Professional baseball groundskeepers get a week to make sure that the grass is looking sharp when their team rolls back in for a home stand.
The crew at Big League Dreams gets three hours.
With practices, league play and weekend tournaments ensuring that the park is never empty, those tasked with maintaining both the artificial infields and natural grass outfields are up against it when even simple maintenance needs to carried out.
But that doesn’t stop the operations staff from trying to keep the park from looking like those same professional fields – giving the users the feeling that they’re stepping out onto a replica of the fields once prowled by the likes of Ty Cobb or Ted Williams or even Willie Mays.
“We like to say that the customers never sleep, so we’re always trying to stay on top of the work that needs to be done,” said Big League Dreams Vice President of Operations Vince Flora. “Sometimes that means that we have to replace patches on portions of the infield that get the most use – the batter’s box or the sliding area.
“And just like laying down sod it’s never going to match up aesthetically. While it may not look as good, we want to restore the quality as soon as we can so that people can get back to enjoying their games.”
Just recently major overhauls at the park have included replacing the graphics in the outfield stands, which take a beating during the hot summer month and require changing every two-to-three years.
The faces that were in the stands at one time are more than likely gone, Flora said, simply because no database existed that allowed them to recreate the same people when it came time to sharpen things up.
While work on the infield is done as needed – smoothing out the rubber pellets designed to imitate dirt that accumulates near bases is part of the maintenance – the upkeep in the outfield is done a little bit more regularly.
Seeding of positions that are regularly stood on is done daily, Flora said, and sod is occasionally laid down when things get too worn out. The excessive Central Valley heat – something BLD brass is used to with parks in Southern California’s Cathedral City and Inland Empire – also plays into the maintenance schedule as it can be particularly brutal on the grass surface.
Its Manteca’s sheer number of participants, however, that poses the biggest challenge for maintenance workers.
While other Northern California parks such as the one in Redding – which is fully artificial – aren’t a tournament hotspot, Manteca’s weekend events are booked more than a year in advance. That sort of popularity, while good for both the company and the city, all but guarantees that work will have to be done to keep the reputation of the park as a pristine play area solid.
And that’s where the envy for the Major League grounds crews comes in.
“I marvel at the (San Francisco) Giants and their repair superintendent because they get between 8 and 10 days to maintain the quality of their fields,” Flora said. “I’d love to have that.”
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