Making Ricketts shine means getting dirty
FARMINGTON – If you arrive early enough to a ballgame you’ll see the grounds crew setting up for the next game. You see them in the middle of MLB games re-raking the infield to give it that pristine look. And when the stands are empty after a game, regardless of the length, they’ll still be there cleaning up to prepare for the next day’s use.
In short, the groundskeeping crews for baseball fields are some of the hardest working and most underappreciated components of a baseball experience. But if the everyday fan could learn just how much a good grounds crew does for both the players and fan’s experiences, they would do more than give a polite golf clap when the public announcer asks everyone to give a hand to them.
At the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, the City of Farmington Parks Department comes in early and stays late at Ricketts Park each day to ensure the best possible field for America’s Pastime. This team is the only professionally-accredited crew in the state of New Mexico.
“We’re nationally recognized by the Parks Association,” Doug Abe, the Parks Superintendent for the City of Farmington said. “We have to meet certain certifications and standards to be the best of the best. That’s always our goal. It recognizes our accomplishments.”
Abe has been working the Connie Mack World Series for six years. During that time, for about two weeks in the middle of summer when the day temperatures reach the 90s on a consistent basis, Abe and his crew can easily spend 20 hours or more each day at Ricketts Park.
When asked how early in the day the grounds crew shows up for work Abe said he had to add a caveat that it’s more when his crew finishes their day to truly appreciate the hard work.
“We go home about 3 a.m. and we’re back here at 4:30 a.m.” Abe said. “Our whole parks department, which consists of 100 people, they all get in the stands and blow all the seats out, they wash down all the bleachers, clean all the bathrooms and take out the trash.
“We have a field crew that does all the field repair, including watering hot spots (areas with a lot of use on them) and making sure everything else is taken care of. We hand water those hot spots.”
Abe said because of the Connie Mack World Series playing four games in a single day the grounds crew starts watering the field at 2 a.m. They typically have six hours to water the grass but must cut it short during the tournament.
Kathy Farley, the Assistant Parks Superintendent, has only been on the Connie Mack baseball grounds crew for six months, but she’s worked with the Farmington Parks department for 26 years. Farley is in charge of the morning crew.
While the morning field crew does water the field and take care of the worn “hot spots”, there’s more to the job than just lawn care.
“At 6 a.m. we have a cleaning crew of 20 people,” Farley said. “It takes about two and a half hours to do the cleaning. We have a day crew of 16 people who come in and prep the field for the ballgame. It takes about an hour and a half to do a full-on prep for the field to get it ready.”
This includes reworking the pitcher’s mound by making sure the mound is the regulation height, packing in the dirt and doing regular maintenance of the infield dirt.
“We chalk it, we chain drag it with the sand pros and then use the coco mops (a large pad to level the dirt) on them and the mustache brooms to comb it,” she said.
An important part of the infield maintenance is also watering the infield dirt because it makes it safer for players to slide on.
“You want their cleats to be able to dig into the dirt,” Farley said. “If it’s too dry it’s like they’re running on marbles.”
Both Abe and Farley have enjoyed their time this season and are proud of the work their crew has done alongside them.
“This crew is awesome,” Farley said. “They’re the best of the best. We wouldn’t be able to look this good without them and I appreciate all of them.”
“I love it. I wouldn’t be doing anything else,” Abe said. “This crew is the best crew I’ve ever worked with. My thing is to be the best of the best and make a difference. They’re definitely doing that.”
Matthew Asher can be reached at 575-628-5524, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Caveman_Masher on Twitter.