Straight to the Ground: Foley Field grounds crew thriving behind the scenes

Story Information: This story was done in my multiplatform class at the University of Georgia. I was the reporter in this story. I spent a day with the UGA baseball team’s grounds crew. This story serves as a day in the life with the group. I hope that you enjoy it. 

 

Straight to the Ground: Foley Field grounds crew thriving behind the scenes  

By Jaylon Thompson

 

Georgia had two strikes in the bottom of the 9th inning and Foley Field ground foreman Nick Paserchia couldn’t be happier.

It was 10:30 pm and Paserchia was ready to go. He was tired after spending 14 hours at the stadium. Only the post-game cleanup stood in his way. The cleanup consisted of raking dirt,  scooping up baselines, and watering the entire infield.

It was standard procedure for Paserchia. This is his first season as the head grounds foreman at Foley Field. However, he has been around lawn maintenance his entire life. He started his own lawn business at 13 years old and earned his degree in turf grass management from the university.   

However, gameday’s still take a lot out of him as long nights are common. The longest game in his tenure was 5 hours and 12 minutes.

But on this particular Friday, things were different. His team was treated to a shorter game, which meant they could finally make it home before midnight.

“It’s nice to get out of here before the start of the next day,” Paserchia said. “Most of our games go nearly 3 1/2 to four hours.”

An average gameday for the grounds crew starts at 9 am. This is when Paserchia arrives and checks the field. His first goal is to look for any hazardous spots on the infield dirt.  

If there are hazardous spots, he generally will sprinkle calzyme clay onto the dirt. He then will rake it and water the surface.  This is important as it prevents cracks in the dirt by allowing water to seep into the soil. By adding moisture, it loosens the cracks and makes a safe playing surface.

“On a baseball field, 80% of the time spent on the field is on the clay,” Paserchia said. “You got to make sure to get the proper moisture levels. On a game day, we will water with a hose and I will probably water at least 4 or 5 times a day. I try to gradually water throughout the day build the moisture up.”

Around 11:30am, Paserchia starts to work on the outfield grass. Sprinklers are turned on to water the field. The field is a mixture of Bermuda and Ryegrass seed. Each one is grown throughout the year at different times.

“It’s a sand-based field that is Bermuda grass over-seeded with Ryegrass,” Paserchia said. “Right around now, Bermuda grass is starting to come out of dormancy and likes to be grown in 90 degree weather. One of of the big challenges is to keep the Rye looking good and get the Bermuda going at the same time.”

Bermuda grass serves as the bottom layer. It is sod primarily from Pine Creek in South Georgia, but is also purchased from Ben Oak Farms in Alabama. The Bermuda from these places is certified sod, used by many of the professional teams. Having Bermuda grass is important at Foley Field because it doesn’t hold moisture. This allows important nutrients like oxygen, phosphorus and potassium to seep through the soil and down to the roots.

Ryegrass is grown on top of the Bermuda. This grass is primarily found in Oregon, but the grounds crew purchases seeds from a supplier, Turfnology, in Watkinsville. The reason why it is seeded on top is because it can grow in the cooler months. It is usually spread in September to balance out the dying Bermuda and keep the field looking healthy.

“The biggest thing for highly maintained grass is to get your roots down deep,”  Paserchia said. “The bigger your root system the better your grass is. We have to manipulate the grass.”

Around 1:00pm, the first of the student workers start to arrive. The first to arrive is Chris Conley, a turf grass management major. His primary role is to work on the pitching mound and cut the grass surrounding it.

Next to arrive is Scout Carter. He is a junior that earned his name from Harper Lee’s  novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  Carter is the comedian of the grounds crew and always subject to others jokes. This includes an infamous tale about him dragging the infield dirt.

“It’s the bottom of the ninth and it’s already a long day,” Conley said. “Normally I would go first and as I made a turn, I felt someone step on my drag. It was Scout fumbling as he almost eats the ground. The dugout and fans erupted. He regroups and does the same thing again. It should’ve gone on ESPN not top-10.”

Both students help cut the infield grass and rake the infield clay. Meanwhile, Paserchia is on a John Deere mower, cutting a diamond pattern in the outfield.

At 2:00 pm, another student comes clocks into work. Sam Fouche is a student at North Georgia and is majoring in physical education. He joined the crew because he wanted to something in sports and asked his sister-in-law for help. She helped him get an application and he started last season.

After checking in, Fouche role was to help set up for batting practice. He helped in taking the tarp off the pitching mound and removed excess dirt from the turf. He did it by using a broom to brush it back into the infield.

As batting practice was happening, several other members of the grounds crew started coming into work. Drew Morris, Chad Austin and Mason Spratling. Morris, Spratling and Carter all met each other during freshman college. The developed into friends and say that it is the key to them working well together.

“This job can be really tough if you don’t work with people that are fun to be around,” Spratling said. “That’s why I like working out here as we all get along and work together.”

Morris agrees. He enjoys working with the team as one of the most senior workers. His role is to be an extension of Paserchia and has some power to assign roles.

“I assign roles pre and post game,” Morris said. “I try to tell everyone what their job is and what they are doing on a given day. I just want everyone to do the best job that they can. No one is perfect and I just want them to give their best effort every time out there.”

One of the roles that Morris helps to assign is the painting of the batter boxes at home plate.  That will be the group he leads in the final field prep.

Everyone arrives by 5:30 pm and the crew is ready to go.  They have nearly 45 minutes to get the field ready for the game. The workers are split into teams. Each student worker is assigned a job. The first station is the base lines. Two workers use a string to create a straight line. A third student comes behind and paints from home plate to the first and third base.

While that is happening, the home plate crew is wooden structure to leave an imprint the dirt and paint the batter’s box. They then help place the bases into position for the game. Afterwards, everyone helps water the field one last time.

At 7:00 pm, the game starts. This time serves as a chance for the crew to rest. The only work during the game is dragging the field after the third and seventh innings.  As the crew relaxes, they head to the “roo” which is the local BP gas station on South Lumpkin in Athens, GA.  They go there to grab a mid-game snack and to take a break.

“Going to the ‘roo’ is the highlight of our day,” Conley said. “We look forward to it during every home game.”

While the student workers are at the gas station, Paserchia is coming up with the final post-game positions. Still tired, he knows the finish line is near.  The jobs don’t vary from pre-game but Paserchia wants everyone to be ready.

At 10:30 pm, the game ends.  The crew goes out and first scoops the dirt from the base paths. The excess dirt was placed in buckets and disposed. The base paths are then watered down. Next, the crew adds mound clay to the pitching mound and the landing area. This is used as conditioner to fix any clay that had been displaced during the game.

Once that was complete, the mound was raked and the tarp went back over it. While this is happening, the infield was raked on last time and the transition line from infield clay to the outfield grass is watered for the final time.

“Coach Stricklin’s biggest things is the transition from grass to clay,” Paserchia said. “One of our biggest concerns is to make sure the field is safe for our student athletes and to maintain the highest quality field that we can.”

Finally, the bases are also cleaned with a dirt-removing solution and the bullpens are redone.

After everything is finished, the crew gathers at home plate. They all place the tarp over the area and Paserchia gives everyone a time to back at the field tomorrow. As he looks at his watch again, the time says 11:15pm, just enough time to make it home.

At the end of the day, a lot of work goes into maintaining Foley Field. Several people have noticed including Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin.

“We had close to 10,000 people here this weekend and they all got to see (the field),” Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin said. “When they walk in here, I want them to look at this place and say, ‘wow!’. When you look out there and you see it, it is manicured and beautiful.”

The appreciation is well received for Carter and his crew mates. However, it is the atmosphere that makes the job worth doing.

“We all work hard and like to fun,” Carter said. “We have fun on the job and get everything done. It is an enjoyable environment.”

 

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