George Toma

One of the best things coming with the new year is the STMA Annual Conference and Exhibition in Phoenix. I still remember sitting in Kansas City’s Muelbach Hotel in 1981 talking with Harry Gill, Dick Ericson and Dr. Bill Daniel about what we groundskeepers needed to do to help each other. Back in those days, very few of the older, established groundskeepers wanted to share their information with anyone else. I had trained under Emil Bossard, and he continued to be a great resource. Joe Mooney at the Boston Red Sox was another. With those two, the three of us, Dr. Daniel and Dr. Kent Kurtz, we had the pipeline to help each other out, and we wanted others to be able to do the same. That was the starting point for STMA, and once we started talking to others about it, more people got involved.

Conferences are so important, whether they’re at the local, state, regional or national level. You should encourage everyone on the crew to attend at least one, and more if possible.

The best part is the chance to network, to get to know other people in the game and to share ideas. If you’re having problems with your field, talk to your peers about them. Don’t be afraid to look bad. You’ll find others who have dealt with the same thing and will tell you what worked for them.

Don’t just walk through the trade show. Take a close look at all the equipment, chemicals, fertilizers and other products, and talk to the company personnel about them. The salespeople for these companies travel around to a lot of different fields and can fill you in on what’s happening. Talk things over with the other groundskeepers to find out what they’re using for products and equipment and how those choices are working for them.

With water shortages and field use extending to nearly 24 hours a day, there’s a big push toward artificial turf fields. As groundskeepers, we need to learn everything we can about them. It’s just as important to have good construction for an artificial turf field as it is for a natural grass field. Before deciding which type of artificial turf to install, I’d want to see a few installations and talk to the groundskeepers to find out what they like and don’t like about the fields and how they are maintaining them.

If you’re a good groundskeeper and have a good crew, and you’ve done an excellent job of maintaining your natural grass playing field, you’ll have the same kind of results with an artificial turf field.

Our crews weren’t happy to see the natural turf replaced back when the artificial turf (3M Tartan Turf) was installed at the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs fields. How-ever, we were determined to take as much pride in maintaining those fields as we did in the old ones—and we did. Still, we’d been pointing out problems with the installations as the fields were going in and, when the front office asked us to put together the punch list, we included all those things. The contractors thought we were just grass guys and didn’t know anything about artificial fields and pretty much convinced the owners of that.

However, the groundskeepers had the last laugh. We walked the fields after every practice and game, and we put down a piece of yellow tape everywhere we’d have filled in a divot on a natural grass field. The field got so bad by the end of that first season, the joke was going around that there weren’t enough coffee tables in Kansas City to hide all the bad spots. Everything we’d said would happen if the installation wasn’t corrected did happen. So, even though they’d tried to make the groundskeepers look like fools, we were proven right. After that first six months, they had to take out the complete base and put in a new installation—at the contractor’s expense.

Once the fields were put in right, all of our work on maintaining them paid off. What really hurt the artificial turf on the baseball field was having the dirt from the base path tracked on it, so we worked hard to keep if off. We swept it, washed, scrubbed and disinfected it frequently. We walked the lanes after every game looking for scuff marks and removed them. Then, we hosed down the field. In those days, all the seams were glued. The crew always made sure the seams were tight and did all of the seam repair. If there was a crack in the seam, we’d take some of the turf fabric and cut it into little pieces. Then, we’d glue those fibers into the crack, so we never had a problem. Because of the crews’ “and then some” work, the artificial turf at both the Royals and Arrowhead stadiums held up for 13 years. Then, both fields were switched back to natural grass.

George Toma is an NFL Hall of Fame inductee, founder of the Sports Turf Managers Association and mentor to hundreds of sports field managers over his 66 years in the profession. If you have questions for him or would like to hear his take on a topic, drop an e-mail to tomatales@sportsfieldmanagementmagazine.com. We’ll make sure it catches up to him during his frequent travels.