George Toma

For the Atlanta Coast Conference (ACC) Baseball Tournament in Jacksonville, Fla., the Alltel Stadium football grounds crew, under the leadership of Head Groundskeeper Mark Clay and his assistant, Nick Fedewa, was the baseball field crew.

Many people were skeptical, but Mark and Nick put together a great crew. That crew took over the field at 5 p.m. on May 19, which didn’t leave much time to do all the work. The pitching mound had to be reshaped and the field edged. Sod was needed around the pitching mound, home plate and the second base position. A few low spots in the infield needed to have dirt added. The crew took the job by the horns and got it done.

The infield skin area was a little shaky Tuesday as eight teams took batting practice and the infield. Then, the games began. There were four games on Wednesday; two games on Thursday; two games on Friday; four games on Saturday; and the championship game on Sunday.

There were rain and lightning delays. The crew had only two men with solid baseball experience—Mark Clay and me—plus Nick with a pretty good background, but less time on a baseball field. The rest of the crew members were Mark’s interns and a few volunteers. The crew had worked together only once, on a high school field, before they took over the stadium field.

The pitching mound man was a retired transportation director with some baseball experience. What a job he did on the mound! I called him Mr. Perfectionist to the T. And, yes, he did it all by himself. The infield man, again one man, was a musician with no previous baseball experience. He was better than some people I have seen drag a field in the major leagues. People’s eyes popped out when they saw Nick drag the infield with a five-board, 2-inch-by-12-inch-by-8-foot ripple board, followed by the musician hand-dragging with a steel mat drag.

Rain was no problem. As soon as the tarp was put down, Nick borrowed a Buffalo Turbine blower and put it in the centerfield corner of the tarp. It blew up like a tent. After the rain stopped, there was no need to dump the tarp because there was no water on it—all the crew had to do was fold it up.

This crew worked long and hard—and they even put in a few 20-hour days—but there was no complaining and they were ready to go. In fact, Mark turned the field for each event as much as five minutes ahead of schedule. The raves came from people in the stands, from the FOX baseball coverage staff, from the players and from the coaches who stated, “What a great infield.”

There were no bad bounces, only true hops. The ACC Brass were all smiles and so happy.

I enjoyed every second, especially seeing this crew, a myriad of people giving their all, working together to get the job done. Everyone in the stadium sat and watched the peak performance.

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 66 years in the profession.