It’s summertime now, and all types of sports are now going strong. We all should tip our hats to the many volunteers who help maintain these playing fields. Yes, these volunteers do care about the players and giving them a safe playing field.
Still, in my travels I see people that get paid to do this job who couldn’t care less. I see them standing around wasting valuable time, leaning on rakes that I believe roots are starting to grow on, and how many hours are lost each day to the use of cell phones while working? I see workers cutting the grass that will stop and be on the phone for 15 to 20 minutes, and not once, but numerous times. These people are lucky to have a job, but they have the “I don’t care” attitude, and our playing fields suffer. And, other members of the crew have to pick up their slack. It’s discouraging.
There are many bright spots, too. I see many well-kept fields that are beautiful and safe, and that’s what keeps us all moving forward.
I have been fortunate to spend three months in warm, sunny Florida. A month in Tampa for the Super Bowl, back to Kansas City for three days, and then returned to Fort Myers, Fla. For the past nine years I’ve been working on the Minnesota Twins’ spring training fields at the Lee County Sports Complex, where they have five full fields, two half fields, four softball fields and a soccer field. The people there are outstanding to work with, especially Senior Supervisor Keith Blasingim and Pablo Adorno. They also oversee the city of Palms Park, the spring training site for the Boston Red Sox. Terry Slawson and P. J. Boutwell are parks and recreation supervisors at the Lee County Sports Complex.
The excellent young groundskeeper P.J. Boutwell works along with crew member Josh Brooks, plus the dedicated minor league complex grounds crew. The fields are used all year, with a Class A Florida State League team, the Ft. Myers Miracle, plus rookie league and extended training. In November, they had 73 games played on the game field; they had the Roy Hobbs Baseball Tournament; and before spring training started they had the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins Fantasy camps.
At the City of Palms Park, there’s another excellent young groundskeeper, Kyle Katzenmeyer. He’s a tireless worker who can do it all and practically takes care of the field all by himself.
I send a sincere thank you to all of the spring training groundskeepers for all the dedication and hard work that you give to our profession and for giving the players a good, safe field to perform on. We are proud of you.
During spring training the players are trying to get in shape for the season. Talking to groundskeepers in Florida, they battle the infield because there is really no good dirt available. Many people do not know this, but some teams will not take infield practice on some fields because of the poor condition of the dirt infields. One manager this year pulled his team off the field rather than have them take infield practice. Another manager was so disgusted with one field he said he’d pay for the bus to take their players over to play on his home field. I sincerely would like to see the state of Florida buy some great infield dirt and stockpile it in a central location for the teams to use. There are now 15 teams training in Florida, and it would be well worth the price.
In Kansas City, in 1957, I found some good dirt with the help of Art Kesterson in Overland Park, Kan. Trevor Vance still uses it. The best infield dirt I ever worked with was in Nashua, N.H., back in 1999. It came from Jim Kelsey of Partac Peat in New Jersey. It was the best and easiest dirt I have every worked with—cut the infield work in half. I saw some good infield dirt at the Jacksonville Suns working the ACC Championship baseball tournament. Alan Sigwardt of the Marlins has excellent dirt brought in from Jim Anglia in Texas, who was with the Rangers and now builds fields.
Whatever it takes—the cheapest insurance for all those million-dollar players is a safe playing field.
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 67 years in the profession.