Grounds crew keeping field playable during soggy start
Most days, it sits against the wall next to the third-base bullpen, ignored.
On those rare rainy game days, though, all eyes are on the tarp.
“The worst thing we have, we have a tarp,” JUCO World Series Chairman Jamie Hamilton said. “The best thing we have, we have a tarp. It is some work. The water gets on that and it’s so heavy to take off.”
The tarp has gotten more attention than usual — and a lot more attention than anyone wants — in the first two days of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.
Friday night it protected the infield from overnight rain. Saturday it got a true workout when Game 3 was delayed by heavy rain for 70 minutes.
The grounds crew had the tarp on the field in two minutes. Taking it off was another story.
“It takes about 45 minutes to get it off,” Hamilton said. “You have to push and squeegee the water and then fold it three times, take it back out (to the outfield) to take (more water off) and then bring it back in and then take it off.”
Eddie Mort, the supervisor for the sports facilities for the City of Grand Junction, said it’s all hands on deck — and then some — when it comes to getting the tarp back on its roller.
“You can put it on with 10 guys pretty easy,” Mort said. “But when you get the rainstorms like we’ve had, if you don’t have 20 or 25 guys, you won’t move it. It’s tough. My fingers are still sore from trying to grab it and pull it. It is not fun to try to pull that tarp when it’s full of rain.”
Mort estimated the crews swept, squeegied and rolled 500 gallons of water off the tarp the past two days. Thankfully, the drain near the first-base coaching box was repaired a couple of weeks ago and handled all the water.
Mort has six people on his crew this week, split into two 12-hour shifts. Not only do they work on the field itself, but they clean the stadium in the overnight hours and take care of anything else that comes up.
Marc Mancuso is in charge of the night crew, which reports at 3 p.m. and is off at 3 a.m.
The day crew works 3 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Saturday, members of the day crew didn’t stay up long enough to see the sun set, let alone the night game.
“Last night I went to bed at 7:30,” Curtis Englehart said. “The sun was still up.”
Kristen Silva is one of two Mesa State College softball players on the Suplizio Field crew this year, along with Windi Serrano. Silva has the day shift, Serrano the night shift.
“You appreciate it more,” Silva said of being a ballplayer working on the field. “You just appreciate not walking across the field after it’s done.”
Ryan Dennison and Bill Johnson round out the city crew that gets an assist from the JUCO commissioners and ballshaggers when it comes to preparing the field.
And Saturday, that group added some members when the rain began to pour.
Rob Schoeber, the director of the Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department, grabbed a squeegie and went to work.
“We had Rob out here in his sandals,” Hamilton said with a chuckle. “I don’t know if they were OSHA approved, but he was in his sandals raking and pulling the tarp off with us.
“Honestly, we had people coming to us saying, ‘what can we do?’ when they saw the rain.
That’s what makes this such a special tournament.”
As soon as Saturday’s late (very late) game ended early Sunday morning, the tarp was back on. By 7 a.m., it was back off and the infield was ready to go.
The outfield, though, was not.
“You get an inch of rain here like we had in two days and you’re going to have wet grass,” Mort said.
He made a phone call to Doug Jones, the grounds supervisor for the city golf courses, who made a phone call to Bookcliff Country Club’s course superintendent, who delivered a large blower.
Mort hooked it to the back of a small tractor and drove it slowly through the outfield, blowing enough hot air to help speed the drying process in the outfield.
“Most people don’t think you dry grass, but we were drying grass,” Mort said. “It helped. It’s a whole lot better now.”
The players noticed the work.
Middle Georgia right fielder Shawn Ward said the field conditions Sunday afternoon were markedly improved over Saturday night.
“I was scared to come up on the first ball in the first inning, and our center fielder lost one out there, but it didn’t come back to bite us too hard,” he said. “Center field was really bad (Saturday) night. I didn’t get it too bad in right, but compared to (Saturday) it was a lot better.”
Mort took care of Mesa State’s softball diamond when he was an assistant coach for the Mavericks, and the members of the grounds crew learned how to care for a field during their playing days. At Mesa, every baseball and softball player has a responsibility at
Bergman Field during the season.
“It really helps,” Mort said. “Yesterday, (the tournament directors) said, ‘It’s nice to have baseball guys taking care of the baseball field.’ ’’