Summer Santa: FredNats usher spreads cheer
FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia -- On a recent Friday evening at FredNats Ballpark, usher Bruce Thompson was stationed in front of the playground located in the right-field corner of the concourse. Most of the children he was supervising had never seen him before, yet they knew exactly who he was. "Tonight, I've
FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia -- On a recent Friday evening at FredNats Ballpark, usher Bruce Thompson was stationed in front of the playground located in the right-field corner of the concourse. Most of the children he was supervising had never seen him before, yet they knew exactly who he was.
"Tonight, I've had four [kids] come up to me and say, 'Hey, are you Santa Claus?'" said Thompson, brightly dressed in an orange collared shirt and a red Fredericksburg Nationals cap. "I say, 'Yep, I'm watching you, making sure you're behaving. Making my list and checking it twice.'"
Thompson is Santa Claus, in a sense, and not just because he possesses a long white beard, flowing white hair and a benevolent countenance. The longtime Fredericksburg resident, a retired Amtrak train conductor, has suited up as jolly old St. Nick for decades. While biding his time until the Christmas season, Thompson is working for Fredericksburg's new Low-A Minor League Baseball team. In his view, FredNats Ballpark is an ideal place of employment for an offseason Santa.
"I'm a major baseball fan, so this is a great way to get a part-time job," said Thompson. "The people here with the FredNats, spectacular. A lot of the employees here, a lot of the ushers, it's become like family. We all look out for each other."
Thompson's Santa Claus career began in his hometown of Vienna, Virginia. He was a member of the volunteer fire department and wore the suit in local parades. He also had plenty of opportunity to hone his Santa skills while working for Amtrak.
"For 26 years, I was doing the Auto Train from Norton, Virginia to Sanford, Florida and back. We would leave at 4 in the afternoon and be there at 9 in the morning, then an 18-hour layover," he said. "So it's fun. Play golf, eating some of the finest lunches, and gain weight. ... During Christmastime, when there'd be about an hour until we'd hit another train station, Santa would come out. I'd walk through the aisles and pass out candy canes. Kids love it. I have a ton of pictures that people would send to Amtrak, 'Hey, thanks for sending Santa Claus on your train.' You know, it's public relations."
Each holiday season, from the second week of October through Christmas Eve, Thompson regularly makes appearances as Santa. The engagements that mean the most to him are with organizations that work on behalf of children dealing with cancer and other serious illnesses. Thompson is a cancer survivor himself, and currently fighting a recent recurrence.
"I have the Shriners, St. Jude, NIH Children's Hospital. Working with the kids who had cancer, seeing the smile they give you. They know they're ill, and they know this might be their last Christmas," said Thompson. "I mean, growing the beard and the long hair, it's worth it just to have that smile. It's a twinkle in the eye when you see them. Many a time I've cried, you know, getting a hug and 'Thank you, Santa.'"
Thompson went on to speak matter-of-factly about his own battle with cancer.
"I don't let it stop me," he said. "I had chemo this morning. I get it once a week. It's hard, but the way I look at it is, life is short and you've got to enjoy it."
Thompson will therefore keep finding joy in what he's doing, whether he's dressed in Santa's suit, hat and boots or wearing a bright orange shirt as a Fredericksburg Nationals usher. No matter the context, the same spirit prevails.
"I meet a lot of parents here who come to see their kids play [for the FredNats]," he said. "One of the moms says, 'I don't know if my son's eating OK, and I worry about him and we're in California.' I said, 'Hey, I'm Santa Claus. Here's my card. If he ever needs a homecooked meal, tell him to call me.'
"It's fun. I'm good at it. I'm a good Santa."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.