Ah, the ballpark. To the players, coaches, and serious baseball fans, the ballpark isn’t just a place where the game of baseball is played. Instead, it’s considered hallowed ground that is so sacred, they may as well be called cathedrals. From their aesthetically pleasing lines and angles to the miraculously landscaped grass (heck, even the dirt looks perfect), and just the general aura of the field itself, ballparks across the world are a sight to be revered.
Today we offer a very special tip of the cap to those men and women who are responsible for so majestically nurturing the (literal) landscape of baseball. In honor of that recognition, we’re thrilled to have a little Q&A with Shaun Thomas, Head Groundskeeper for the Class-A Staten Island Yankees.
Q: Hi Shaun! Thanks for taking a few minutes with us today. What is your current role and with what organization?
A: No problem at all! I’m currently the Head Groundskeeper for the Staten Island Yankees, a Class-A affiliate.
Q: How did you get into groundskeeping as a profession?
A: I finished my baseball career in college and was not fortunate enough to get drafted to pro ball, so I figured groundskeeping was my next best route.
Q: Baseball fields are famous for the various patterns that get cut into the grass (checkerboards, crisscross designs, etc.) How exactly is that done and who chooses the designs?
A: The designs are chosen by me and my grounds crew. The two different colors that you see are just from the direction the mower was being driven on the grass. I have a reel mower which has rollers behind the three reels and the rollers bend the grass in which the direction the mower is going. The bending of the grass blade away from you lets more light reflect upward whereas the darker shade of green the grass blade is folded towards you and the light reflects down. So if you were to see one pattern behind home plate, it would look the exact same from center field, just opposite colors.
Q: Is there a specific type of dirt/clay that you use in the infield and warning track?
A: The warning track is usually just made up of crushed brick. As for the infield, there are two types of materials there: The sub soil is an engineered soil that is designed to retain water and get firmer as the moisture leaves. Then the top layer is calcined clay, which is just clay that is heated at extreme temperatures to harden it. The top layer is very minimal, just enough for the players to slide on.
Q: Is there a standard height the grass needs to be cut? Or is it your call? Or player’s preference?
A: The height of the grass is completely up to the Groundskeeper. Coaches and players can have their say, but it is ultimately the Groundskeeper’s choice. I keep my grass cut at 1 ¼ inches. I mow everyday so that my players have a consistent play with the same grass every day. A lot of teams cut their grass at 1 inch height. I keep mine a little longer because of the extra events we have at the stadium which leads to more wear and tear on my field.
Q: Best part of your job?
A: The best part of my job is waking up and going to the ballpark every day! It doesn’t feel like work! I have been around baseball since I can remember and I couldn’t imagine my life without it. As for the duties themselves I would say mowing is the best part. The grass is the first thing everyone sees when they walk in and I love seeing people’s reaction to a nice looking pattern!
Great stuff there! Thank you for your time Shaun, and keep up the great work making America’s pastime look so beautiful.