Have you ever been in a situation where you’re facing the impossible, but you have no choice but to get the job done? How about an infield renovation with six days between homestands – and the roots don’t grab hold? Then, try to figure out how to fix that problem and play baseball in 48 hours.
I faced this tough test earlier this season.
Forming the plan
The story begins on Wednesday, May 31, at First National Bank Field in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Grasshoppers (Class-A) were finishing a homestand with the next one set for June 6 – 8.
I had already committed to replacing some of the field’s worn areas between homestands. I then began entertaining the thought
of replacing the entire infield. I felt confident enough in the idea to take it to our team president and general manager, Donald Moore. He signed off, and we proceeded. This was an aggressive solution to a problem, with only six days between homestands. But, with Donald’s support, we started planning for the renovation to include everything under the tarp. The problems started on June 6, the sixth day of the renovation – the opening game of the homestand.
The sod hadn’t tacked down.
On game day, the infield was deemed unplayable after a walk-through by our manager and players. This is when the real challenges started. Anxiety, stress and disappointment all set in, but there was no time for pity. It was time to get to work.
First, there was the matter of the scheduled game between the Grasshoppers and the Hagerstown Suns. With our field now unplayable, the game was rescheduled for June 7 at Burlington Athletic Stadium, home of the Burlington Royals. It was then decided to play a doubleheader on Thursday, June 8, back in Greensboro. That meant we had a lot to do in a short period of time – and I had to get on the phone, quickly.
The first call was to my best friend, Chris “Butter” Ball, a former sports turf manager who’s now the Carolinas/Georgia sales rep for Southern Athletic Fields. I wanted to discuss with him the idea of stripping the problematic sod off and playing on a naked infield. His response was, “I wouldn’t do that, but let’s discuss other options.”
My second call was to Jeremy Bohonko, my salesman for Ewing Irrigation, to get material for the field and to toss around ideas about how to solve this problem.
The third call was to Scott Strickland, a friend and head groundskeeper for the Durham Bulls. Call it divine intervention, but when Scott answered the phone he said, “You won’t believe this, but I’m driving through Greensboro right now.” I asked him to come by, because I needed help. Luckily for us, he did just that.
The fourth call was to Chad Price, owner of Carolina Green Corp., to discuss the possibility of replacing the sod. The call went to voicemail, but instead of leaving a message, I texted “I’m in trouble.” Within two minutes, Chad called back asking what he could do.
The last call was to Matt Parrot, head groundskeeper for the Charlotte Knights. Matt and I have known each other for less than a year, but we’ve become fast friends. Unfortunately for us, the Knights were in the midst of a homestand. This kept Matt in Charlotte, despite his desire to help.
Getting the job done
Working with Chad, the plan was to replace our problematic sod with GameOn Grass from Carolina Green Corp., who arrived at 12:30 p.m. on June 7. In a matter of just eight hours, they had removed the previously laid thin-cut sod to a depth to match the new GameOn Grass. Just four hours later, I had a playable infield surface. From desperate phone calls to grass on the ground (27 hours), this was an amazing transformation.
Along with Chad and the Carolina Green Corp. staff (including his brother Rod), Donald, Chris, Jeremy, Scott and Anthony Alejo (my assistant) were present for the installation of the new surface. I also got plenty of support and advice via phone from Matt. We have very strong relationships here in the North Carolina/South Carolina turf community. North Carolina has many minor league teams; we all know and care for each other.
Additionally, Casey Carrick (director of athletic grounds and turf management at the University of North Carolina) donated material to help me patch my edges.
Those five phone calls I made not only solved the problem, but they brought me support, help and the acknowledgment that, yes, it was all going to be okay. Not only did Donald, Chris, Jeremy, Scott, Chad and Matt provide ideas and advice, they jumped in completely with two feet and were willing to do whatever I needed in order to play on Thursday, after the field was deemed unplayable not even 48 hours prior. My buddies were working as hard as I was to help me solve my problem.
Once it was all was said and done, I was left with a pile of spoils and nowhere for them to go. Once again, a relationship built over the years helped me immensely. I called Pat Falls, who works for the city of Greensboro, to ask if he had a way to get rid of the spoils. He didn’t hesitate. “You would do the same for me,” he said, “so, I’ll do whatever you need me to do.” Pat sent a dump truck and a driver, and a provided a spot for the spoils.
When it came to the doubleheader on June 8, we got a lot of “Wows!” from the coaches and players.
Support and friendships
What lessens the sting from this situation is the unwavering support, passion and friendships that made the transformation from bad to great happen. I’m finally getting my confidence back, which is what I relied on my peers for the most.
I’ve learned to trust my experience. We all have failures. We have no choice but to learn and grow from these failures.
Look, I knew the challenges associated with what I was doing. I know how to grow grass – it’s just that this time, it didn’t work. If this had happened 15 or 20 years ago, would I have done something this aggressive? Absolutely not. But if I would have done it and failed, I would have worried about getting fired.
None of this could have happened without the support of Donald Moore. There isn’t another president/general manager that would have supported me as much as he did. If this wasn’t a situation that would ruin a relationship between a team president and a groundskeeper, I don’t know what would. But that didn’t happen here – all it did was strengthen our relationship.
I’m grateful for my colleagues and friends. Relationships solved my problem, got our new sod laid and helped build an entire infield in 12 hours.
If you need to build it, they will come.
Head groundskeeper, Durham Bulls
I consider Jake a good friend, and I’ve gotten to know Donald and his family pretty well over the last 10-plus years. I have so much respect and admiration for the operation Donald and Jake have run over the years – if you’re asked to help friends like that, you help. It’s just what you do. With that type of relationship and trust in each other, you’re able to skip any beating around the bush or nonessential dialogue.
We’re incredibly fortunate to have what we have in this region, specifically in this area of North Carolina. We have Wake Forest University, Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina; four athletic programs that have tremendous resources. We also have the Durham Bulls, Winston-Salem Dash, Greensboro Grasshoppers, Kinston Indians and other clubs with individuals involved in the operations who care deeply about each other and each other’s success. That’s supplemented by three outstanding sports field contractors (Carolina Green Corp., Nolan Thomas and Company and Precision Turf) all a phone call away when someone’s in need.
This doesn’t even account for all of our vendors in the trenches with us, as well. The common thread through all of those universities, clubs and companies is great people. We text, call, tweet and socialize with each other. We regularly attend conferences together. We’re family, and when a family member needs help, you’re there.
Sales – Carolinas/Georgia, Southern Athletic Fields
One thing I’ve learned in all my years in this industry is that help isn’t too far away. When you’re in a bad spot – you’ve got a problem with a family member or you’ve had a crummy run of bad luck, personally or professionally – we’re all here for each other. Whether it’s a phone call for support or actually going somewhere to help with a project, like we did with this situation in Greensboro. We’re in this together and we want everyone to succeed. That’s what’s so unique about what we do. We’re all pushing for the same goals: safe, playable and aesthetically pleasing athletic fields.
To the young people in this industry, I’ll say this: Those of us who’ve been in it for 20, 30 or 40 years have made all the mistakes. But we share our successes, as well as the mistakes. That’s how we learn, and that’s how we help each other. We take what we’ve done bad, share it with others and always manage to turn it into a positive situation. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone, because we all fight the same battles and go through the same issues. There’s always someone available to lend an ear, a hand or some knowledge.
President/GM, Greensboro Grasshoppers
Jake and I have been together in baseball for a long time – 16 years – and we had never run into a situation like this. This was a tough time of year, as we were close to transitioning from ryegrass to bermudagrass. But it had been extremely wet, rainy and cool, which are not the ideal growing conditions for the bermudagrass. A week before this incident, we had the tarp on the field four days in a row, as we had gotten close to 5 inches of rain.
This was the perfect recipe for disaster and it sure turned into one. The good news was that Jake, through all of his contacts and friends made over the years, was able to get Carolina Green Corp. out here relatively quickly, and we were able to play.
No matter what line of work you’re in, you don’t want to start pointing fingers when you have issues or problems. The important thing is to sit down together and figure out how to fix the situation. We did that here. It was stressful, but we got through it. It just goes to show that friends and relationships are critical, particularly in a time of need.
Jake Holloway is the assistant general manager/head groundskeeper for the Greensboro (North Carolina) Grasshoppers, the Single-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. This season is Jake’s 21st in Greensboro. In 1997, he began as a groundskeeping intern, later assuming the role of head groundskeeper in 1999. He was promoted to the assistant general manager of stadium operations in October of 2004 and played a key role in the construction of First National Bank Field. Jake and his wife Meridith enjoy spending time with their two daughters, Stella and Amelia.