Despite all the work groundskeepers put into their fields, they often face tough opposition from Mother Nature and heavy field use. They may have to make a decision to sacrifice the aesthetics to get excellent footing. For a short time the field may not look good, but in terms of footing and playability, it’s tops. The best insurance a player can have is a good, safe playing field. The number one thing groundskeepers can do is provide the players with the best possible playing conditions.
This football season I’ve seen a lot of excellent fields on TV. All the people working on these college and professional fields should be congratulated for their hard work.
When things get tough, the tough bear down and keep moving ahead. Todd Jeansonne at Louisiana State University had a tough game in the rain, and by the next week, the field looked like it hadn’t had a game at all. I spent a day with Chris Powell at the Cleveland Browns, an excellent groundskeeper. He’s a former Missouri farm boy as is Will Schnell, now head groundskeeper at the Rose Bowl. Both made the big time and put that great background to work doing an excellent job on their fields.
Two weeks after the Cleveland field was sodded, they had a double-header high school game, adding up to a total of seven games in about three weeks. Chris never gave up. He and his crew went in there and raked it, put some seed down and kept working on it until it not only played great, it looked great. Ken Mrock and John Nolan had to resod for a big soccer match at Soldier Field. The bluegrass went dormant because of the extreme heat. They had four high school games on the field, along with the soccer—and the Bears. The Vikings played the Bears there on October 14, and the field played great. There were no divots, just a few scrapes.
As baseball leads up the World Series each year and I see the great job these groundskeepers are doing on their fields, I tip my hat to them and to all their crew members who put that “and then some” effort into giving their players and the fans their best. A standing ovation goes to Mark Razum who worked through the rain in game three of the NL Championship Series to get the game in and keep the Colorado Rockies field safe for the players. Another standing ovation goes to David Mellor for his outstanding artistic design for the Boston Red Sox playoff games.
It makes me proud to think of all those grounds crews and volunteers who keep giving their best to make great fields for those players at the minor league ballparks and the high school and parks and recreation fields. They deserve a big thank-you for all they do. Dan LeBlanc is head groundskeeper for the city of Nashua’s Holman Stadium in Nashua, N.H. He was a truck driver who got hooked on groundskeeping and does a great job. The stadium is home to the Nashua Pride minor league baseball team, and is used for many other games throughout the season.
Dan had this great group of volunteers, men and women who came to the games, paid for their tickets just like the other fans, and then came out of the stands to help on the field. They showed up for the pregame workout and helped take the pitching cages off and prep the field. After the game they were on the field again, picking up trash, taking brooms and sweeping the edges of the infield grass once the dragging was done, and helping with so many jobs it was hard to see it all.
You can tell a lot about a groundskeeper by taking a walk through their shop. If they take pride in their equipment and their work area, you can be sure they’ll take pride in their field, too. Like my son Ryan says, “You can walk into the Kansas City Chiefs’ or the Kansas City Royals’ maintenance buildings and they’re in such great shape you could eat off the floor.” The Royals are noted for having one of the top five fields in baseball.
It really gets me perturbed when the shop looks like a junkyard and the equipment isn’t clean. I’ve seen mowers with grass clippings still in the catchers, and with so much grass jammed under the mower deck the blades wouldn’t turn,
It’s up to the head groundskeeper to take responsibility for the shop and make sure the crew keeps things clean. It just takes a few minutes to take that mower to a wash station and clean it up. When I get through cutting the grass, I like to clean up the mower and take a little wet wax and run it over the machine, so it looks like new. Remember, equipment is expensive; take care of it.
It doesn’t take much time, if everyone pitches in before they head home, to keep the shop picked up, clean up the equipment and have the machines gassed up and ready to go for the next day. Even if no one else sees the shop, that “and then some” will show up in everything the crew does.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org