June 21, 2013

Royals’ grounds crew on constant watch to keep Kauffman Stadium in shape

When the Royals leave town, the grounds crew doesn’t stop working. “We plan for the worst, so that if it happens we’re ready and if it doesn’t happen then it’s not that bad of a day,” said Trevor Vance, the team’s director of groundskeeping and landscaping.

If you look closely at the field inside Kauffman Stadium this weekend, there’s at least one difference since the Royals last held a homestand.

Make that every homestand.

The pattern in the grass changes every home series thanks to Trevor Vance, the team’s director of groundskeeping and landscaping, and his assistants, Curt Mayes and Rob Schulte, who together lead a pool of 12 part-time workers.

Creating the new design is one of the fun parts of their demanding jobs, but it’s not their focus — and Vance said he hopes the fans don’t make it theirs either.

“I want the field to be a backdrop. I want the fans to come out here, walk to their seats and say, ‘Wow, look how green and beautiful that field is’ and never bring it up again,” Vance said. “They’re here to watch the players, not the field.”

But even if you do take more than a glance at the K, you’re probably unaware of how much work it takes to keep it pristine throughout the season.

The grounds crew works every day, even when the Royals aren’t in town. With that much work to do, you might think the crew completes the same routine each day.

But that’s not the case. The grounds crew doesn’t have a daily routine.

For a game in the Royals’ last homestand, about 10 men showed up one day at 7 a.m. A few rebuilt the pitcher’s mound and home plate, while two cleaned out and washed the dugouts. Another roamed the outfield and warning track, vacuuming sunflower-seed shells. Although the grounds crew doesn’t mow on game days, one person decided to touch up the area around the pitcher’s mound. Another dragged the dirt on the warning track using a mower. Several helped spray the infield. Two men worked outside the stadium, maintaining the 60,000 plants.

And that’s just before one game. Their duties may be completely different the next day.

“There’s really nothing consistent about us except our approach is we plan for the worst. So that if it happens, we’re ready. And if it doesn’t happen, then it’s not that bad of a day,” Vance said.

Vance, who creates the daily game plan for the grounds crew, relies on Mother Nature and the Royals for direction.

Depending on the weather, he decides when the crew should come in for the day and what tasks to do at what time — before and after a game.

“We’re trying to be proactive instead of reactive,” Vance said.

Vance also coordinates with the manager and others to provide a home-field advantage — within the rules — for the Royals. The front office relays information to Vance about players’ preferences.

James Shields, for instance, prefers a drier, harder mound, so for his June 12 start in the final game against the Tigers, the grounds crew had to adjust.

“We try to get their feedback,” Vance said. “That’s really the only gauge we have, the only tool that tells us that we’re doing our job right.”

The players’ comments are also crucial to provide consistency on the field throughout the season. It’s one thing the Royals need to trust, Vance said, because it’s their office, where they work and earn their money.

“We need to make sure everything’s right for them when they show up for work,” he said.

Although the crew doesn’t have a routine, some members complete similar tasks.

Rolland Bruce, better known as Bubba, is one of the more veteran members, having joined around 1968. Bruce’s routine the morning of a game consists of cleaning the dugouts. He removes any garbage, sweeps and hoses them down. When he works at night, he often does the same thing after the game, in addition to raking, dumping grass and watering the dirt and infield.

Bruce said he has seen changes in groundskeeping since he and George Toma moved from Municipal Stadium in 1972. Toma, head groundskeeper at Municipal and Kauffman stadiums for 40 years, maintained artificial turf before grass came to Kauffman in 1995. Toma has also overseen field preparation for every Super Bowl.

Vance is another veteran, leading the grounds crew for 18 years and joining 10 years beforehand.

“When you surround yourself with people who take ownership in their work and take pride in their work, then the outcome’s usually where we want it,” Vance said. “The crew itself for one, then the organization and then the city can all take great pride in this field that we put out there every day.”

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