Had a great time the past couple days with the Academy and Winter league club stadium operators and groundskeepers. We had representation from 29 MLB Clubs and 4 of the Winter league stadiums. This was a free clinic to all the guys. Special thanks to our friends at Covermaster and Diamond Pro for helping out with the discussions.
The Tampa Bay Rays facility always shines. This year’s clinic went into 2 days and covered facility management and security of the academies. Carlos and Ismial from the DR office. You guys Rock!
This year is the 25th anniversary of the USSR Diamond Diplomacy Tour where a group of Double AA professional players on loan from multiple MLB clubs competed in a series of games against a young Soviet Union National team in the fall of 1989. The USSR was still under communist rule so seeing a bunch of Americans around the Kremlin for a few weeks was rather odd for the locals. The tour was managed by Eastern league ownership but the core guys were Peter Kirk and Charles Eschbach. The games began in Kiev’s 80,000 seat Dynamo football stadium. I had a fun time explaining the rules of the game and dimensions in Russian but we got through it. Some pretty good players ( Don Buford Jr, Troy Neel, Dan Simmonds, Steven Scarzone, Tommy Shields) were on the team not to mention managers Dave Trembley ( Houston Astros) Stump Merrill ( NY Yankees) and even MLB umpire Jeff Kellogg.
The first game was somewhat lopsided with the USA team scoring way to many runs. Something had to change or it was going to be a very long tour. We spent a few days trying to level the field and put up temporary home run fences, backstops etc… After we played in Dynamo stadium we headed to a smaller stadium in Kiev called “Start Stadium” (above) . This stadium had a dark history as it was host to a game during WWII known as the Death Match. The story goes… German’s had occupied Ukraine and in a way of winning over the locals played a Russian team made up of “bakers” who were actually ex-pro players from the Russian leagues. The Russians won the game even though they were warned by the SS not to win.
According to the story we were told in Kiev, after the soccer game about 10 players from the team were placed in concentration camps and several were shot. Well… when the USA players heard this story, they re-thought the game plan for this makeshift ballpark because they were the first American Pro baseball team to play on the field. After some internal discussion, it was determined to not “go as hard “ for this game. USA won but not so lopsided. It was a good time to show diplomacy in this tour to say the least. After the second series they decided to create the “UNITY” games and hold a mock draft and split the teams up more evenly to the satisfaction of the Soviets and USA.
From Kiev ( in the Ukraine) we went north to Estonia and played in Tallinn (Kadriorg) stadium. Once Again we had to recondition a soccer field for a baseball match. Here is where we constructed the first professional pitching rubber on Soviet soil. ( TOP PHOTO) It wasn’t much, but ESPN and the owners played it up like it was the creation of the Washington Monument. Along the way in each city we made some friends and I still think about them to this day. Most of my groundscrew were 12- and 13 year old kids playing baseball for the club teams.
Before leaving for the USSR, I had read about the trading frenzy the locals had for USA goods. Jeans and shoes were a hot commodity. They wanted to trade rubles for dollars and that didn’t go over very well. I took over a sega game video station an traded for a box of maroushka dolls, hats, etc.. Still have a couple.
After Tallinn we headed to our final stop in Moscow. They actually had the only real baseball field in USSR but timing was bad for our games. We were now in late September and the weather was pretty bad. It started to snow, sleet etc.. which shut down the opportunity on our final days in the country to play on a real field. Weather forced us improvise and set up an indoor soccer arena for the final game. Arena ball at it’s best!!! (PHOTO BELOW) With 25ft tall nets and the entire sides covered, it was perfect. Ground rules were simple… play it off the net anywhere. We used a box of athletic tape to mark off the field dimensions and actually taped down the bases to the turf floor. It was pretty cool. ESPN’s “This Night in Baseball” followed us around the country and did a story. I found the 30 minute show in 2 parts on Utube. Part 1 and Part 2
Although this event was 25 years ago its nice to look back and see where the game has gone internationally. MLBI and IBAF have done so much in recent years to expand the game. Ironically the Soviet Union broke apart about a year after the tour. I guess the diamond diplomacy part worked after all
Its official. The H.E.M big league weekend in San Antonio held at the Alamodome featuring the Texas Rangers and the San Diego Padres MLB exhibition series in a first-ever baseball field layout was a success. The Ryan Sanders group and the Texas Rangers achieved what they had hoped to see. A great field, great crowds and an event that has been talked about for a long time. You really need to see the following link to understand what was achieved in this event the day before easter. Alamo Dome 1st ever baseball Conversion. It shows the Dome going from a arena football event to the game in 5 days. Two totally different floor layouts.
The transition teams for the exhibition match at the dome (Astroturf, Ryan Sanders Sportsturf, Alamo Dome staff, padding crew, John and his vinyl guys ) did an outstanding job with the renovation. When you do something that has not been done before, you really need a group that is focused on the final goal. Every issue that became an obstacle or a concern was approached with a positive attitude in order to come up with a solution. Safety issues were set as the main priority and operational challenges were continually defined. The grounds crew from the Missions ball club also chipped into help with the event. I will have to say there were quite a few challenges but the team that was assembled worked very well together to ensure success. Garrett and his entire crew were top notch. Reid Ryan and JJ Gottch were a great management team. They were not only great grounds guys but chipped in at the last minute to be the ballboys down the lines during each game.
The Rangers won both exhibition games and ironically it wasn’t as lopsided as people thought it would be. The right field fence is only 285 down the line. Although the guys had fun with the short porch in BP, during the 2 games it may have only been a issue in 1 home run. In fact the Ryan Sanders group made BP part of the fun for fans allowing them in to catch all the homerun balls. They also added special balls with stamps on them with the sponsor logo for prizes. Pretty cool. Another highlight was working with my “old” friend Tom McAfee who is the operations manager at the Alamodome A great supporter of baseball in the area and more importantly can still run a pretty good line! Thanks Tom to you and your team.