As we look into the safety and maintenance of our athletic fields from construction to groundskeeping, one of the most important of all in my book is that the people above us need to get involved: the owner, general manager, stadium manager, athletic director and members of sports commissions. Many times, the fault of a poor playing field is put on the groundskeeper; yet, many times the fault should be put on the people above us. Many times they are the culprit of a bad playing surface.
I have seen a lot mistakes made by the upper echelon by not getting involved. In the old days, it was the owner, general manager and groundskeeper making all the decisions and working closely together. All of the above should get involved. Still, I see and hear that some could care less. Whether it is a preschool field or a pro field, they all should be involved for the safety of our athletes.
In 1973, we moved to Royals and Arrowhead Stadiums. We had a terrific general manager in Cedric Tallis, a man who cared about the stadium and playing field. He did a terrific job overseeing the construction of Royals Stadium plus building the baseball team from scratch. In 1973, they put in an artificial field. There was a vast movement by fans not wanting artificial turf. When the field was finished, The Royals and Jackson County judges told me to make a punch list. I did not want to do the punch list. I told them that the installation was very bad.
So, I got some of our old crew—young men who used to help fill in divots after Chief games—and gave each one of them a roll of duct tape. I told them to walk the field and if you see a spot where you would place divot mix, put a piece of duct tape on it. After the field was walked over, 500 pieces of duct tape were placed. What happened? The artificial turf company, architects and engineers made us feel like fools. Cedric Tallis and the county judges had seen what we did; they backed us 100 percent. Why? They cared. Now, who has the last laugh? Me and the young grounds crew. Why? Because after the baseball season was over, the company had to take out the entire base and the artificial turf and replace it with a new base and new artificial turf.
The moral of this story is that many people did care. They looked out for the safety of the players, plus the people of Jackson County who paid the bill.
Yes, this was some 36 years ago. And today, these high echelon people who are running these pro, college and high school teams, do they care? I honestly don’t know.
As I am writing this, I received a call from a professional groundskeeper telling me about a college baseball field, just constructed, that has to be redone due to poor consulting and poor construction. There was money to build the field, but it was built wrong and now has to be redone in a week between college games. It’s very disturbing to hear this. Where were the high echelon people from the college to oversee this?
Just in the past year, I have seen two practice fields the same way. The pro team refused to practice on it. A Band-Aid job again was done to make it work. Again, where was the grounds crew and high echelon on this one?
I would love to see the high echelon people get more involved in these poor fields. It is for their own good, especially for their investment in their players, to give them a safe field. We all must learn and not be afraid to do different things.
I would like to see the higher echelon get involved and have a spring training infield seminar. No lip service—just arms and legs and hard work. I know it can be done. And, it should be done with the higher echelon involved, people from all the teams with the groundskeepers, the parks and recreation people who may run these fields, along with everyone involved with spring training fields in Florida, and I would like to see Bud Selig get involved. Let’s give the teams the best playing fields.
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.