After my first game as a crew member, I was a mess. Legs were stiff and unworkable. I couldn’t force my hand into a grip. I was exhausted.
But I had not been so humbled by physical demands in decades. It felt rewarding.
As weeks went by, I still ached but began feeling comfortable with the job and witnessed some heartwarming moments.
— The team mascot, a human-in-a-red-dog-suit named Rowdie, was late to a day game. His home basement had flooded. But he rushed into the stadium for the fifth inning in time to throw T-shirts to his fans — young screaming kids.
— An opposing team’s pitcher was watching the game in the crew's garage. A mother and her young son were in the stands; the kid had a glove. Knowing it was unlikely for the boy to catch a foul ball, the pitcher asked the grounds crew if there was a ball he could sign. One was found and the pitcher handed the boy the ball.
— At each of the 72 home games, the crew quickly changes bases and rakes infield dirt after the third and sixth innings. Indians first baseman Matt Hague always thanks the crew for cleaning the space.
Hague explained to me, “I figure I gotta be grateful to the grounds crew. ... I guess I think if you thank them for what they do for you, it’s karma.”
He may be right. At the end of June, Hague had a .292 batting average and led the team in runs batted in (51) and hits (92). At the time, the Indians topped the 14-team International League with 55 wins and 30 losses.
In 1999, Victory Field, then three years old, was named Best Minor League Ballpark in America by Baseball America. The Vic won a similar award in 2001 from Sports Illustrated and from minorleaguenews.com.