To my surprise, much of my working hours at the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum weren’t in the Hall of Fame and Museum, but out in the ballpark. April. July. October. January. I saw all the months, all the seats in all their configurations, all the tarps and all their positions.

No matter when I was in sight of the field, the groundskeepers were there too. I never had to wonder if anyone was babysitting the basepaths or fretting over the length of each individual blade. There was.

I cautioned tour groups within an inch of their lives to avoid the grass, not necessarily because I’d been informed to pass this information along, but because I’d seen the crew on hands and knees along the warning track, endlessly grooming, with infant-sized manicure scissors from the looks of it, and woe to the tourist whose Crocs would stomp upon it. I’d tackle intruders myself if it didn’t mean further bent blades. If you think you don’t like rain delays, imagine the agony of these guys looking at a 3 AM clock-out with a day-night doubleheader the next day. It’s hard work, and dangerous, when the wind and the lightning crash the party.

One of my favorite Twitter accounts is the one belonging to Stephen Lord, their fearless leader. If working at the HOF offered a bare glimpse of how hard the crew was working on a daily basis, this account expands upon the endless concerns and meteorological mood swings of a man whose life is a dependent on the weather as any farmer’s. You’ll learn about post-aerification spread, venting John Deeres, and sod bluegrass blends. My favorite is a preview of turf which will host Reds games in about a year.

We weren’t afforded this kind of fun during my growing-up days at Riverfront stadium; the plastic carpet was there, and maybe required stomping every now and then or a new paint job between Bengals games. Fretting over a tiny bald patch in the outfield was unheard of. Astroturf might have granted the world a Big Red Machine defense, but it was a great loss in the culture of baseball.

“Greenest grass I ever saw,” one of my commenters once said reverently of Crosley’s outfield. I do not have any contemporaries who wax nostalgic over the way the plastic Riverfront carpet glinted in the afternoon sun.

The major leagues are meant to be the greatest of all: The best players, in the plushest locker rooms, eating the densest nutritional food in the most sincere dugouts. And when it’s time to play, they’re on the greenest, prettiest, most lovingly mowed grass there ever was. There is no room for weeds in the cathedrals of the national pastime.



13 Responses

  1. Bill J

    Sounds like a lot of work. All I remember on our home town field in the 60s was after a rain before our softball games taking cans of gasoline and burning the standing water off the infield. We would slush through the outfield puddles.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Sounds environmentally friendly!

  2. Rick Feltes

    I’m certainly in the minority, maybe even all alone, but I thought Riverfront, including its carpet, was mans greatest architectural achievement. Mega exaggeration of course, but I loved everything about that place. Especially the first glimpse down of that beautiful bright green plastic when entering from the plaza level.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      You find beauty where you find it 🙂 No arguments here.

    • Eric

      I remember a review of every MLB ballpark, sometime during the 80s that said of Riverfront, “If it weren’t for a bunch of polite fans cheering for a mediocre team, it would be one of baseball’s hidden treasures.” Of course, I think they were talking more about the location, size and accessibility of the place, not the big, green plastic bedspread-on-concrete in the center.

      • Mary Beth Ellis

        I mean we are polite. Mostly.

  3. Scott C

    Baseball is meant to be played on natural grass. Kudos to the grounds crew they do a tremendous job and largely unappreciated by the fans. Thanks for bringing this to our attention Mary Beth.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      🙂 They are indeed some dedicated guys and gals!

  4. cfd3000

    I belong to the church of baseball. And because I’m a life long Reds fan, GABP is the cathedral pilgrimage. And even though we don’t know all their names, those men and women maintain the sacred ground for all of us to return home to and enjoy. Thanks once more MBE.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      One of my co-workers told me the leadership of the team holds seminars teaching others how to groundskeep. Not surprised!

  5. Eric

    “I believe there ought to be a Constitutional Amendment outlawing Astroturf and the Designated Hitter!” — Crash Davis, Bull Durham

    Yes, indeed — God Bless ALL of those who ensure, year-round, that there is NOTHING like a natural grass baseball field.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      It’s an art!

  6. Mary Beth Ellis

    They don’t just set a sprinkler out on the lawn for us kids to run through, that’s for sure.