May 28th, 2014
Fans arrive at Dr Pepper Ballpark filled with anticipation and excitement as the team returns from a lengthy eight-game road trip. The smell of burgers and hot dogs grilling eases the stress after a long day of work. You take a look at your ticket, make your way to your section and row, sit down in your seat, and you stare out at the field. The chalk is laid down in perfection as you observe the first and third base lines, and the fresh-cut grass is making you want to invest in a new lawn mower. Baseball is a magnificent sport. So magnificent it can only be played on a diamond.
David Bicknell is the Head Groundskeeper charged with the task of creating this beautiful sight that people embrace as they arrive at Dr Pepper Ballpark. This isn’t your ordinary 9 to 5 gig, folks, as field preparation lasts all day and every day.
“We usually get in at 8:30 in the morning as that’s when we do most of our field conditioning work. The ball club will be out as early as two o’clock so in the morning and afternoon we work on the infield and the clay, touch up on any mounds that need some extra attention, or out in the turf we’re working to do any mowing or striping. Other than that just a lot of details to bring everything together,” Bicknell said.
This field is his masterpiece because it’s a canvas that must be flawless or play might be affected. Infielders require a playing surface that will give them nice and clean hops on ground balls, which can mean the difference between the final out of a game and going into extra-innings.
“Some players will have a desire to have their area a special way but a lot of players want it to be in a pretty standard condition. That allows them to make the plays confidently.”
The cut of the grass also has affects on how fast ground balls travel through the infield. Pitchers and infielders tend to desire a higher cut to assist in “killing” the speed of the ball, which would increase the chance of making the play successfully, whereas hitters would desire a lower cut to speed up the ball.
“Obviously it’s hard to make both parties happy on something like that. That’s the type of thing that we’ll work out in at the start of the season with the ball club and just try to determine how they want to have it and go with that,” said Bicknell.
No one enjoys a rain delay and it can throw a curve ball into the plans for Dave and his crew. In a 3-2 ‘Rider win against the Springfield Cardinals on May 25, 2014 this proved to be the case as the game experienced a delay of over 2 1/2 hours.
“The biggest man power requirement is moving the infield tarp. That tarp is 170′ x 170’ and it weights about a ton so it takes at least 10 to 15 people the get that into place when we need to. We also have some part-time stuff that comes in during the game to supplement in case we have a rain storm come in.”
“We have several wether sources that we use and we constantly monitor the radar during the course of a ball game just in case something does come up. We’ll be in communication with the crew chief of the umpiring crew and have our grounds crew ready to go in case they decide to stop the game.”
The work doesn’t stop during the off-season because spring is right around the corner and Bicknell knows another season is quickly approaching.
“From early February on through the end of October there’s a full schedule of events still going on at Dr Pepper Ballpark and we’re continuing to manage the field to be sure we’re ready for the next season. During the months of November, December and January that’s when we have some time to work on some projects in case we need to improve some things and get out of town to take a vacation.”
This is a vacation that is well deserved for ‘Diamond Dave’ and his assistants. It takes a combination of consistency and precision to make sure the field at Dr Pepper Ballpark is ready to go for the first pitch night in and night out, and Bicknell’s passion shows through his skill and persistence.
From the corner of Hicks and Diamond Drive,