Come the end of summer, millions from around the world turn their eyes to South Williamsport, PA. Kids from all over the world play the game of baseball in hopes of playing in the Little League World Series. Sixteen teams of players 11 and 12 years old descend on the Little League complex in the Lycoming County in hopes of being crowned the only true sports “World” Champion.
The Little League World Series has become a grand event. Television coverage of every game played during the series on the ABC, ESPN family of networks has turned up the event’s exposure. In 2009 the television ratings were high with millions watching and attending. It is estimated that the event injects $20 million dollars into the economy of Lycoming County.
With the players, coaches, managers and umpires on the field, announcers, scorekeepers, security, ushers, cameramen and television production crews in place everything is set, “PLAY BALL.” But wait, what about the field, is it ready? Is it safe for play? Will it look good on television? That portion of the series is left to members of Keystone Athletic Field Managers Organization (KAFMO) the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA).
“The chapter has been honored to assist Little League Baseball with field preparation for 15 years” says Jeffrey T. Fowler, Penn State Cooperative Extension Turfgrass educator and Board member for the KAFMO chapter. “We arrive before the series begins, we level the playing surface, edge the fields, resod any areas that are worn from summer play, all in preparation for the games that will be played and televised during the 10 days of the series.
“Our number one goal is providing a safe playing surface for the kids to play on,” says Fowler, “and our goal is to provide the safest fields possible.” Fowler was quick to credit Cheryl Miller, groundskeeper at the complex for her hard work and dedication throughout the year. “Cheryl does a great job year round preparing the fields for the Series, she fertilizes, sprays and mows throughout the year when there are no television cameras around to see everything that is going on.”
Cheryl also has ties to Penn State University as she graduated from Pennsylvania Technical Institute’s Landscape and Horticultural Technology Program and currently is enrolled in the Penn State World Wide Campus Bachelors Degree Program in Turfgrass Science.
“We have approximately 40 volunteers that are a part of the grounds crew. These volunteers are members of the state and/or national chapter of the STMA. People take vacation time from their own work schedules and leave their families to come to the series and assist with field preparations. Some stay for the entire event (2 weeks), others help out for a few days,” Fowler continues. “The crew that we assemble is second to none for the Little League World Series, not only do they apply their considerable knowledge and experience in field care, but their professionalism is exemplary. A major goal of the group is to help the public understand that there is more to a safe field than putting down lines and mowing grass. Every night we remove the lines, groom and water the infield, broom the edges of the grass, repair clay in the home plate circle and on the pitcher’s mound. We also tarp those areas and groom the warning track in order to have field ready for the following day.”
Thirty-four televised games in 10 days in mid-August takes its toll on the fields in South Williamsport, PA. Yet every year the grounds crew manages to battle through whatever curve balls are thrown their way to pull off one of the greatest youth sporting events in the world. The grounds crew is proud of their results during the series. Many of the crew members have been attending for 15 years or more. Some have brought their children with them to help out. Fowler exclaims, “That is the next generation of Sports Turf Managers! I tell kids all the time, the fastest way to the major leagues is with a rake in your hand.”