Who is the 10th player on the Baseball field?
Over the years, I have heard MLB managers and players use a similar quote… "the groundskeeper is the 10Th person in our line up." If there was a true 10th person there is some tough competition. There are GM’s, scouts, stadium ops, equipment managers, clubbies …a lot of people that have a huge responsibility to the team …but as an old groundskeeper myself, I believe the game is played and won on the field and without the field…you can’t play the game. Thus the "10th man" comments regarding the groundscrew have some merit. ( Just a note that that the 10th man…referring to the groundskeeper, could also be the 10th woman as well )
The relationship the groundskeeper and crew have with the manager, coaching staff and the players is crucial to the success of how the field plays for the team. Planning for daily workouts, drills, side sessions, evaluating infield moisture issues, homeplate softness/hardness …these conversations with the players and staff on a daily basis is only a small part of the groundskeepers job. It used to be difficult for a player to discuss field conditions with the groundskeeper because he could be "ear marked" as a complainer. Not any more! Players are very accustomed to talking with the Grounds staff … especially infielders. Most of the discussions will take place before and after Batting practice.
Like with any responsibility, being the 10th person on any team or job comes with pros and cons. When there is a bad hop, rain delay, wet mound, hard infield you will hear about it very quickly…the press run with any negative comment about the field of play and post it as a note in the news. (you don’t see to many positive comments made in the news about the field during the season.) At the same time… no news is good news in this profession. If the field is playing well you will hear very little. Even if aesthetically it looks a little rough, but it plays well, you will not hear much from the team…(but that doesn’t mean the team owner may not have something to say.) Sometimes a team on a downward spin will be quick to judge field issues, but again that’s part of the game. If your team is loosing and its your field…you take the heat as well.
Over the years players like Fred McGriff were always positive about the field conditions…same with Andre Galarraga. When Tim Wallach was with the Montreal Expos he provided good feedback about field conditions and took a special interest in letting the groundscrew know after a game.
Several years back Terry Pendleton was vocal about field conditions when I worked for the Braves and Expos ..as was Jeff Blauser. Both players were helpful and provided feedback regularly about field conditions. Good and bad. It helped us become better.
A couple years ago in a MLB game, Brian Schneider (now the Nationals) came up to me about some hardness in the catchers box. We told him we would soften it up a bit and the next day he raved about the conditions. We really didn’t do very much to it..but when I approached him about it and said we made a couple changes he said it was perfect the next day…(of course he went 2 for 4 that night with a homer… but it was still nice to hear. )
There have been stories about pitchers complaining about various mound conditions at different parks. In an effort to evaluate the problem the groundskeeper will ask the other pitcher’s who used the mound that day and they may say it was fine. Now what! There is only one good answer and approach to this scenario…the groundskeeper will continue to tweak it an make improvements for the next rotation …for all the mound users.
When the Braves had Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz throwing in the early to mid 90′s ….a consistent mound was pretty important. Leo Mazzone made an effort to walk the field and check the mounds before they started up. With a lot of pitchers throwing in spring training during those years in West Palm beach (a two team facility) these players were always very positive about the mound conditions.
Another common issue with some mounds is there are times two different pitchers make similar wear patterns in the mound that cause one or the other to land differently. What has changed to help the groundskeeper with this particular problem over the past several years is better clays and moisture management techniques to keep the mound consistent throughout the game regardless of who pitches on it.
So hears to the 10th man/woman!! May your field grow green and the balls roll smoothly!