a day job at a nearby hotel.
Still, McKenzie was happy to hear Thursday that he is about to receive a jump in pay. The Rays are joining the likes of Wal-Mart, T.J. Maxx and other service industry employers and raising their minimum wage to $10 an hour.
For about 500 part-time workers like McKenzie, the bump will average about $1.75, Rays president Brian Auld said.
People who work for the team's concessionaire, security firm and parking lot service will also get the raise, Auld said.
"We think it's the right thing to do. It will make their lives a little easier and we'll get better work out of them, too," Auld said.
"At $10 an hour, someone working 40 hours a week ends up with a little over $20,000 a year. That's been quoted as the living wage for a single person in Pinellas County," he said. "We are trying to do our part to get people there."
The push for higher wages is spreading within public and private sectors.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced in October that city workers will earn at least $12.50 an hour, compared to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and Florida's $8.05.
Wal-Mart, long a target of criticism about working conditions, recently announced that it would set a wage floor of $9 an hour next month and $10 next year.
About 130 part-time Sentry Events Services employees provide security at Rays games, said CEO Ken Milburn. After talking it over with Auld last fall, Milburn raised pay to $10 an hour, as well.
"We feel we are getting better quality staff members," Milburn said. "With the economy, people are seeking to have a little more money to have these jobs."
Sentry also provides security at Raymond James Stadium, the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre and USF. As with the Rays, workers are attracted by flexible schedules, signing up for the events they want to work.
The Rays always have more job applicants than openings, Auld said.
McKenzie, who also dances on the field during the seventh inning, said he started with the team in 2008 at $7.25 an hour. During a six- or nine-game home stand, he might put in as much as 40 hours.
Recently, a guest in the hotel where he works recognized him.
"You cannot beat that kind of engagement with people. It's more than a game. It's about life," McKenzie said. "If they would give me $8 an hour, I would do it anyway."
Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at [email protected]