There’s something very right about Frankie Hejduk’s new job in the Crew front office. Conversely, there was something very wrong about pulling up a barstool Monday at Barley’s and finding him sipping ice water. This is the guy who saluted the Crew Stadium crowd two days earlier by chugging a pint of Guinness at midfield.
Order was restored in the form of oatmeal stout as we conversed about Hejduk’s retirement as a player and his new but familiar role as Crew brand ambassador.
“My job is just to be out and available,” Hejduk explained.
The feisty defender played in two World Cups and two Olympics, logged time in the top German and Swiss leagues and bookended his career with MLS stints in Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. But he spent the bulk of his career playing eight seasons with the Crew, including a pivotal role as captain of the 2008 MLS Cup championship squad.
Columbus did not re-sign Hejduk after 2010, so he returned to his native California to play a supporting role in the Galaxy’s title run last year. With his playing time slipping and injuries piling up, it was time to retire and return to Columbus, where he and his family had established roots.
“Whatever my next adventure was going to be, it was going to be here,” Hejduk said.
During his tenure in Columbus, Hejduk was as much a mascot as Crew Cat. At tailgate parties and watering holes across town, he was the king of high fives, photo ops and bonding over beers. Now, in the unprecedented brand ambassador position, he’ll do it for a living.
With MLS attendance surging nationwide, Hejduk believes there’s no reason Crew Stadium can’t be sold out every game. He has a lot of ideas for how to make it happen: Passing out tickets at fraternity and sorority houses. Monday morning appearances at local coffee shops to talk Crew on the way to work. Tapping into the foreign population at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The list goes on.
“One beer at a time,” Hejduk said. “One conversation at a time.”