2/2/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Move over Phil, it's Grounds Crew Day
Feb. 2 devoted to honoring those who keep baseball's fields so beautiful
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Dear Punxsutawney Phil,
Please don't take this rodentally, but we've renamed your big day.
It's Grounds Crew Day now.
Next year we might even call it Ground Ball Day.
There are no groundhogs in baseball. You're cute, and it is nothing against you.
You may feel overshadowed by this, but we have more than 1,000 groundskeepers working this spring. They are the people we are celebrating Feb. 2. After all, they are going to keep doing their jobs whether you see a shadow or not, because we are ready to watch baseball again.
There are 24 Spring Training facilities that are about to be opened for business in Arizona and Florida. Six of those are shared by Major League Baseball clubs, and at an average of 20 or more full- and part-time staff per complex, we estimate well north of 500 groundskeepers.
Now add all 30 MLB regular-season facilities that will be fully utilized by the start of April. Each club has 20-plus full-time, part-time and seasonal grounds crew members, so that's another 600 people.
So that's more than 1,000 grounds crew personnel that are charged with creating and maintaining the pristine playing surfaces that established and aspiring players need to do their job.
And that's not even counting all the grounds crews that are working on World Baseball Classic venues around the planet in advance of that March tournament.
Frankly, they all have to watch out for groundhogs and other subterranean invaders.
You may not realize just what goes into being an honoree on Grounds Crew Day.
First of all, these people known to most as "groundskeepers" are actually referred to today as "sportsturf managers." We have no idea what you and your fellow groundhogs are doing beneath the world's surface other than burrowing annoying paths in our backyards and popping up for TV cameras once a year, but I can tell you that a day in the life of a sportsturf manager means multitasking at the highest level as stars like Derek Jeter and Matt Kemp get the glory.
Their day typically begins with scouting the turf in the morning (no, really, "scouting turf" is a term used for examining the turf for disease and stress), monitoring the irrigations system, obtaining proper moisture levels in the infield by watering, grooming and applying soil conditioners, weather monitoring for rain, aerifying weak areas, topdressing, overseeding, dragging, scheduling workouts, covering and uncovering the field as needed, setting up for BP (batting practice), PFP (pitchers' fielding practice) and catchers' drills, then taking it all down and repairing the field for games.
If you don't believe me, then ask Bill Murray.
You think he's your friend? You think he'd really drive with you off a cliff?
Think again. No. 1, there was another movie where he was a grounds crew member on a golf course and he learned to think like you and hunt your kind down. No. 2, guess where he hangs out in real life? The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, the second-oldest ballpark in the Majors.
In just a matter of days, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training. The unique world of those facilities is such that you have multiple types of operations. Dual facility use, municipal operated, team operated -- they are all so different but all working toward the same goal: preparing for Opening Day.
We shutter ourselves indoors all winter, and do you really think we wait weeks and weeks so you can come out and look for a shadow? No! We wait weeks and weeks for pitchers and catchers to report. We can't wait to see that perfectly manicured sea of emerald and that smooth dirt. Did you know that we actually collect that kind of dirt? That's how much we love grounds crews.
They are out there when skies threaten, exhibiting teamwork to roll a massive tarp on and off a field. Dude, you're under the ground! They get wet. They work hard. They are out there during the day and then at night. At Yankee Stadium, the grounds crew even performs "Y-M-C-A" as they are dragging the infield during games. Have you ever seen how the Busch Stadium crew mows that famous St. Louis Arch design into its outfield, or how the Fenway Park bunch cuts that pair of red sox in center?
On this day, baseball fans will see representatives from their own teams' grounds crews. We at MLB.com asked clubs to post photos showing a crew member looking for his or her shadow. There are going to be a lot of tweets showing them in action on Grounds Crew Day.
That is the way it should be. These people need to be appreciated.
They don't rip up our turf; they inspect it and they maintain it.
They turn it over to the best baseball players in the world, and they humbly step aside, loading rakes and hoses and baseline chalkers onto trailers and drive them off into stadium recesses.
Phil, did you know that groundskeeping was the first profession for mankind? According to the Bible it is, anyway. If you read Genesis 2:15, it says: "And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it." In other words, Adam was a groundskeeper, and in Christianity that would make every person a descendant from a groundskeeper.
That story was told to me by my friend Murray Cook, MLB's head groundskeeping guru and an original MLB.com blogger. I asked what he would say to you as we shift attention to those people in his profession. Murray started this year by laying the National Mall's new turf for President Obama's inauguration, and when we traded emails, he had just left Bogota, Colombia, and was headed to Puerto Rico, to oversee field conditions. He is happy they now get their own day.
"There is so much that happens on our MLB and Spring Training fields before the teams ever arrive in the spring," Murray said. "Months of planning and preparing that typically go unnoticed by the public. It's a little more than mowing the grass, but to the people, green grass means spring, and spring means baseball season."
It means more than 1,000 people are working hard to get baseball fields ready for players and us.
You may or may not already have seen your shadow, and I hope you get a ton of publicity again.
But on Feb. 2, it's not about groundhogs anymore. Happy Grounds Crew Day!
Can you dig it?