I Got To Roll Out the Tarp, but …
How I humiliated myself working on the Washington Nationals grounds crew.
While the ballplayers practiced, Royse and Rowland intently watched the results of their work. Were the ball hops good? Was the pitcher having to dig around too much on the mound? At around 5 p.m., Rowland brought out the line roller and painted the foul lines while a member of the evening tarp crew on the lookout for flying balls literally watched his back. At 6:30, the Nationals' opponent, the Philadelphia Phillies, finished batting practice, and the grounds crew looked like silent-movie actors as they hustled during the half-hour before the game to get the practice equipment off, all the lines and stencils painted, and a final grooming of the baselines finished.
After so many long, intense hours, when the national anthem was sung at 7 p.m. it seemed to me that the important work was done. The little matter of the ballgame felt like an anticlimax. I sat in front of the stands, just inside the stadium fence, on a folding chair with the other members of the crew. Watching baseball with the grounds crew truly gives a worm's-eye view of the game. The fans can focus on hits; they're looking for divots. Rowland praised a player for tamping back a wad of grass on his way to the dugout. He also observed, "On the first baseline we don't have as many chunks and blowouts as yesterday. We got the right level of moisture." At each Nationals game, giant mascotlike figures of Washington, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt run a race on the warning track. When Washington and Lincoln fell on the infield at the end of the race, Rowland winced—such antics tear up the grass.
At the third inning, the crew ran out and dragged and raked the baselines. I stayed behind because only employees of Major League Baseball are allowed on the field during the game, although I thought that if I reprised my encounter with the Sand Pro I could get some fan support. At the fifth inning, they replaced the bases for clean ones for the aesthetic appeal. At the sixth inning, they dragged and raked again.
Royse and Rowland started compulsively checking their Doppler radar maps. Rain cells were popping up in the region. At 9:58, rain started falling in the park. Royse hopped the fence and talked to the umpire, but the rain was too light, and it was too late in the game for it to be a concern. At 10:11, the game was over, another Nationals loss, 6-5. And at 10:11, the grounds crew was running onto the field stomping divots, picking up bases, raking the batter's box. I took a rake and cleaned up the baselines, my beautiful work from earlier in the day pocked with cleat marks. Then the tarp was unrolled and laid over the field. At 10:33, we were done. But my colleagues would be back in a few hours; the next day the Nationals had another game—which they won! *