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 pre-school 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 am an 81-year-old man—in the game for 68 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. And, how about those great looking, new, artificial turf fields? Fields like those give me great pleasure. A sincere thank you goes to all you hardworking, dedicated groundskeepers and crews who make that happen.
Only those behind the scenes know what it takes. Alan Sigwardt, senior director of grounds and engineering for Sun Life Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins, is a great example of this. He sodded the infield for the September 19 football game between the Marlins and the Jets. He completely resodded the infield overnight, after the Marlins played the Pirates on October 3, with the football field in place, painted and looking great for the Jets’ October 4 game with the New England Patriots. Then, when the Marlins’ baseball season ended, he stripped the field wall-to-wall and resodded for football, with the field ready for the October 9 game between the University of Miami Hurricanes and the Florida State University Seminoles.
Another example is the great work of Jesse Cuevas, head groundskeeper for the Omaha, Neb., Rosenblatt Stadium, former home of the NCAA Men’s College World Series. He and his crew have converted that baseball field to a football field for the United Football League’s new team, the Omaha Nighthawks. Jesse had requested big-roll sod to cover the infield and had the supplier identified, but because of tight budgets and this being the only season for football at Rosenblatt, the sod brought in was in 9-foot strips. Then 2 inches of rain soaked the new sod prior to the team’s first game. With a dry week prior to the second game, the field played much better. Brian Melekian, the UFL’s director of business management, praised the work of Cuevas and his crew in an article in the Omaha World Herald, even saying, “When I go bald, Jesse will grow hair on my head.” The UFL had so much confidence in the dedication of Jesse and his crew to do whatever it takes they named Rosenblatt as the site of the league’s championship game.
I’m also proud of the Kansas City Royals’ playing field. It is now 15 years old, and Trevor Vance and his crew, including his dedicated young assistant Justin Scott, have done an outstanding job maintaining it, especially in the always-changing transition zone. To this day, after a heavy rain, Trevor has never had to use a roller squeegee to remove water off the turf. The umpires ask Trevor, “After you dump the tarp, how long do we have to wait for the water to drain to start the game again?” Each time, Trevor says, “Ump, by the time we dump the tarp and fold the tarp, there is no water.” One can even see the bubbles when the tarp is dumped, the water drains so rapidly. Great job, Trevor.
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 professional 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 lately 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 have heard this one for some 30 years, and it hurts me to hear it again.
When these bad attitudes affect the way they take care of their fields, we all suffer. They make people think we are 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 are now providing us with outstanding products. How about all the terrific infield dirt we have now from so many companies? With these terrific infield mixes, we now should never hear a player complain about our skin infields. Yet, here we go again. I had a call from a major league groundskeeper telling me that the owners of his team wanted me to come in and consult on his playing 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.
As I’ve said many times, sometimes we can get too sophisticated and our playing fields suffer. I have seen this on some of the newer field installations. Recently, I heard an architect speak about how great his field was built. I wanted to stand and say, “Please tell it like it is,” for he knew as well as I did that two of his new fields had problems.
Despite the economy and those low budgets, we have to 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.