Editor’s note: Brent Schroeder, national account executive for Beacon Athletics, was invited to be part of the grounds crew for last month’s MLB All-Star Game in Cleveland. A former groundskeeper himself, Brent agreed to keep a journal of his experiences:
Cleveland Head Groundskeeper Brandon Koehnke had not hosted the All-Star Game since 1997 and he knew how much the event had evolved in those 22 years. Preparation in advance would be key to clearing up any unknowns for him and his staff.
Brandon figured the best way to prepare for the event would be to fly to Nationals Park in July 2018 to see the festivities with his own eyes. So, he packed up and headed to our nation’s capital to witness the week’s full lineup firsthand, with the help of Nationals Head Groundskeeper, John Turnour, and his staff.
When asked if going to DC was helpful, Brandon said, “It was a huge benefit; my head would really be spinning right now if I hadn’t experienced it last year.”
One occurrence that sticks out in my mind was a small conflict with a popular beverage company that uses very large animals for marketing purposes. The reps from this company were attempting to get those large animals on the playing field. They told Brandon they had taken them on the field last year in Washington. His response was swift; he politely reminded them that he was at the game last year and the animals never walked on the field, they only walked around the warning track. For reasons like this I’d agree with Brandon that watching last year’s game in person did provide him enormous benefits.
The crew in Cleveland did an outstanding job. Especially with all the unknowns and sudden schedule changes thrown at them. A lot of their work over the week entailed immediate reaction and adjustment to those sudden changes. They were all doing much more than their job description entails. But they know all too well that this is part of their job. Some of those roles included security, directing and coordinating logistics for event rehearsals, shagging balls, lifting stages over the base paths, installing in-ground cameras for Fox Sports at a moment’s notice, and the always prevalent, “Please stay on the Enkamat” order. It was shocking how many bystanders would duck under a yellow rope to stand on the turf for a photo instead of the mats that were obviously there to keep them off the field. That, in particular, was a never-ending challenge. Back in 2016 I had the opportunity to go work with the crew for the World Series in Cleveland. Those games did not even come close to the amount of field traffic and general clutter of people on the field with their own agendas. In my opinion, 90% of the folks standing around the field and warning track had no business being down there. But I suppose you must expect people will take full advantage of that field pass around their neck. Even when they have no reason to be there, besides getting in the way of staff trying to get actual work done.
Below is a brief outline in sequence of the schedule that the grounds crew needed to work around to complete their regular tasks:
Friday, July 5: All-day rehearsals; the Miracle Game, 3-4:30 pm; then continued rehearsals ending around 9:00 pm.
Saturday, July 6: Construct temporary softball fence 6:00-7:15 am; JR Home Run Derby 7:30-9:15 am; Pitch, Hit and Run 9:20-10:45 am; BP and infield for high school game 11:20-1:10 pm; HS game 1:30-4 pm; Home Run Derby rehearsal 5-7 pm.
Sunday, July 7: Outfield design work 8-10 am; All-Star rehearsal 10-12 pm; HS HR Derby 12:15-1:30 pm; Futures Game BP and infield 2-4:25 pm; Softball pre-game 4:25-4:50 pm; Softball game 5-6:30 pm; Futures Game 7-9:30 pm; Rock & Blast 9:45 pm; ESPN load in 10:15 pm.
Monday, July 8: Client BP 7-9 am; HR Derby Rehearsal 9:30-1 pm; AL BP 5:20-6:15 pm; NL BP 6:15-7:10 pm; extra BP for HR Derby 7:10-7:25 pm; Field prep 7:25-7:50 pm; HR Derby 8 pm.
Tuesday, July 9: Client BP 7-9 am; Mound measurement 9-10 am; All-Star rehearsal 10-1 pm; Client bullpen 1:45-2:45 pm; AL BP 4:50-5:55 pm; NL BP 5:55-7 pm; All-Star Game 7:30 pm.
All Star week for the grounds crew included 18-hour work days, cluttered on-field schedules, and non-stop requests from others, all while trying to fit their standard field prep and maintenance routines in. Even with all this going on it never seemed to visibly discourage Brandon’s staff. To my surprise they all remained calm, cool, collected, and in great spirits the entire week. Fist bumps, laughs, and words of encouragement never slowed down amongst his crew. They all have a lot of pride in their field as they should and never overlooked any minor detail. Every member of the crew played a vital role in how smooth everything ran, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Brandon’s exact words were, “I really do have a great staff. They rose to the occasion.”
I had to drive back to Wisconsin the morning after the game, so I was not able to really assess the damage from the stages, pyrotechnics, celebrities sliding on the grass, and trailers rolled across the field multiple times for rehearsals. Brandon thought the areas that would need the most work would be in foul territory down the aprons, mainly because of all the foot traffic and compaction from stages and people standing around. They were compacted by Sunday morning but he’s hoping some aerification and extra love would help them to bounce back. He still was not certain on Tuesday if he would need to re-sod those areas. Unfortunately, they only had 2 days to work on the field before starting a 10-game home stand, so whatever needed to be done would just have to wait.
I asked Brandon one day after the game that if he was to host the event again, what would he do differently? “I will give it some thought. Not sure right now. If possible, I would try to be more involved in the scheduling of our home games post break. That might be limited, but I would try to have a say. Operationally I know we checked every MLB box.”
I would like to extend a special thanks to Brandon and his assistant groundskeeper, Travis Barnhill. Also, thanks to Beacon Athletics for encouraging me and providing the resources to attend such a memorable event. Another thanks to the entire Indians grounds crew for keeping me busy driving the Workman to Panini’s for their special groundskeeper discount lunch, and for taking me under their wing. I’d also like to recommend and thank Pete Davis from New Ground Technology for providing the initial outfield pattern design. His professionalism and attention to detail was top notch and played an integral role in the visual aesthetics of the field all week.