[Editor’s Note: Today we have a guest entry by JohnMark Fisher — that’s him at right, and you can click to enlarge — who’s going to tell us about his recent part-time gig as a big league groundskeeper. Enjoy! — PL]
By JohnMark Fisher
During the 2019 MLB season, I worked part-time for the Washington Nationals as a game-day grounds crew member. Occasionally I would send Uni Watch a a note about some aesthetic detail relating to the job, and at one point Paul asked if I’d be interested in doing a write-up of my groundskeeping experiences. I declined, in part because I was a rookie, so I didn’t feel like it was my place to write about this stuff when I was surrounded by people who’d been doing it for years — a bit of imposter syndrome, you might say. But now, with the dearth of sporting activities and summer in the air, I feel inspired to finally set down some thoughts about this unusual job I had last year.
First things first: I don’t particularly like baseball. It is by a wide margin my least favorite of the major sports. I’m a fan of soccer and basketball, sports that “flow” and have set time limits. So why did I take this job? At the time, I primarily worked from home, sitting on a computer all day from a desk that overlooked Nats Park. When I saw signs around the stadium advertising the position, I thought it’d be a great way to get outside, meet some people, and pocket some beer money while only requiring a three-minute walking commute. I sent in an application and landed the job after mentioning that I had a flexible schedule and actually enjoyed the summer heat. (Other members of the crew commuted more than 45 minutes after their day jobs, specifically because they were total baseball junkies.)
Aside from never knowing when my “shift” would end (extra innings, woof), it was a great part-time job. The part-time grounds crew for each game (anywhere from eight to 20 people, depending on weather and availability) had to arrive two hours before first pitch. Our uni combo for the day would be noted on the whiteboard in our shop/lockerroom/hangout space. In addition to the required navy “curly W” cap and black running shoes, the options were short- and long-sleeved navy windbreakers or a red polo with tan golf shorts or pants.
There were no requirements regarding sock color or length, and we could under-layer as much as we wanted as long as there wasn’t a hood hanging out. Interestingly, this was the first year that “Grounds Crew” was not printed on the backs of the polos or jackets. We got to keep everything (just as well, considering how much sweat the job entails).
I made sure I was working on the day when when the Nats had their Expos throwback game, because I was hoping there’d be some adjustment to our uniforms. Sure enough, we each got to wear and keep an Expos hat, so I was a happy camper. Another uni adjustment took place during the first World Series game in DC, when the crew wore “Finish the Fight” hoodies, as you can see in the upper-right corner of this photo [click to enlarge]:
Unfortunately, I was out of town and couldn’t work that game, but I did work Games Four and Five. There was talk of wearing the “Finish the Fight” hoodies again for Game Four, but the idea was nixed because the Nats had lost Game Three (this being the World Series where the road team won every game).
One other uni-notable thing about the postseason was that a few guys who had particularly sweat-stained and sun-bleached hats got new ones. Our boss wanted us to look our best, like a collective and professional unit. Occasionally during the regular season somebody could get away with wearing shorts if the rest of us were wearing pants or vice versa, but that did not fly in the postseason.
Including an exhibition game against the Yankees and the postseason, I worked 34 out of 90 possible games. They wanted me to work closer to 50, which was my plan when I took the gig, but life sometimes gets in the way.
So what did I actually do? There were about two dozen tasks to do each game, and rookies generally got to try each of them at least once throughout the season. If the full-time staff noticed you were particularly good at or comfortable with one task, that kind of became one of your go-to jobs whenever you worked. The full-time staff and veteran part-timers always got the more important (and TV-noticeable) jobs, like setting up the infield, pitcher’s mound, and batter’s box. Here’s a list of the jobs that I regularly helped with, some of which were more about the field’s aesthetics than its maintenance or functionality:
• Chalking the outfield foul lines. During both World Series games I worked, I had the extra task of covering up the foul lines with towels to ensure that the various TV crews and their golf carts would travel over the towels, so as not to mess up the foul line.
• Putting away the batting practice mats (which help protect the grass), cage, and screens.
• Dragging the warning track to make it look nice.
• Tidying up the bullpens.
• Brooming down the grass around the infield in the direction of the mow pattern.
• Walking around the outfield and picking trash that’s blown in from the stands.
• Holding the fire hose off the grass while the boss watered down the infield dirt as to soften it up a bit.
During the game:
• Dragging the infield after the third and sixth innings (and also the ninth, 12th, 15th, etc. if the game went into extra innings). This was the job everyone wanted during the World Series — something about being on the field with a packed stadium while sporting history was being made.
• Washing the bases that were swapped out when the infield was dragged. (This was skipped during the postseason, as the bases were kept “as is” for auctions, charity, the Hall of Fame, etc.)
• Pulling the tarp!
• Setting up kids or seniors to “run the bases” and yelling, “Stay off the grass!” (People liked to pick blades of grass or grab a handful of infield conditioner.)
• “Walking chunks,” which basically means removing big chunks of infield clay from the grass and similarly leaf-blowing the edges of the grass back into the dirt to get other debris off the grass.
• Raking the edges around the warning track to once again get debris off the grass.
• Rebuilding the bullpen pitcher’s mounds (more on that in a minute).
• Staging the batting practice mats and screens.
In short: Grass is holy. When possible, we had to keep off the grass ourselves and remove everything that didn’t need to be on it. Dragging the infield was a rush because we had a limited time to do the job during the commercial break and people were actually in the stands watching us, so we couldn’t hide a mistake.
The most interesting job was when we got to pull the tarp after a rain delay was called. An adrenaline rush! If the weather was looking even slightly sketchy, we would linger near third base either by pulling up some folding chairs around a nearby inside TV or by sitting behind the front row, mere feet from the tarp. It always felt odd watching people slowly head for cover as the rain started while we were getting ourselves ready for the call. As soon as the umpires’ crew chief would make some sort of signal or speak with our boss (who would then radio instructions to us), it was “GO GO GO!” We’d leap onto the field — or slowly proceed through the gate after the permanent netting was put up — rip off the tarp cover, and roll/pull it out as quickly as possible.
We were warned numerous times that “the tarp stops for no one” so if you can’t keep up, you let go and sprint out of the way. Never do what this guy did (the story goes he never came back after this):
I’m engaging in some romantic hindsight here. The reality is that when you’re working, a rain delay is the last thing you want to deal with. It’s a dirty and wet job and adds at least 30 minutes to your night. Luckily, I only experienced two in-game tarp pulls; I also helped pull it a dozen or so other times in postgame preventive situations.
Out of all the jobs, there was only one that I didn’t particularly enjoy: rebuilding the bullpen mounds. It was considered a “cool” job, because a lot of guys who’d been on the crew for a few seasons had never been given the opportunity to try it, but it was physically demanding and took longer than the other postgame jobs assigned to the part-time staff. It consisted of sweeping the conditioner off the mound clay, hosing the clay down to make it malleable, and then several rounds of roughing it up with a rake; adding more clay; tamping it down; adding new conditioner; dragging that out; and then covering it all up. I was assigned this job regularly toward the end of the season but not during the postseason, because the full-time staff would have to ensure that the mounds were just about perfect. One time I got lucky because one of the starting pitchers went eight or nine innings, so the bullpen mound had barely been touched during the game and was in impeccable shape, which I greatly appreciated .
Here are some other random but interesting things about the aesthetics of the field that I noticed:
• Nats Park usually has a checkerboard mow pattern, but around the All-Star break my boss decided to switch it up and go with wide vertical stripes in the infield and outfield. It didn’t last long as he mowed it back into the original pattern a few weeks later and never changed it again.
• To my surprise and delight, we stood along the warning track near the tarp during every national anthem. I don’t watch or go to enough MLB games to know whether or not this is the norm, but it was pretty cool.
Sometimes kids would ask us to sign a baseball — after all, we were on the field, which means we must be important, right? I would always respond with a joke that I heard from someone else on the crew (“Trust me, this ball will be worth less after I sign it”), but sometimes they’d be persistent enough that we’d oblige. I think I signed three or four overall.
Another note about baseballs: If you happen to have close seats, don’t bother asking someone on the grounds crew to throw you a ball as they’re walking by, as we usually don’t have any. And even if we did have one (they would occasionally roll up to us during batting practice, sometimes at frightening speeds), we were explicitly told not to toss them to fans. That was to ensure that we didn’t make a terrible throw forcing a fan tumble over the railing in an effort to make a miracle catch for that souvenir.
About a week after the season ended, my wife and I moved to Minneapolis so regrettably this was a one-and-done affair. As much as I don’t really enjoy baseball, I do appreciate October baseball, so I chose the right season to work for the Nationals and got to experience some amazing events and spectacles from incredible vantage points, and for that I will be forever grateful. It wasn’t a particularly lucrative side hustle — I was paid the DC minimum wage of $14 per hour — but it wasn’t anything to scoff at either.
I also came away with a very good memento: my own World Series ring! It just arrived yesterday. Based on some Twittering, it looks like the full-time groundskeepers’ rings were the same quality as the ones that the players got. Mine doesn’t have gold or real diamonds — it’s all sterling silver and cubic zirconia — but it’s still pretty nice:
The job also inspired my second Uni Watch membership card — another good memento.
Ironically, my wife is a diehard Orioles fan who had partial season tickets during the past six seasons, so all of the Nats stuff I now own and the way the season turned out really irk her.
Paul here. Fantastic insights from JohnMark! Big thanks to him for sharing his story (and for being so patient while waiting for me to finally publish it, although that turned out to be good timing with the arrival of his ring yesterday!).
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Show and tell: A seller on eBay was selling these 1970s or ’80s Majestic tees — new old stock — and I decided to get one. The collar is a bit clunky, but I love the two-tone raglan tailoring and the sleeve stripes. Not bad, right? Just slap your athletic club’s name on there and you have yourself a great softball jersey.
The shirt is 50/50 cotton/poly, but the stripes are made of a ribbon-like fabric with a satin finish and are sewn on — really nice:
The tagging features the old Majestic wordmark but is otherwise a bit pedestrian:
More interestingly, the shirt came in its original bag, featuring a Majestic logo I’d never seen before. Check this out:
When I posted some of these same photos on social media yesterday, several people said things like “Save the bag!” and “Oooh, love that bag.” Frankly, I was gonna toss the bag out, but I can see how a Majestic collector might want to have it, so I’ll save it for this year’s year-end raffle.
Or: Want your own bag, and your own shirt to boot? The seller has a bunch more in a variety of sizes.
2 DAYS LEFT: In case you missed it last week, my latest Uni Watch design contest for InsideHook is to create a logo for teams or leagues to wear in acknowledgment of the current racial justice protests.
We’re probably going to see a lot of these logos/patches/etc. when American sports leagues resume (well, if they resume). What should they look like?
Full details over at InsideHook.
’Skins Watch: A New Jersey school district’s two schools will no longer call its teams the Cowboys and the Indians (from Blaise Lucas). … A Michigan school is changing its team name from Redskins to Red Wolves (from Kary Klismet and Timmy Donahue). … A group of Unionville (Pa.) High School alums want the school to change its “Indians” team name. … Alums are also prompting Lane Tech in Chicago to reconsider its Indian mascot. Longtime readers may recall that I own a Lane Tech cardigan and varsity jacket, but I haven’t worn either of them in nearly a decade. I’d like to donate them to some sort of Native American museum, foundation, or what have you — if anyone has ideas on who might be interested, I’m all ears (from Kasey Ignarski). … Buried deep within today’s edition of the Poynter Report — a daily newsletter of media news and analysis — is the news that The Philadelphia Inquirer will no longer use the ’Skins name. The new policy also applies to a local high school team.
Working Class Wannabes™: An article about Las Vegas Raiders TE Nick O’Leary says he won over over Florida State fans back in his college days “with his gritty, blue-collar playing style.” … An article about the Tennessee Titans’ 2020 schedule describes the team’s Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers as a “slugfest between two blue collar AFC teams.” … An article about the NHL’s New Jersey Devils says coach Tommy McVie “brought a unique blue collar ‘We can do anything’ spirit to his dressing room.” … An article about the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers says PF Anthony Davis could have difficulties “in situations where the Lakers compete against teams with a ‘blue-collar’ style of play.” … In an article about the recent death of former USC football player Max Tuerk, USC coach Clay Helton describes Tuerk as “the blue-collar worker that showed up every day and gave his absolute best at everything he did.” … An article about a new high school football coach in Ionia, Mich., says he “hopes to bring a physical, blue-collar mentality” to the team.
Baseball News: Here’s the best and most straightforward rundown I’ve seen of the new format and rule changes for MLB’s 2020 season — assuming they actually get to play, which is still not a sure thing. … One thing not mentioned in that article however: Costumed mascots will be permitted in the stadium but not on the field (from @PhillyPartTwo). … Here’s a video about the history and lore of MLB uni numbers (thanks, Brinke). … Here’s some cool footage from the last Reds game at Crosley Field. … Did you know that a particular type of peanut is grown for stadium retailing? That’s one of many fascinating tidbits in this really good article about ballpark peanuts (NYT link). Recommended! … People are making fun of the Rangers’ new ballpark because it looks like a metal shed from the outside (from Andrew Cosentino). … Under Armour’s new baseball uni catalog includes a weird wavy tequila sunrise-ish template. … Kary Klismet, sounding a lot like a Ticker-er, says, “Did you know that the Hickory Crawdads of the Single-A South Atlantic League are one of only four Minor League teams not to have a white home jersey in their uniform set? You would if you read this article about the team’s uniform, stadium, and mascot history.” … Remember the old 1970s-’80s TV show Lou Grant, which was a spin-off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show? There was an episode when Lou sponsored a Little League team, which was called the Grants — and their jerseys had a “Grants” jersey insignia modeled after the Giants’ 1970s script. The irony there is that Lou Grant was set in L.A., so a Giants-inspired script is the last thing a Little League team would have wanted to wear (from Greg Prince).
NFL News: The annual preseason Hall of Fame Game, which was scheduled for Aug. 6, has been cancelled due to the pandemic, and the enshrinement ceremony that was scheduled for Aug. 8 has been postponed. … A photo that the Jets used a little over a year ago to promote their newly unveiled uniforms is already badly out of date. … Washington had already removed a statue of racist former team owner George Preston Marshall and also stopped naming their stadium’s lower bowl after him. Now they’ve removed him from the team’s Ring of Fame. It’s not clear how many more ways they can try to dissociate themselves from Marshall as a convenient misdirection before they’ll have to actually deal with their team name. … The NFL plans to keep the first six to eight rows of seats off-limits this season so they can cover them with ad-plastered tarps. Uh, okay, but it seems likely that a lot more than the first six to eight rows will be off-limits (from Andrew Cosentino).
College Football News: Classic pandemic filler: a ranking of WVU uniforms. … Is UNC Charlotte’s new pickaxe-themed design a UTEP rip-off? … It had previously been reported that Tennessee would go BFBS at some point this fall and that the black jerseys would be auctioned off to benefit Black Lives Matter. Now Vols assistant coach Tee Martin has clarified that the proceeds would go to support the local Black community, not to the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation. … Here’s some great 1956 footage of the Air Force football team practicing. Note the two different helmet designs! (From Kary Klismet.)
Hockey News: The Hurricanes will wear their black alternates for home games when the NHL resumes live action (from @CanesUniforms). … Classic pandemic filler: a look back at the Blues’ diagonal design from the 1990s. … New logo and uniforms for the NAHL’s Kansas City Scouts (from Kary Klismet). … Here’s how the Sharks’ logo was created. … The U. of Minnesota hockey team has lots of plans to for celebrating its centennial, including an anniversary logo and several as-yet-unreleased throwback uniforms (from Ben Hagen). … Whoa, check out this amazing goalie mask-patterned fabric that Wafflebored found!
Basketball News: New floor design for Gillette College, a two-year school in Wyoming (from Kary Klismet). … New jerseys uniforms for Valpo (from Nathan Perry). … With the NBA gearing up for its return, we have our first uni number update in several months from Etienne Catalan: Spurs C Tyler Zeller will wear No. 40. Good to have you back, Etienne!
Soccer News: Tulsa Athletic, which in the fourth-tier NPSL, intends to play Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” prior to home games, before home matches instead of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Guthrie was an Oklahoma native and a museum/archive devoted to him is located in Tulsa (thanks, Jamie). … Leeds United apparently got pranked by a fan who sent in a photo of terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden that got turned into a faux-fan cardboard cutout (from Ed Zelaski). … Also from Ed: New kit for Dutch side AZ.
Grab Bag: A designer came up with a logo that sums up 2020. … New logo in the works for the College of Western Idaho. … Cute alert: The Air Force Academy has a new baby gyrfalcon mascot! (From Timmy Donahue.) … Also from Timmy: The state of Alaska is holding a contest to name its new fire-prevention moose mascot. … This year’s NYC Marathon, normally held on the first Sunday of November, has been cancelled due to the pandemic. … New York City’s “I Voted” sticker is wearing its own “I Voted” sticker. But no infinite regression, alas. … The Air Force has extended its one-year shaving waiver to five years (Timmy Donahue again). … New uniforms for the Dover, Del., police department. … Thermometers are now a mandatory uniform item for United Airlines flight attendants. … The latest episode of the great design podcast 99% Invisible is about Japanese mascots. Don’t miss (from Andrew Cosentino). … What would rugby jerseys look like if they weren’t covered in ads? A designer decided to show us (from Josh Gardner).
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What Paul did last night: Yesterday we reached a milestone of sorts: our 100th Pandemic Porch Cocktails™ photo. (I believe it was actually our 102nd or 103rd day on the porch, but I didn’t start taking daily pics until a few days after we started.) I broke out one of my two remaining bottles of Bud Copper for the occasion.
When we started this ritual, the idea was to provide ourselves with a bit of comfort and stability in the midst of what seemed like chaos. Three-plus months later, the chaos has given way to routine drudgery, and the ritual now feels more like a way to mark time. But as time-marking methods go, it’s a pretty good one.
We’ve never really talked about how long we’ll keep doing this, but my sense of it is that we’ll maintain the ritual until we can go back to sitting at the bar, safely and non-nervously, at one of our favorite watering holes. It’s not clear when that will be, but I’m thinking we have at least another 100 porch sessions ahead of us.
The branch is still there.
You can see the full set of Pandemic Porch Cocktails™ photos — all 100 of them — here.