Opening Day Already!?! For the Grounds Crew, Yes

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans season doesn’t start until April 6th, but not for everybody.  For Pelicans groundskeeper Corey Russell, the season started a month ago when Virginia and James Madison rung in the college baseball season at Pelicans Ballpark.

Sure, for broadcasters, ticket reps, promotions staff, players and coaches, the Carolina League season countdown is still ticking, but ever since February 18th it’s been business as usual for Russell.  Every day Russell and his assistants are out mowing the grass, fixing the mounds, laying down chalk and dragging the infield dirt.  It’s all in preparation for college, junior college and high school games at the park.

“Technically, we’re already in the month of May,” Russell said, comparing the amount of work his team’ been doing to the regular baseball season.  “It’s good for us to get everything going.”

Not only is it good for Russell to get his gears going (and teach the newbies on his staff, like assistant Kevin ‘Bacon’ Schmidt — who by the way bears an incredible resemblance to SNL star Bill Heder), but it’s also good for the field.  I got a little lesson in earth science while Russell explained dirt maintenance.  Apparently over time, the dirt builds up in layers, so if left unmanicured it breaks up in chunks and pieces when players run on it.  Think about those awful Little League fields we all played on.  To prevent that from happening, Russell regularly runs the nail drag over the infield.

Russel (second from the left) and the Pelicans groundscrew.

“[Having games now] gives us a purpose of being out there instead of saying ‘it’s 3:30, time to tear up the infield,'” Russell said, “as opposed to us being out there tearing it up for the fun of it.All the games also force the grounds crew to continuously upkeep the pitchers mounds, something of an art in the groundskeeping world.”Basically what we do out there is a pottery class, “Russell said.  “We’re putting two pieces of clay together just like you’d make pottery.”

Having to be at the ballpark for such long hours even before the season starts does have its obvious drawbacks too though.

“My girlfriend hates it,” Russell said.  “But it balances out because everybody else has to sit in an office all summer long while we’re out on the field.”

Russell and crew do have certain activities in order to break up the monotony of working the field for seven and a half months.  Cookouts are a semi-regular occurrence beyond the ballpark’s rightfield wall.  Sometimes Russell’s girlfriend even cooks dinner and delivers.  In addition to food, Russell’s dog also helps lighten the mood.  Maggie, a black and white Iforgottoaskwhatkindofbreedsheis, makes regular appearances on the Pelicans Ballpark field.  She can often be seen chasing Russell on the various Gator’s and lawnmowers he rides around.

“She just wants to be around me,” Russell said jokingly.

So if you happen to be at Pelicans Ballpark, give Russell a wave and tell him hello.  Maybe even bring him dinner, but don’t try chasing the lawnmower, it does go pretty fast.

Till Next Time,

Joel

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