The vast majority of people often disregard the grounds crew when talking about the fun jobs in baseball.
Let’s face it; most of us only see them when their rolling out the tarp because the game we paid to see is being delayed.
However, there are a lot of tasks that makes the grounds crew so important to Major League Baseball.
So why write about it?
For those of you who did not read my last article, I worked this summer as a member of the grounds crew for the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Class A affiliate of the New York Mets.
Now I’m sure if we actually thought about it, we would all realize that the grounds crew does do a lot more than just pull the tarp and set up batting practice.
We even miss most of the work they do during the pregame because we are occupied by various happenings around the stadium.
Now obviously our five-man grounds crew has to do a lot more than major league grounds crews (in terms of individual time) however I’ll go through a typical day on the Brooklyn Cyclones grounds crew.
Let’s assume for a moment that today is Saturday, game time’s at 7:00 P.M.
Yes we are getting to the ballpark that early. Now if you’re me, that means you’re leaving your house at approximately 7:15, meaning you’ve been up probably since 6:30.
So what are we doing at this fine hour in the morning?
Well, if you’re the head grounds keeper, doing one of the most important and essential jobs on the diamond, mowing the grass.
Now I know it doesn’t seem like a difficult job, just sitting on a machine and riding around the field for an hour or so, but you have to be precise enough and be paying attention to do it correctly every time.
Now the rest of us are working on a variety of other tasks.
The Bullpen mounds need to be fixed. The old worn down clay has to be removed, new clay put down, all of it tamped down on a slope, and then the turface (the dirt that is used) brushed back over it.
Now remember, there are two mounds in each bullpen, and each have at least two areas with holes, the rubber and then the planting area.
Sometimes the pitchers tail off to the side and create holes off from the normal planting area, making for a maximum of 12 areas that must be fixed.
The Cyclones put on fireworks shows after most Friday and Saturday night games, sometimes they are shot off from the outfield warning track.
Who do you think picks up all the debris?
That’s right, I do. Now the debris on the warning track has to be raked into piles and picked up, the debris on the outfield grass gets sucked up using a blower/vacuum.
Again, this doesn’t seem like a really hard job, and it isn’t, however when you’ve had that vacuum on your back for 40 minutes and all you have been doing is looking down at small disks, it can be extremely difficult.
Ok, now that the busy work is out of the way, now it’s time to work on the big stuff, the clay work for the mound and home plate. Essentially the same process as the bullpen mounds, the only real difference is the use of different clay for the mound.
Now that we have done a lot of the more labor intensive parts of the day, it’s time to work on the infield.
One major task for working on the infield is soaking it.
Yes right before the game is not the only time that the grounds crew waters the infield. Since the infield is predominately clay and turface, it’s important to keep it moist so it doesn’t start cracking.
After watering the infield, we have to add turface.
Why add after we water?
Well first of all, the infield is going to be watered again before batting practice. Second, turface is known to many little league dad’s as speedy dry, because it absorbs water from the field.
So by spreading turface after we water, we soak up some of the extra water by putting the turface down.
Next we have to drag the infield to level off the turface we just put down. So while three of us drag the infield with the metal drags and then a brush, another member of the grounds crew drags the warning track.
Now that the infield is set up and warning track is good, we can do some very important jobs, painting.
That logo behind home plate isn’t going to paint itself! Neither is the foul line that is on the grass or the coaches boxes. Now that the warning track has been dragged, we can also chalk the foul lines in the outfield.
Now that a good chunk of the on-field work is done, we can move on to some other things.
Watering the flowers and raking the sand boxes along the outside of the stadium. Now while this is a specific Brooklyn Cyclones thing, it is none the less another task we have to do.
While we water the six large flower pots and rake out the sand, someone else has to spray paint the bases for batting practice. The Flag also has to go up in center field.
We have one hour until batting practice begins. We have to open up both bullpens, which includes raking out around the home plates and spray painting the rubbers and plates.
We also have to bring all of the cages down for batting practice. There are four cages total, as well as the movable mound and L-shaped net.
Now we have to load up the truck with all of the batting practice mats and bring them down to the field.
Now we’ll give the field another water down before batting practice.
At this point, we have to set up for batting practice. Lay down all of the mats and set up the cages.
BREAK TIME! Well not really, this time will be used to eat a quick lunch, but there is still a lot to accomplish.
We still have to clean the padding along the wall separating the field from the stands, as well as clean the bases that will be used in tonight’s game. This is a good time to also make a run to the dumpster with whatever garbage there is
We also have to load up the truck with everything we need for game time, rakes, the stomper, the chalk lines, the now clean bases, etc. We’ll bring it all down and unload it as well.
Now that batting practice is over, the real fun begins.
The crowd is making their way into the stands, most not paying attention to us because of the other happenings around the ball park.
First we pull all of the mats, cages, and bases off of the field.
We rake out the spots around first, second, third, and short, and drag the field with the metal drags and then broom.
All of the excess turface has to be scooped up.
We use a different type of drag, called a coco to drag out the baselines and home plate. We place all of the bases on the grass part of the infield, and bring the hose out behind the mound.
The mound has to be un-tarped, the cleat cleaner put in and the rubber cleaned off, home plate has to be stenciled and then the batter’s boxes must be created using the stomper.
The lines for the foul line have to be rolled out, and two nails have to be placed to make the base runner’s line.
The foul line now has to be chalked, the bases put in, and then the lines have to be picked up.
By this point, it is now approximately 6:45 P.M., and the field is going to be watered down. After that, the hose simply has to be pulled off the field, and home plate has to be cleaned and then Play Ball!!
Now that the game has started, unless there is a chance of rain, the grounds crew doesn’t have much to do. The bases will be changed at one point, the areas around first, second, third, and short will be raked out, and then the field will be dragged once more in the fifth inning.
Let’s now assume that the game has finished at approximately 9:30 P.M.
We have to pull the bases, scoop up the foul lines, tarp the mound, pull down the flag, and bring everything back to the shop. Depending on whether there is another game the following day or not, we may do the bullpen mound clay work. Regardless the bullpens have to be tarped.
Now we are finally ready to leave, and it is about 10:30 P.M. So doing the math, from 8:00 in the morning until 10:30 at night, the grounds crew has been at the ballpark for 14 and one half hours.
Now I’m not going to say this is the everyday schedule. Most often we don’t have to arrive at the ballpark that early, depending on what other events are scheduled or what work is done the previous day.
I’m also not trying to garner any sympathy toward the grounds crews of major league teams, because let’s face it; there are more of them to do about the same number of tasks.
Now there is a lot of fun to be had working on the grounds crew of a minor league team.
First of all, you are on a baseball field essentially the entire day, which is pretty exciting.
Second, you never know what star could be making a rehab start with the team. This season Carlos Beltran will be making an appearance with the Cyclones, David Wright was here taking batting practice, and Paul Lo Duca and Moises Alou have both played with the Cyclones as part of rehab assignments.
Now normally you wouldn’t see these players if you’re on the Major League grounds crew, simply because there is no reason, however in the minor league stadiums, everything’s connected, so you may be walking through the clubhouse with a rake when you see David Wright sitting at a locker!
So, I think by this point you all have a better understanding of what the grounds crew actually does on game day. If you have other questions relating to the grounds crew or to meeting other players, don’t hesitate to ask.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at jobs in baseball, I know I certainly enjoyed experiencing it!
For those interested, this picture is old and is not the current grounds crew at Keyspan Park. The man actually watering the field is still there, that is Kevin Ponte, head grounds keeper at Keyspan Park.