Editor’s note: Normally, this space is reserved for my own thoughts on topical industry subjects or issues. But I decided to feature a different voice this month. It’s nearly impossible to write an introduction for George Toma that accurately describes his iconic, legendary status in the sports turf industry. “The Sodfather” has maintained the fields at numerous stadiums used by MLB and NFL teams. For much of his career, Toma was the head groundskeeper for the Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City, Missouri, which includes Kauffman Stadium (Royals) and Arrowhead Stadium (Chiefs). Toma, now 88, has also been a part of the grounds crew for every Super Bowl. He officially retired from full-time work in 1999, but continues to work as a consultant for sports facilities and groundskeepers around the country. Toma wrote a monthly column for SportsField Management for several years. The following is an edited excerpt from his column published in our January 2011 issue. I’m a huge fan of the message Toma presents here — I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did:
Winter is here, and now some of us will have time to reflect on the performance of our playing fields this past year. What have we done to excel? What can we do to improve them for next season? I try to convey to people maintaining athletic fields that the cheapest insurance for an athlete from preschool to the professional level is a good, safe playing field. We should all look into a mirror and ask ourselves, “Am I doing this?”
I’m now in my 80s — in the game for more than 60 years — and I see so many excellent groundskeepers out there doing excellent jobs. On the bright side for me this season has been watching football games on TV and seeing so many beautiful football fields with outstanding turf and great painted logos. A sincere thank you goes to all you hardworking, dedicated groundskeepers and crews who make that happen.
Many people say that I am negative, but those who know me know it’s just that I tell it like it is and don’t pull punches when it comes to bettering our fields. It hurts me to still see people out there in all phases of this business that have that bad, “I don’t care” attitude. Our playing fields suffer because of it.
This past year I talked to one head groundskeeper with that bad attitude and tried to convince him to change. I talked to the coach when I saw this, and he was perturbed, too. This man had an excellent job, making excellent money, with a pro team.
We must have groundskeepers with that attitude realize their job is to give the players a good, safe playing field for their sake and for the owners who have millions of dollars invested in their players. Another bad attitude I’ve run into is the one who thinks he knows it all and has stopped learning. Then there’s the bad attitude of, “What difference does it make? Both teams play on the same field!”
I’ve heard this one for some 30 years, and it hurts me each time.
When these bad attitudes affect the way they take care of their fields, we all suffer. They make people think we’re all just a bunch of grass cutters. These people need to hang around with some of the many dedicated groundskeepers that do the job right, even with low budgets.
Our playing fields should be improving every year, and many are. Seed, sod and equipment companies provide us with outstanding products. How about all the terrific infield dirt we have now from so many companies? With these terrific mixes, we should never hear a player complain about our infields. Yet, here we go again: I had a call from an MLB groundskeeper telling me that the owners of his team wanted me consult on his field. I declined. What they needed to do was follow the advice of Charles O. Finley and get down to brass tacks, searching out the real source of the problem and getting it resolved.
Despite the economy and those low budgets, we must do the job. Let’s all dedicate this year to doing the job with the right attitude.
Thanks a million to all you hardworking groundskeepers out there that have the right attitude and do whatever it takes to get the job done right for the athletes.