It has been quiet now for several months at Cooperstown Dreams Park in Milford, New York, except for an occasional grumble from Old Man Winter. Soon, however, there will be other sounds emanating from Cooperstown Dreams Park’s 22 baseball diamonds, such as the crack of bats, the slap of leather mitts and the roar of crowds on sultry summer nights. The 80-acre park kicks off its season, featuring more than 7,000 games, in June.
With spring at hand, what can now be heard coming from the park are the rumbling of an aerator, the hum of mowers and the whirr of a topdresser, among other things. The park’s field maintenance crew, led by Emery Kane, Pete Monser and Matt Dropchinski, is busy readying the fields for play this summer.
Cooperstown Dreams Park is 5 miles from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Cooperstown, where, lore has it, Abner Doubleday invented the game in 1839. The park is the vision of Lou Presutti, who wanted to create a “dream park” for youth baseball players throughout the country. His idea was to build a complex with numerous baseball diamonds, where teams fielded by 12-year-olds could come every year and play in a week’s worth of tournament baseball games.
They’re coming, all right. When it opened in 1996, Cooperstown Dreams Park attracted 30 teams in a four-week season. The next year there were 300 teams, and now there are 104 teams coming weekly in a 13-week season that spans from June through August.
“Cooperstown Dreams Park has been awesome for our community,” Kane says.
Kane, Monser and Dropchinski, the park’s co-directors of facility management, are in charge of most everything at the facility, but taking care of the park’s 22 baseball fields is at the center of their responsibilities. Kane began working at the park in 1997, when he was 17. He was looking for work and met Presutti, who offered him a job. The 36-year-old Kane started in his current role in 2003.
The 57-year-old Monser, who is starting his 11th season, has a background in auto mechanics and is the park’s irrigation expert. The 31-year-old Dropchinski, also in his 11th season, started on the maintenance crew and raked infields.
All three are from the Cooperstown area and learned the value of hard work from working on local farms. They didn’t earn college degrees in agronomics, but maintain that they’ve learned the ins and outs of field maintenance from on-the-job training.
By the numbers
The 22 fields, including Little Majors Stadium, where tournament championship games are held, each feature about 1 acre of turfgrass and average 325 games a year.
The fields are small, only 200 feet down the foul lines, making it easy (and thrilling) for some kids to hit home runs. Alas, foot traffic is heavy, and compaction poses a problem.
“They take a heck of a lot of pounding,” Kane says of the fields.
Still, the goal is simple: “We try to keep them as pristine as possible through the whole season,” Kane adds.
He describes a season as “a runaway train,” but he means that in a good way. “It’s a nonstop party on those fields for three months,” Kane adds.
About 40 members of the facility management crew take on such tasks as overseeding, aerating and mowing. During the season, they work on the fields early in the morning, between games, and at night.
“When the lights go out, we still have another three hours of work to put those fields to bed to make sure they’re ready to go for the next morning,” Monser says.
Kane, Monser and Dropchinski work about 80 hours a week and each get about 10 days off during the season.
“It’s not uncommon for us to work 100 hours a week,” Kane notes.
The park is closed on Friday, and the crew works feverishly to get the fields ready for the next round of games that begin Saturday morning and last through Thursday.
“We never really have the opportunity to slow down,” Monser says.
With so many games and people coming and going, the job can get a bit overwhelming, Dropchinski admits. But that’s OK – it’s the field maintenance team’s MO to challenge itself to provide the best possible product.
“We’re always striving to make things better,” Dropchinski says. “In our eyes, [conditions] are never good enough.”
To combat compaction, aeration is a constant cultural practice. The crew tine aerates every week, sometimes several times a week.
“We’re constantly making sure that the fields are breathing,” Kane says.
To keep the fields from puddling after heavy rains, the crew aerates with solid deep-tines.
“We need to open up the fields and allow them to drain,” Kane adds.
Overseeding occurs before, during and after the season with a mixture of bluegrass and fescue. Only problem areas are overseeded during the season, but the entire fields are overseeded in the off-season.
Despite the potential for heat and humidity, the crew is able to keep most turf diseases at bay.
“The fields get dollar spot and occasional snow mold, but by aerating, overseeding and good mowing practices we can combat a lot of diseases without using chemicals,” Kane explains.
The crew uses inorganic and organic fertilizers. The former is used mostly during the off-season, and the latter is used during the season for safety reasons.
Infield maintenance is also a constant. Every night after games the crew uses brooms and high-pressure hoses to remove dirt from the edge of the infield turf.
“If we don’t do that there will be large dead areas of turf near the baselines within a few weeks,” Monser notes.
The field maintenance team also contracts with a local consultant on agronomic issues and practices.
While the fields are seemingly identical, they have distinct agronomic issues, Kane states.
“We’ve basically learned how to deal with anything that can go wrong in all our years of doing this,” he says.
Off-season projects involve drainage, sod laying, core aeration and topdressing. Pitcher’s mounds are rebuilt at this time, and infields are leveled.
In addition, some of the plywood on the outfield walls is replaced.
One thing that isn’t managed is snow.
“It can snow every other day,” Kane says, noting that an 18- to 24-inch base is usually on the field throughout the winter. “There’s no fighting it.”
The three men realize it costs families and teams a lot of money for the players to come to Cooperstown Dreams Park, and it’s their job to make sure the fields are in top playing condition, despite Mother Nature.
“It doesn’t matter how hard it rains, our biggest focus is to play ball,” Kane says. “If that means playing at 2 in the morning, we will play.”
About 100,000 games have been played at the park since it opened. Only 1,000 have been canceled because of weather, a statistic the crew is proud of.
Maintaining Cooperstown Dreams Park
- The park features 22 baseball fields, including Little Majors Stadium, where tournament championship games are held.
- Each field features about 1 acre of turfgrass and averages 325 games a year.
- The fields are small, only 200 feet down the foul lines, making it easy (and thrilling) for some kids to hit home runs.
- If you get your chance and score an interview, don’t swing and miss. Be prepared.
- About 40 members of the facility management crew take on such tasks as overseeding, aerating and mowing. During the season, they work on the fields early in the morning, between games, and at night.
- With all of the games, compaction is a major issue and aeration is a constant cultural practice. The crew tine aerates every week, sometimes several times a week.
- Infield maintenance is also a constant. Every night after games the crew uses brooms and high-pressure hoses to remove dirt from the edge of the infield turf.
- Off-season projects involve drainage, sod laying, core aeration and topdressing. Pitcher’s mounds are rebuilt at this time, and infieldsare leveled.
It’s about providing excellent customer service as much as it’s about field maintenance, Kane says.
“Whatever we do behind the scenes and no matter what challenges we have, we don’t want to depict them to the public,” he explains. “We just want to get the job done.”
Still, the law of averages states that the more fields there are to maintain, the more chances there are for hiccups to occur.
“You never know what you might walk into at Cooperstown Dreams Park,” Kane adds with a laugh. “There’s never a dull moment.”
Making dreams come true
Even with the long hours, the best part of the job is the baseball season, Kane says. That’s when Cooperstown Dreams Park is rocking like a Bruce Springsteen concert. About a half million people visit the park each year.
“There’s nothing in the world like watching the first game of the season,” Kane adds.
Before Dropchinski was promoted to co- director of facility management, he worked behind the scenes in other areas. Now that he’s out in front and in contact with players and their families, he realizes what coming to the park means to them.
“You feel this overwhelming goodness about what you do,” he says.
The kid that goes on to play baseball in college and maybe even the pros will always remember playing at Cooperstown Dreams Park, Kane says. But so will the kid who never plays baseball again.
“That makes it worth what we do,” he adds.
Monser says employees at the park take pride in helping make memories.
“There’s a phrase we use in the park: ‘Live the dream,’ ” Monser says. “The people we have working for us … all of them eat, sleep and breathe the dream. If they didn’t, we couldn’t do our jobs, and this place wouldn’t have the effect that it has on people.”
Says Kane, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”
Aylward is the former Editorial Director of SportsField Management.