I wonder who started the sunflower and pumpkin seed fad in baseball? One story dates back to 1968 and the Oakland Athletics, with Joe DiMaggio, a coach for the A’s at that time, and Smokey Olson, a clubhouse assistant, having something to do with it. It’s not too bad when those seeds get into the grass, but when they get loaded within the dirt, it does become a problem, sometimes even blocking the drag. On the grass, one can vacuum them up. A sincere special thanks to baseball umpire Tim Tschida who places each and every shell in his pocket. George Brett chewed tobacco and he never spit on the rug, he took those extra steps to spit in the dirt.
If a groundskeeper has bad dirt, they should try to make it work until it can be replaced. It doesn’t matter if you like it or not, you have to get the job done. You have millions of dollars worth of players on the field; they need a safe playing field. When players make the comment about the infield, you can bet your boots that the game will suffer.
I talked to a great groundskeeper, Trevor Vance, a few days ago. I hired him in 1985 for the Royals tarp crew, and 10 years later he became the head groundskeeper for the Kansas City Royals. Talking to players, he is in the top three for excellent infields. Sometimes good infield dirt is hard to find and expensive. We always had excellent infield dirt at the Royals: 40 percent sand, 30 percent silt, 30 percent clay. It was noted to be the best going back to 1957. It came right from the Kansas City area. Now, many homes are being built and the dirt is getting hard to find. So, what does Trevor do? He adds a little Diamond Pro Home Plate Pitching Mound mix to his infield recipe and rototills it in.
At Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers, Fla., home of the Minnesota Twins spring training, we have very bad dirt, but P. J. Boutwell works his tail off using many recipes. And, it is one of the best in Florida. The players, both those on the home team and the visiting teams, love it. After a game, Joe Crede, who played for the Chicago White Sox and is now playing third base for the Minnesota Twins, said he was going to call the legendary infield groundskeeper Roger Bossard (for the Chicago White Sox) and tell him that P. J. has a Bossard infield here in Ft. Myers, so now one can see it can be done.
Yes, it takes some work, but the groundskeeper has to do the job. As I told one groundskeeper, improve your infield dirt, because if you don’t, the players will tag you with having a bad infield. Do the job and it will improve.
I hear so many stories about athletic fields being built that have many problems. The players and coaches are complaining. I have seen a college field where the specs stated no rocks or debris greater than .25 inch. Did the contractor follow those specs? No! There were rocks from golf ball size to water cooler size, plus a log 8 inches by 12 feet long. The first time that I ever saw a Verti-Drain bounce off the ground was when the tines hit those water cooler-sized rocks. Due to the faulty construction, the field suffered, the team suffered, the maintenance program suffered and the state taxpayers suffered.
Hats off to my good friend Mike Hebrard of Athletic Field Design in Clackamas, Ore., for stepping up to work on the baseball field of Northwest Missouri State University in St. Joseph, Mo. Mike’s son Andy plays second base and pitches for their baseball team. Mike does an outstanding job working on athletic fields, and he’s also a top-notch painter. He paints all types of athletic fields, as well as logos on home lawns and commercial lawns. Years back, when I was in Hawaii, Mike came over and painted the field turf at St. Louis High School. He laid out the field and painted the entire marking all by himself.
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.