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Special teamers

Developmentally disabled cleanup crew pitches in at Fenway

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By Stan Grossfeld
Globe Staff / June 22, 2011

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It’s a quiet morning at Fenway Park, hours after a Red Sox game the night before. Two vehicles arrive within minutes of each other.

A somber Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka emerges from a 2011 white Porsche 911, his season — and perhaps his career in Boston — wrecked by a torn ligament in his right elbow. Shortly after, in stark contrast, an energetic group of four emerges from a white Ford E-350 passenger van with big smiles and bounces in their steps. They get high-fived by security as they enter the storied ballpark.

Their names will never show up in a box score. Meet the Bay Cove All-Stars, a group of developmentally disabled adults who sort the bottles and cans discarded in the suites and clubs at Fenway Park and take them to a redemption center in Allston. They are here, rain or shine, every morning after a Red Sox home game.

They make the state minimum wage of $8 per hour, but they say money can’t buy what the Red Sox have given them: self-esteem.

“The Red Sox gave me an awesome chance to work here,’’ says Anthony Attardo, 33, of Jamaica Plain, decked out in Red Sox jacket and cap. “It’s an honor to work here with them. I love to come here every chance I get.’’

The small, unheralded program is in its 12th season.

“I definitely consider them part of the Red Sox team,’’ says Glen McGlinchey, Fenway Park facilities manager. “They’re great people. They do a great job over here. They really help out our recycling program and they are just a joy to work with. I wish I had all workers like them.’’

In the old days, these people would be called “slow’’ or regarded as having mild mental retardation. Those labels are no longer used, advocates say. It’s true that they all have cognitive disabilities, but they are perhaps the hardest-working and most polite employees the old ballyard has seen. “Please’’ and “thank you’’ come out of their mouths almost as often as a knuckleball flutters from Tim Wakefield’s hand.

“You should see their faces when they get their paychecks,’’ says Stan Connors, chief executive officer of Bay Cove Human Services, a Boston-based nonprofit that partners with the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services and the Red Sox to make the program possible.

“There is a hell of a lot of pride. They’re not just taking money, they’re earning money.’’

Hang around the ramps where they sort, and you might even learn something. Attardo says he knows when the Yankees have been in town because the amount of drinking doubles.

“Oh, we get a huge amount of cans,’’ he says. “It’s a huge rivalry, the curse and everything. They make it a big deal. Sometimes we get four bins.’’

Emphasis on teamwork Kate Garrity, an education and employment counselor of the Center House Employment Supports program, teaches, transports, and supervises the workers. She puts on gloves and gets her hands dirty like everyone else. In fact, that’s her main point.

“They are just like you and I,’’ she says. “They can do the work, just like you and I, they can interact just like you and I.’’

All have undergone discrimination at one time or another, she says.

Attardo, who also works as a bagger at a Stop & Shop in Jamaica Plain, says that as a kid he reacted violently to discrimination.

“I actually got in a lot of fights because of that,’’ he says. “I was not only sticking up for myself, but also for other people that are disabled. I always care about people like that. I still got a big heart for them.’’

For him, giving is more important than getting.

“My grandfather was physically disabled and I used to help him around in a wheelchair, take him around the nursing home,’’ says Attardo. “Take him out for ice cream and stuff. I enjoyed that very much.

“I’m proud, even though I’m disabled. Yes, I am mentally disabled, but I’m proud of who I am and my coworkers.’’

Teamwork, he says, is important for getting the job done.

“They are a great team,’’ he says. “We have a lot of fun together.’’

Attardo says he has been a lifelong Sox fan and has met Josh Beckett, David Ortiz, and Mo Vaughn. He rattles off the names of former Red Sox from Babe Ruth to Wade Boggs.

Like a million others, he has his baseball fantasies.

“I always wanted to play baseball, to hit one out of the park — always wanted to — but I would have to practice a lot, to put one out of the park like David Ortiz or Mo Vaughn. I don’t think I could do that right now, but . . .’’

Asked what he thinks about while he’s working, he smiles.

“Just keep my mind focused, ’cause that’s what I think the Red Sox would want,’’ he says. “Want me to focus on my job and my team workers. Help the team out. And by helping the Red Sox out, it’s keeping the park cleaner.’’

Attardo says he also learns people skills, job interviewing techniques, and “job keeping techniques’’ as part of the program. He lives in a group home in Jamaica Plain. He says the Fenway job has given him confidence and allowed him to deal better with the pressure of bagging groceries.

He banks his paychecks and hopes to one day live on his own.

Coveted job opportunity Attardo and coworker Dan Dulcetta, who lives in a Winthrop group home, are best buddies. Like Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez on the corners, they anchor the program.

Dulcetta, 45, an outgoing man with old-fashioned values, has his own code of ethics.

“You’ve got to do your job with dignity,’’ he says, above the din of clinking bottles. “I believe in hard labor, I believe in doing things right. The noise doesn’t bother me.’’

Nor does the smell.

“I don’t drink,’’ he says. “I can’t because of the medication I take.’’

He takes pride in his work.

“It’s good money, and you get used to the community and see other people in the community,’’ he says.

But tourists walking up the ramp to take the $12 Fenway Park tour don’t even notice that Dulcetta is smiling and nodding hello.

He and Anthony are going to a Sox game in August courtesy of Anthony’s father, who owns a tavern in South Boston.

“It’s going to be a good time,’’ says Dulcetta. “I went to a Bruins game, but this will be my first time.’’

There are other job options, but the recycling opportunity at Fenway is the most coveted. The sign-up sheet is always full, as 40 people compete for four or five slots.

By noon, the workers are lugging huge black garbage bags of recyclables to the van.

“Hey buddy, see you next week,’’ says a security guard, again high-fiving Attardo.

On this day, the group has collected more than 1,300 cans and 250 bottles, or about $80 worth. Some of that money will go to end-of-the-year parties.

Attardo grimaces as he carries the bag, but insists that he’s not tired. He says he feels good about himself.

Like the Red Sox, he’s on a roll.

“I say, ‘Keep going. Keep up the good work,’ ’’ says Attardo. “ ‘Go forward to the World Series. Let’s keep it all going.’ ’’

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at grossfeld@globe.com.

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