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A day in the life of a Little League groundskeeper

July 08, 2007

It seems like eons since I was the groundskeeper at Federal Little League.

I made a critical mistake on one of my first days in the position: I poured gasoline into the big tractor's oil case.

Who knew the gas tank would be under the seat? I never would have looked there.

I thought I was going to be relieved of my position that day, but we had a smart league president at the time - Bob Rice - and he knew it would not be easy to replace me in quick order. Not too many parents at the time were lining up to be groundskeeper.

Bob was able to siphon the gas out of the oil tank and I went on to be the groundskeeper for the next few years. Thanks, Bob.

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The whole system of Little League is based on volunteers who might not know anything about anything, and I fit that bill. When Bob asked me if I wanted to be groundskeeper, I think I said something like, well, I do cut my lawn at home.

That was it. I was appointed.

As I would find out, there's a little more to it than just cutting the grass. But I think I was the happiest when I was on the big tractor, my hat turned backward to get a little sun, and a mouthful of sunflower seed shells to fling on the freshly mowed clippings.

I was always impressed by the guys who could cut the grass so it looked like a checkerboard with the different shades of grass. I could never do that.

We had other volunteers who were experts at lining the field with the white lines used for the base lines and the batter's box. I thought they were going to autograph home plate when they were finished.

But the most important thing the groundskeeper has to know, and I learned this on the job, is how to get the excess water off the field when it rains. The games must go on, and Mother Nature is a little slow when it comes to drying the field.

This is a science in Little League, and there are different schools of thought on the dilemma.

I kid you not, some of the "old school" coaches wanted to pour gasoline in the puddles on the base paths and burn the water off the field. We didn't think the fire marshal would approve of that method, and it wasn't a good example to show the kids.

Besides, we needed the gas to pour into the big tractor's oil case.

Another method was to dig little holes around the bases and let the water collect in the holes and then use the industrial strength wet-vack to suck up the water. This was the method I endorsed as head groundskeeper.

Then there was the camp who wanted to throw sawdust and other water-retaining substances on the field. I wasn't as thrilled about this method because eventually, the base paths would become this composite of sawdust and other stuff that made the field look an odd color and weird consistency. Plus, I was afraid the kids would get wood chips in their socks.

There were other subtle things that were done to the field.

We had this one volunteer who was a genius at building the pitcher's mound. He would show up each spring and construct the mound as if it were an altar to the baseball gods.

He knew from the Little League Handbook that the mound had to be a certain height in relation to home plate. He would use a special clay that we had to sift on the side to build up the mound to that exact height by pulling a string from home plate to the mound. It was like watching Picasso work.

Then, the kids would come in and start hacking at the mound with their baseball cleats to get it where they liked it. Such is Little League.

But, looking back, it was all for the kids and the kid in all of us.

I've been following the All-Star games in the paper. I look for names I might know. I also like to see which leagues are going to rise up and win the various titles. It seems to go in cycles.

Let's get the fields ready.

Tony Mulieri is managing editor of The Daily Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7647, or by e-mail at tonym@herald-mail.com.

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