(Perfect) Leaves of Grass


I don’t know about you, but my yard is a disaster. I mean, there are worse yards out there – on my street even – but mine definitely does not get the attention that it deserves. And while my backyard is a nice, flat patch of land, I certainly couldn’t imagine trying to field a ground ball there.

One of the great things about baseball is the beauty of an outdoor natural playing surface. Anyone can throw down a wooden floor indoors somewhere and play basketball, but baseball fields have to be manicured.

Now, I couldn’t tell you the name of too many professional groundskeepers. They are nameless and wildly underappreciated. All they do is coordinate their team of fescue fanatics to work around the clock, throughout the year, to provide a spectacular spot of earth for professional athletes to run around on.

Growing up close to Rosenblatt Stadium, I knew of Jesse Cuevas, because I always saw him directing his troops before, during, and after every College World Series game. For as long as I can remember, he was as much of a fixture of that stadium as the CWS itself.

The only other guy that I could name is the man known as the god of sod. The turfmeister. The nitty gritty dirt man.

George Toma.

He is a man who worships the ground that we walk on. He has spent his life honing his craft, and in turn, is the greatest sodsman alive.

Toma was recognized this week as he was one of the inaugural inductees in the Major League Baseball Groundskeeper Hall of Fame. (Yes, there is such a thing) It’s funny to think about what the meeting agenda looks like for a groundskeeper’s conventions:

12:00-1:00: lunch (grass fed beef, organically grown root vegetables)
1:00-2:00: constructing a pitcher’s mound
2:00-4:00: mowing outfield patterns
4:00-5:00: batter’s box manipulation
5:00- free time (mowing)

All joking aside, it’s quite an honor for a man who is such an important part of Kansas City sports history. He came to Kansas City back in 1957 against the advice of his mentor, Emil Bossard. Toma says that Bossard told him, “Don’t go, George. Stay out of Kansas City!’ He said it was one of the hardest places in the United States to grow grass. They don’t have any drainage. They don’t have any good soil. In the spring, the rains flood you out. In the summer, it’s too hot.’ ”

Toma though, took the challenge and turned the mockery of a diamond at Municipal Stadium into one of the finest multi-sport facilities in the country. He continued to work with the Royals and Chiefs through 1997, even making the most out of Kauffman & Arrowhead’s artificial turf. Toma’s innovative ideas and meticulous attention to detail extended the life of those carpets. Finally, Toma completed the circle and oversaw the change back to that beautiful grass in 1995. I could picture him rolling around the infield on it – except that might make the grass lay funny…

Toma’s reputation has taken him all over the world to help with people’s turf problems. He has helped out with the playing surface at every Super Bowl that has been played. He’s had to deal with every kind of challenge from flooding to grubworms, but has somehow conquered them all. Even the NFL Hall of Fame has recognized him with the Daniel F. Reeves Pioneer Award. It is given periodically to an individual who has made a significant innovative contribution to professional football. 

As he accepts yet another honor, and seemingly the highest of the groundskeeper’s world, it prompts the question – Does he deserve to be in the Royals Hall of Fame?

While it could seem ridiculous to have a groundkeeper in the same company as George Brett and Ewing Kauffman, he’s certainly deserving of the honor in his own right. While the players were at home, getting their rest before Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, Toma and his crew were surely working at the stadium – making sure the tobacco spit was completely removed from the turf. Before opening day, Toma and his crew were busy making sure that the field sparkled like a diamond in the cold April air. For 40 years, he dedicated his time to giving the Royals a field to play on. His job was never-ending. He was committed to being the best at what he did, and he succeeded.

I think it would be a nice gesture for the Royals to make this happen. I know that the other members of the Royals Hall of Fame would certainly agree.

In the meantime, if George isn’t too busy, I’m up for listening to any ideas he might have for rejuvenating my lawn. I’m sure that if he got his hands on it, it would be ready to dance on in two weeks.

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