On a Saturday morning late in the baseball season, it’s still too early for buskers, panhandlers, ticket scalpers, or street-meat vendors to stake out their turf outside the Rogers Centre. However, in the heart of the stadium, the Blue Jays’ ground crew is already hard at work getting the ballpark into perfect shape.
Jays fans will recognize them as the self-proclaimed “world’s fastest grounds crew” (thanks to their speedy mid-game clean-up), but keeping the team’s home field in prime condition takes a whole lot more than a sprinting touch-up after the fifth inning.
“We’re on the field working before 8 a.m.,” explains crew member Ben Jamieson while repairing the pitching mound. “Though we do a ton of work at the end of the previous game, we still have at least a 10-hour day ahead of us.”
In fact, this group tends to be some of the very first to arrive and the very last to leave on game day. It doesn’t matter if there was an Argos game or a Deadmau5 concert the night before: The grounds crew shows up after all the heavy construction is completed to a field that looks (mostly) like a baseball diamond. Once the tarps are removed from the bases, pitching mound, and home plate, the crew sets to work filling the bases with new soil, and putting down a mixture of hard and soft clay, a top layer of classic red soil, and then finishing off with chalk boxes.
Beyond the amount of soil and clay used for each game, what’s really crucial is the precise makeup and moisture of the ground for the bases, as well as the slope and angle of the pitching mound. And then there is everything we can’t see the crew working on. Bullpens are prepped and patched in advance of each game (including repairs of their pitching mounds and home plates) and all nine of the bases (they use three sets on a typical game day) are washed.
There are different groups with different duties among the 15-man (yes, all male) ground crew. Some maintain the pitching mound, while others might specifically take care of the batter’s box or the first, second, and third bases. “While we all know what needs to get done on the field, we tend to stick to the same main tasks we’re most familiar with for consistency,” says crew member Francisco Andrade.
That consistency is key, since players expect the exact same look and feel every single day. It’s also why the grounds crew will work on field maintenance several different times during game day: first thing in the morning, after batting practice, before the top of the sixth inning, and at the end of the game.
That’s a lot of time spent fussing over some dirt, especially throughout 81 home games each season. But given that most of the crew have been working together for at least five years, they’ve gotten the process down to a science. Says Jamieson, “Some of us have been doing this so long that we can usually tell who was pitching the day before based on the cleat marks on the pitching mound.”
ROGERS CENTRE STATS
8: Number of conversions from football games or other events to baseball games in the 2013 season.
60 seconds: Average time to complete post–fifth-inning ground maintenance. (This includes the time it takes to run out from the left field gate to the base areas, groom those base areas, and run back off the field.)
97: Panels of turf used for the baseball field, all of which are held together with Velcro.
9: Number of bases used during game day (three during batting practice, three from the first to the fifth inning, and three from the sixth to the end of the game).
8: Depth in feet of the well beneath the hydraulic pitching mound.