George Toma

During the month of September, I had the opportunity to take part in two sports turf conferences. One was put on by the Greater Los Angeles Basin Chapter of STMA at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. They put on some great educational presentations. I especially enjoyed seeing Steve Cockerham, superintendent of ag operations for the University of California at Riverside.

It was a thrill to see Barney Lopas, head groundskeeper for the Anaheim Angels, and Luke Yoder, director of field and landscape maintenance for the San Diego Padres. I had the opportunity to visit with them during the event’s Vendor Expo. Barney and Luke both have top-notch playing fields, plus they each have their own blends of infield dirt.

Steve Beck, president and CEO of Western Pozzolan Corp., and I enjoyed a visit to Gail Materials of Corona, Calif. Our tour of the facilities was conducted by David Dzwilewski on the afternoon prior to the meeting. The company works with many soil mixes and exercises strict quality control—a sincere thanks for inviting me.

I also attended the Coors Field seminar hosted by Mark Razum and his crew and put on by Jack Weil and Erick Pollock of Golf and Sport Solutions. Jack is a former punter for the Denver Broncos. I always kid him about his longest kick. It went 80 yards; unfortunately, it was 40 yards straight up in the air and 40 yards straight back down.

The night before the seminar there was a get together at Bigfoot Turf Sod Farm in La Salle, Colo., hosted by Greg Johnson and his son, Andy. A tip of my hat to Greg; he has built a baseball field fenced in at his sod farm.

Mark and I walked that field, and it is outstanding, with great infield dirt, neatly edged and grass that looked like a golf course green. Greg built the field for Andy, and now that Andy is working on the sod farm full-time, they both work together to maintain it.

The amazing thing about this is that they let the area high schools and youth leagues play on the field for free—yes, at no charge. There are no stands. The spectators bring their lawn chairs and spread out. Most of the teams that play there use wooden bats. I watched a few innings and found out that one of the attendees was the wife of the owner of the Colorado Rockies watching her son play. Greg, may you be repaid a thousand-fold for all you have done for these young people.

The Coors Field seminar used a multiple-station format, with a combination of demonstrations and instruction at each station. Attendees rotated around the field, from the infield dirt and mound work in the bullpens to turf care and equipment operation. They put on a terrific show. I was pleased to see Mark’s outstanding playing field. Even behind the fences, out of public scrutiny, everything is edged out razor sharp, well groomed and spotless.

It was also good to see Jay Hinrich and his young son, Jared, at the seminar. Jay is the athletic director at Northern Colorado University and is doing a terrific job in turning that program around. He was previously assistant general manager for the Kansas City Royals, where we worked together. He also served as an assistant athletic director at The University of Kansas before moving to his current position.

Jay was involved in building the spring training site for the Royals and the Texas Rangers in Surprise, Ariz., so he has a good background on the playing fields. It’s great to see he’s upgrading the athletic fields, as well as the program for the student athletes.

I had a chance to chat with Ross Kurcab, turf manager for the Denver Broncos, when he and his crew came to the seminar. What a terrific job Ross and his crew did getting the playing field (INVESCO Field at Mile High) in shape after the Democratic National Party held its convention. The stage setup was extensive, and there was a huge crowd at the stadium, along with all the news media covering it. A little spot-sodding and hard work by Ross and his crew gave the players a safe field for that weekend’s game. Great job, Ross.

If at all possible, try to attend as many educational seminars as you can. No matter how long you’ve been taking care of fields, there’s always something more to learn. As Satchel Paige would say, “Never look back, for someone will be gaining on you!”

George Toma is an NFL Hall of Fame inductee, one of the founders of the Sports Turf Managers Association and mentor to hundreds of sports field managers over his 66 years in the profession.