First off thank you to Steve Perry and the Buffalo Bisons for coming to me with this.
Did you know that Coca-Cola Field, home to the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A affiliate, Toronto Blue Jays), is the largest ballpark in Minor League Baseball (MiLB) with a capacity of 16,907?
Chad Laurie, Head Groundskeeper for the Bisons and member of the Sports Turf Managers Association, is charged with maintaining the 100% Kentucky bluegrass playing surface. He was recently rewarded for his work when he won the International League’s Sports Turf Manager of the Year, the first member of the Bisons’ organization to receive this honor in the award’s 25-year history.
Cole Shelton: Hey Chad, thank you for doing this how are you?
Chad Laurie: I’m good thank you.
CS: How hard is it to maintain the field all year?
CL: It is a constant. I work all year everyday, from usually about the beginning of March no matter what the conditions are, March 1st I try to get outside. I work daily until usually mid-September then after that it is more banker hours. It is a constant, it is always on my mind, you know it is an everyday job.
CS: Take me through your day if it was a Bisons’ game day.
CL: I usually go in at around 7:30am, I get there before my guys, and I will mow. I will cut the infield and foul territory grass. It will give me an opportunity to look around to see if there is anything I need to do or my team needs to do. Also see if there is anything out of the ordinary. Then my assistant will come in at 9 and he will take over cutting the grass. He will cut the outfield grass while I start working on the clay. I will get that watered and everything squared, that normally takes us to lunch. As it takes 2 hours to cut the outfield grass. We will then start bringing in the batting practice equipment out, then we take our lunch break. We come back and depending on what the team has going on that is when we start getting ready for batting practice. Usually the team comes out around 2-2:30 for early work. Then our focus is shifted to being prepared for them and whatever they need. Which can be pitchers fielding practice, grounders to the infielders or work with catchers or the pitchers. So we set up for them and once they start batting practice, my assistant and I take a little break. This is also when the rest of the crew shows up, as they get here 2 hours before the game. If it is a 7 o'clock game we head to the field around 5:30 and take down the batting practice equipment to then give us about 45 minutes for us to get ready for the game. Which means we need to get everything off the field that shouldn’t be there, clean up the bullpens, water the clay, paint the lines and put down the batter’s box. During the game it is a little slow we fix the clay after the 3rd and 6th inning. Then after the game is over we have to repack the batter’s box and the pitching mound with fresh clay and we do a few other things like rake. We go home around 11 o’clock is about the average time to leave and then get up and do it again the next day.
CS: Wow that is a crazy day but it shows as you won the International Sports Turf Manager of the Year what is it like to know you won such a high award?
CL: It was surprising, I wasn’t expecting it. It made me proud of the work my guys did as the crew is the guys that won it for me. They are the ones that did most of the work that the people that are voting on it see. That was kind of the first reaction of the pride in myself and the crew. It is nice to be recognized that is a thankless job that people take for granted, and that people realize the hard work you put into it and get recognized for it.
CS: It is for sure a thankless job that fans don’t recognize the amount of work you and your crew do. What is the hardest part of the field to maintain and what requires the most work?
CL: I mean day to day like on a game day it is the clay. As anything that is clay is the most time consuming and gets the most attention on game day, because you have to keep it at the right moisture, which could go either way. As if it is too dry you are trying to keep it wet but if it is too wet you are trying to dry it out. So the clay is the constant focus on game day. Then when the team is on the road, the focus switches to maintaining the grass and doing aeration to the grass to keep the grass healthy. So I don’t know if there is a hardest part but the focus switches if the team is at home or on the road.
CS: What drew you to your job?
CL: I went to school and wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do. I had played football growing up and I wanted to get into working in the NFL. That is the focus of being involved in sports and I knew I didn’t want to work inside, I wanted to be outside and be active. Then, I got a summer job at a University where I’m from in Louisville Kentucky and it seemed like a good fit. It was actually the first summer after my freshmen year so I switched my major and the rest is history as they say.
CS: Do you or your team have to make the mound a certain way depending on the Bisons’ starting pitcher that day?
CL: No not necessarily. What I shoot for with the mound is consistency that way every 5 days that starter knows what he is going to get. There are some tweaks but day to day for what I do for pitcher to pitcher, some days I water a little less because a pitcher have told me it was sticking in their cleats. Typically an issue one guy is having it happens to most of them, so that is why I shoot for consistency so they know what they are working with. I also haven’t had too many demanding pitchers.
CS: Is working in the MLB a goal of yours?
CL: Not particularly I like the atmosphere of minor league baseball as it is more family oriented and geared towards family and family entertainment. I just prefer the atmosphere of minor league baseball rather than the major league.
CS: Thank you Chad for doing this.
CL: No problem take care.