SportsTurf

December 2017

SportsTurf provides current, practical and technical content on issues relevant to sports turf managers, including facilities managers. Most readers are athletic field managers from the professional level through parks and recreation, universities.

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www.spor tsturfonline.com 24 // December 2017 Editor's note: This material is excerpted from THE ARENA: Inside the Tailgating, Ticket-Scalping, Mascot-Racing, Dubiously Funded, and Possibly Haunted Monuments of American Sports. A s a modern-day fan, it's easy to take fi eld conditions for granted. But groundskeepers weren't always invisible wizards behind a perfect playing surface. On the contrary, when the game of baseball was fi rst forming in the mid- nineteenth century, taming the undulating earth of the American East Coast was top of mind, even if the idea of professionalizing the craft came as a bit of an afterthought. (It is only within the last twenty years or so that sports turf management has blossomed as an academic major at land grant universities.) As Peter Morris writes in Level Playing Fields, early groundskeepers would tend to the turf as part of a bevy of responsibilities, including fi re safety, crowd control, and janitorial work. It really wasn't possible to maintain perfect conditions, as teams were frequently evicted from their grounds and had to share homes with other sports and amusements, like ice skating rinks, polo matches, and horse racing tracks. Fields were so regularly chewed up and unpredictable that for many years baseball had a "bound rule," which stated that a hitter would be called out so long as a defensive player caught the ball before it hit the ground twice. Provided minuscule budgets, early groundskeepers, who were typically seasonal employees, ran makeshift operations, spreading sawdust and igniting gasoline to dry the fi elds after rainstorms (drainage was a major issue) and constructing dikes with ingredients like rye bread and cheese. As for crews, groundskeepers would take what they could get: at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis, for example, a goat helped trim the grass, according to Michael Benson's Ballparks of North America. Not everything was so primitive. In fact, a variety of features of modern ball fi elds owe a debt to groundskeeper ingenuity, such as the pitching mound, which began as a buildup of sawdust; the warning track, which replaced small hills before outfi eld walls that told defenders the end was near; and even basic terms like infi eld and outfi eld, which were adopted from Scottish farming and allowed for the section of the fi eld farther from home plate to be less carefully manicured than the nearer section, per Morris. Though they weren't always effective, these crude attempts at lawn and order also helped establish the concept of home-fi eld advantage. Baseball crowds were initially nonpartisan, but a team's familiarity with the eccentricities of its home turf provided an inherent edge, such as where to position fi elders and how to avoid endemic obstacles like trees. Before long, a more creative brand of groundskeeping emerged. The pioneers in this area, according to Morris, were two brothers, Tom and John Murphy. Like most early groundskeepers, each man was Book excerpt: Turf stories from American sports // By RAFI KOHAN "THEY ALL COME DOWN TO GET GRASS FROM HILLBILLY WILLY," CACKLES PALUCH, WHO AT FIFTY-FIVE HAS WIND-MUSSED GRAY HAIR AND A WISP OF A MUSTACHE. HE IS ALTERNATELY BRAGGADOCIO AND WEIRDLY SECRETIVE AS WE DRIVE AROUND HIS PROPERTY.

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