They say "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," leaving one to believe that they have never played in Jeff Paolino's back yard.
Paolino is the Head Groundskeeper for the Lowell Spinners, Class-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and was recently named the New York-Penn League Sports Turf Manager of the Year for his work at LeLacheur Park.
An avid baseball fan and criminal justice major, Paolino, in his second season as the Spinners head groundskeeper after three seasons as the assistant.
Paolino oversees all grounds work at LeLacheur Park during both the Spinners and UMass-Lowell's baseball season.
In 2009, Paolino's tireless work ensured the Spinners would be able to play despite rain on 15 of the team's first 18 home dates. Paolino and his team prepared the field on those games without so much as a rain delay.
Overall in 2009, the Spinners were rained out just once, while playing through the rain in over half of their home dates.
"This award is a testament to the hard work Jeff and his staff put forth on a daily basis, in taking on the onus associated with ensuring we are able to play on a playing surface that is one of the best in the game," said Spinners Vice President and General Manager Tim Bawmann. "With the amount of rain we had in 2009 to only have one game lost to rain is remarkable and we are very happy to have Jeff honored for his hard work in making it possible."
Paolino, a 24-year-old native of Methuen, MA, explained the logic and level of commitment that goes into his award winning garden, "The key to winning this award is to maintain the playing field under any circumstance and make every effort possible to have every game played no matter what."
"Every field has its own issues that the field crew deals with each season. Our issue has been the warning track flooding during heavy rain. This past season we dealt with weather in over 79 percent of our games. Every time the track floods we have to sub pump and wet vac the entire thing. It is a team effort with the front office and grounds crew working together to get the field ready for play."
With LeLacheur Park in use day-in-day out, Paolino has worked over the past few seasons to make several key improvements. In addition to the daily beautification of the field, Paolino has made improvements to the bullpens, home plate area and pitching mound, as well as added several new looks to the field with new cutouts and cuts.
During the past two seasons, Paolino has worked not only to keep LeLacheur Park ready for baseball, but also to host two concerts.
Following the Dropkick Murphy's and Mighty Mighty Bosstones concert in 2008, LeLacheur Park hosted indie-rock favorites, Wilco, in 2009, again opening the playing surface for stages and concertgoers alike.
In each instance, Paolino has ensured LeLacheur Park is not only ready for baseball in the days that follow, but in the same condition it was before the concerts arrived.
"To be able to turn-around the field over a six-day period from baseball to a concert and then back to baseball is a testament to the work ethic of Jeff and his crew," said Bawmann. "By the time we are back to baseball you wouldn't even know we had 6,000 people in the outfield the day before."
Even under the stomping feet of a band of head banging concert goers, Paolino had the best interest of the park in mind.
"To prepare for a successful concert on a baseball field I follow some very important steps. I let the outfield dry out as much as possible without stressing it. We cut the grass down to its shortest length to ensure grass blades do not get stressed out by compaction. A fungicide application is applied to the outfield to prevent disease from growing. Between the high temperatures, stage and floor covering the chance of disease is at a greater risk."
"We put down a layer of sand (which collects at the bottom of the blade or crown) in the entire outfield so that when the flooring and staging are pulled up the grass will bounce back up. Immediately after the stage and flooring have been taken out we broom and blow all of the areas that were covered to stand the grass back up. Both concerts were equally challenging, the only difference was as the end of this year’s concert we have a down pour. The field took the water very well."
A native of Methuen, Mass., Paolino was sworn into the military in a ceremony held at LeLacheur Park in June. While he is due to report to Lackland Air Force base outside of San Antonio, Texas in late October for training, Paolino will continue his work at LeLacheur Park.
Paolino was grateful to the Spinners for allowing him to be sworn in at the park. "I was sworn in during a private ceremony on the field with some friends, family and all of my co-workers. It was a very unique situation to be able to bring together both my love for baseball and my country."
"During my service in the Air Force I plan on finishing up school with a masters degree in Criminal Justice," he explained. "I am in a six-year-deal with the Air Force Reserve and I will continue my work with the Spinners after I return from basic training. My future goal is to join the Mass State Police and fulfill my law enforcement career."
The Sports Turf Manager of the Year is selected by the top umpires in each league. Paolino was selected based on a number of criteria, including condition of turf grass, mound, infield, and communication with umpire crew and effort to complete games in adverse conditions.
The national winner will be announced at the Baseball Winter Meetings, to be held the first week of December in Indianapolis.
The previous story used excerpts from a press release by the Lowell Spinners. Todd Civin is a freelance writer for the Bleacher Report, Seamheads and Sports Then and Now. He is also a supporter of A Glove of Their Own, the award winning children's story that teaches paying it forward through baseball. Visit the site and purchase under today's donor code BER137 Berkshire Baseball.