Watching summer baseball and all the great fields out there reminds me to extend a sincere thank you to the hard-working, dedicated groundskeepers and their staffs for doing a tremendous job on the spring training fields. For the last 10 years I’ve had the privilege of working for eight weeks in Fort Myers, Fla., home of the Minnesota Twins spring training at Hammond Field. We had an excellent spring training with the cold weather being the only drawback. P.J. Boutwell and his crew do an outstanding job. Their field is one of the best in Florida, and it was great to see players coming up and thanking the crew for a great playing surface. P.J. keeps improving the dirt each and every year. He always tries to make it better.
It’s always a great pleasure for me and the crew to have Eugene Mayer, retired agronomist from Scotts, visit us for several games. Eugene spends the winter in the area. As we were watching a game one afternoon, Terry Slawson, another one of the terrific young head groundskeepers at the complex, asked if we wanted anything. When we asked for sunflower seeds, Terry rattled off a list of flavors we didn’t know existed, from garlic-spiced to barbecue. We said just bring us some. A few minutes later here comes Terry and Troy, the Twins’ visiting clubhouse manager, carrying six cases of sunflower seeds and two tubs of bubble gum. That’s going to keep Eugene supplied all summer while he is working on his large farm back in Maryville, Ohio.
Eugene is a great addition to our groundskeeping family, and he never stops teaching turf management. During the games Eugene and I talk about turf more than we watch the play. Talking about the old days with the grass varieties, fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides and turf management. Some of the products on the market in the old days were dangerous to use and now have been taken off the market. In those days we didn’t know.
I will always remember the pioneers in the artificial turf side, namely the people at Monsanto AstroTurf. What a job they did in developing the turf, but most of all in the knowledge they had in installing the turf. There are all types of equipment that they developed. The Zamboni for water removal, the Grasshopper for rolling up and laying down the removable fields, the brass zippers, plastic zippers and Velcro used to hold the seams together, they just kept on improving.
I remember working with the late John DeMelker who was a groundskeeper with the St. Louis Cardinals and then moved on to the Louisiana Superdome. What a job he did with the field, football and baseball played there along with all types of events. John and the Superdome grounds crew always did a great job.
On some of the artificial turf fields in the college bowl games, the logos were inlaid artificial turf; what a flawless job they did. The new inlaid logos were real sharp-looking, like a beautifully-painted artist’s picture. Boy, we’ve come a long way since the pioneer days from white coal ashes to the new inlaid artificial turf logos. Yes, we sometimes used coal ashes and dangerous hydrated lime. Then came Plus 5 marking powder and white sand. In the early days of the American Bowl Games in the Big Egg in Tokyo, Japan, the crew made a paste out of flour and water, just like wallpaper paste. Vegetable dye was mixed in for the colors. The lines, numbers and logos were brushed on the turf. After the game we used hot water and ice scrapers to remove the paste, and then got the field ready for baseball play.
Then the latex paints came along from just a few sources. We couldn’t even imagine there would be the number of companies selling paint today with all the choices they offer.
Back in the 1960s we used Mautz Paint. Emil Bossard of the Cleveland Indians always painted his baseball field and football field with a 4-inch paintbrush.
In the early days, Sherwin Williams had a latex paint for artificial turf. John DeMelker used to remove it using a 20 percent ammonia solution. For all the early Super Bowls and Pro Bowls on artificial turf we used a terrific temporary paint from PRS, in Belle Chasse, La. To remove it, they had an ammonia solution. It was also a cleaner for artificial turf. It did a terrific job on tobacco juice. We would clean the entire artificial fields with the PRS ammonia solution, spraying it on, scrubbing it with mechanical scrubbers and washing it off with a fire hose. We did this with both the baseball field at Royals Stadium and the football field at Arrowhead Stadium. A clean, well-kept field pays off. We got 13 years out of the 3M Tartan Turf. Dick Ericson, one of the founders of STMA, used to paint the football field at the Metrodome in Minneapolis during baseball season with Christmas tree flocking. Great job, Dick.
The idea for those arrows you now see by the numbers on football fields came from another couple of pioneers: Lamar Hunt, owner of the KC Chiefs, and Tex Schramm, president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s so satisfying to know that these two gentlemen were so involved and always wanted beautiful playing fields. Monsanto AstroTurf was the pioneer with their great engineers, installers and salesmen. Engineer George Bolling did a great job, always coming up with better ways to get the job done. My favorite salesman was Walt Schonke, the Smilin’ Hawaiian of AstroTurf. We should thank them for what we have today.
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 68 years in the profession.