I picked the best day to be on the grounds crew!

At the last Winter Meetings, the Nats contributed a “Groundskeeper for an hour” experience to the auction. I was the lucky winner, and scheduled it for July 1. I knew there was a risk it would be hot and awful, but since it was a 6:45 game — I figured I’d at least be avoiding the worst of the sun.

The experience included watching batting practice on the field and PNC Club seats for four.

Well, we know that was a lucky pick as far as the day — perfect weather and James Wood’s debut!

I got to see the inside of the grounds crew shop where they keep their equipment, their locker room, offices and clubhouse. All of that is behind the GEICO sign and out-of-town scoreboard. Their clubhouse has a couple of TV’s, plenty of free snacks and food (including a bowl of bananas) and comfy couches to relax. The fridge has a sign “how many water bottles did you waste today?” (I’m thinking to encourage reusable bottles, because you know they go through a lot of water in the summer).

What I learned: The grounds crew is responsible for the setup and takedown of the batting cage used for BP, and the fielding practice screens and equipment. They put extra tarps on the field at spots that fielders are doing fielding practice and are likely to wear down the most. I got to take up one of those tarps as part of my “job.”

The grounds crew starts their jobs at 8 a.m. and finish after the game, so game days are very long days. Needless to say, they love the new pitch clock rules. They need to have the field playable by noon as some players come in for fielding or extra batting practice (hmm, I seem to recall a certain pitcher having a personal PFP session recently). That includes walking the field to deal with divots, pick up any trash, look for spots that may need extra attention (re-seeding, etc.), fixing the divots in the batters boxes, and generally getting the field to a satisfactory “playability” level.

If they need to re-seed an area, they have to cover it or the pigeons will eat all the seeds. Mowing the grass for the pattern is a skill acquired (along with others) at turf school. Mowing the grass with this mower is the “secret.” Those rollers at the front bend the grass one way or the other for dark or light.

If you look at the infield before the game, there are little green tassels where the bases will go. The bases are inserted after the last watering to avoid getting water on the bases. The bases are scrubbed and dried before inserting. They pull up the tassel, which is attached to a Styrofoam plug that keeps the infield grit out of the square tube that holds the stem of the base. The tube is attached to a foot of concrete at the bottom so it’s not going to move. I got to insert second base (my pockets look weird because I have the shirt they gave me in one pocket and a baseball I found in the other one).

Everyone on the grounds crew that I talked to, from John Turnour to the interns, loves their job, and are really proud of their product. That helps when the weather is either very hot or very cold, although one said that “40 degrees and 30 MPH winds makes you question your career choices.”

It was interesting to hear how they got into their jobs (a friend said they had an opening, they interned and stayed), or what else they did or do in baseball (minor league broadcaster, umpiring kids’ BB games).

One of their interns and one of the part-time staff are female.

There are four “year-round” employees plus a couple of interns (often people looking to get into this field). There’s a pool of about three dozen part-timers available. Staffing for good-weather games like last night is 12, but more like 20 if bad weather is possible since they need that many to pull the tarp. Yes, they have had a couple of “tarp accidents” where someone gets under or in the tarp, but no serious injuries.

The ball in right field in the Wild Card Game didn’t hit anything — just spin on the ball and the fielder mis-playing it according to what I was told.

If you’ve ever watched them set up the batters’ boxes, you’ll notice a light-colored coating inside the batters’ and catcher’s boxes. That’s actually a dry version of the damp, darker colored grit that covers the infield. That coating helps keep the clay underneath at the right consistency for the players to be able to “dig in,” rather like mulching one’s garden. Of course, as soon as the umpire gets to home plate, they erase the catcher’s box so they don’t have to worry about it—but the crew sets it up anyway as prescribed. (I think the last time anyone was called for being out of the catcher’s box was in the last century). I got to fill in the coating for the boxes. There’s no photo because all the photos my friends caught of me all you can see is my behind as I’m bent over applying the coating—and who needs a picture of that!

Preparation for a debut game involves coordination with the authenticators. Bases will be authenticated as well as first-hit and first HR balls, so the grounds crew has to be ready with the bases to be substituted when the authenticated ones are pulled.

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