In baseball, the term “home field advantage” does not just refer to the benefit of having more fans cheering you on from the stands.
In fact, there is a literal home field advantage that comes from a close relationship between the groundskeeper and the players.
Each player will ask the keeper for the specific way he wants his respective position on the field to be ready for him. I have the absolute pleasure of working on a grounds crew here in Columbus for the Columbus Clippers. I worked for the Dayton Dragons for three seasons prior to moving to Columbus and attending Ohio State. I want to give you an inside look at the life of working on a grounds crew.
I asked Wes Ganobcik, head groundskeeper of the Columbus Clippers (Indians AAA) about the hours he dedicates to his profession.
“The first thing I tell any potential employee or person looking to get into our part of the professional baseball or turf industry is that there are no such things as weekends or holidays for six to seven months per year,” he said.
I asked Chad Laurie, head groundskeeper of the Buffalo Bisons (NY Mets AAA) about his average day during the season.
“During a home stand, I have worked up to 100 hours in a week,” Laurie said. “On an average game day, with no rain delays or extra innings, I am here for about 14 hours. When the team is away, I usually work at least a full eight-hour day.”
Even when the home team is not playing, the crew is hard at work repairing the field for the next home stand and other events at the stadium. A head groundskeeper works year-round. During the offseason, they fix equipment, restock on materials they will need for the upcoming season and repair major damages to the field.
The job of a grounds crew should be similar to the movie “Groundhog Day” Ganobcik said. The importance of precision and consistency are vital to a crew. Pressure they put on themselves help keep the consistent professionalism.
“Elements that they can control come from themselves, the front office, fans and players and coaches,” Ganobcik said.
Ganobcik and I spoke about the importance of having the field ready for play and why it is important for the crew to be consistent.
“It is unacceptable for the field which I’m responsible for to directly cause an injury to a player, or not allow him to play to his highest potential and earn every penny that he can demand in a contract,” Ganobcik said. “So there is a huge liability from professional baseball placed upon us.”
The weather is the biggest battle for a keeper and its crew. Weather is unpredictable and a groundskeeper has to make sure that the fans, players and field are all going to be safe.
“If it rains and the game doesn’t get played because the tarp wasn’t on, it is the groundskeeper’s fault,” he said. “When a game doesn’t get played, there is a loss in revenue for that day. In minor league baseball, there are only 72 days a year that the company is making money off of baseball, so if one game gets rained out for no reason, there is a substantial revenues loss for the team.”
A keeper is only as good as their crew. Dan Jennings, head groundskeeper of the Dayton Dragons (Reds A), knows the importance of his crew.
“I believe your crew is very important. These are the guys that put in bad situations during inclement weather,” he said. “These are the guys that show up every game day to make sure the field shines. Without a great crew, I’m in big trouble.”
Most crews will have a few full-time members and more part-time members. Each member is important to organization. When a person is done with a job, there is always something that can be done. If a fan sees a crew member standing not doing anything, he is either waiting for someone to be done with a tool, or they are waiting for a job to be done so another job can be done. Grounds crews are a group of perfectionists.
A baseball manager needs everyone on his team to follow his directions. A grounds crew is the team for the groundskeeper. Ganobcik told me about his crew and how they are importance to his success.
“My crew is everything to me,” Ganobcik said. “Without them, there would simply be failure. Final responsibilities and decisions are left to me in my position, but it is as a group that we either succeed or fail in everything we do on the field.”
A professional player is going to see and play on every type of field. Players are going to know when a professional groundskeeper takes pride in what they do.
Donnie Joseph, a top pitching prospect for the Cincinnati Reds, said as a player he appreciates a good grounds crew.
“I can most definitely tell between a good grounds crew and a bad one by not only the way the field looks, but by how much they invest in it and take importance to each detail,” he said. “Players and coaches really can tell a difference with a good and bad field and it really does make a difference when you’re out there playing and trying to compete everyday.”
The game of baseball is played on the best grass and dirt in the world. A grounds crew wants fans and players to experience the best every time they show up to the ballpark. The better the crew, the better the experience a fan will have.
“The best part of this job is the sense of pride that comes when the field is in pristine condition and playing well, and there are thousands of people that are at a game enjoying it,” Laurie said.
From a grounds crew member, we love hearing “Hey, great job!” and the cheers we get when we cover the field during a rain delay.
Next time you visit a baseball game, I hope you admire the field just a little bit more while you enjoy your hot dogs and the game.