Behind the Scenes at the Ballpark
Summer is officially here, and that means the baseball season is in full swing. Join us for a "behind the scenes" look at the many folks who help keep things at the ballpark running smoothly.
Baseball's a dirty business and it falls upon the stadium's maintenance crew to prepare the locker rooms for both the home and visiting teams. And in addition to cleaning and sanitizing the showers, and restocking the toiletries, it means doing lots and lots of laundry. The team generally fires up four or five industrial-sized washers about 15 minutes after the game's final out, and they keep churning away for the next three or four hours. Uniforms usually require two wash cycles, one with a special detergent to remove pine tar, and a second to wash away dirt and grass stains. The next three or four loads consist of the players' personal garments, such as socks and underwear. Towels and washcloths make up the bulk of the remaining loads.
The grounds crew typically devotes about four hours to the field prior to game time in stadiums with real grass. The grass is watered at least three times and then dragged 10 times or more (with mats and groomers) to make sure the texture is just right. The turf might be mown once or twice, depending upon the preference of the home team; some ball clubs prefer longer grass than others. The striping you see in the field is due to the bending of the grass, not any special cutting. Ballpark grass is cut with a reel mower, which is equipped with cylindrical-style blades and rollers. Grass bent in opposite directions from the rollers reflects light differently, which gives the appearance of two shades of green.
A Frank Discussion
Hot dogs are popular at every stadium. They're good for a vendor's wallet, but bad for the back. Each hot dog vendor has to carry a 40-lb. "hot box" loaded with frankfurters, boiling water, buns, and condiments. Some ballparks still insist that the vendor prepare the wiener from start to finish and wrap it individually, instead of offering pre-packaged hot dogs. On average, hot dogs usually generate more money than any other concession. Hungry fans often order two or three at a time, versus items like soft pretzels or popcorn, where a single serving is the norm. As a result, hot dog vendors tend to sell out more quickly than other vendors.
On a good day, the ballpark's best vendor may earn up to $200. Beer vendors really build up their biceps during a typical game. They usually carry two cases at a time (50 bottles or cans) while negotiating all those stairs. In most stadiums, laws require that beer salespersons be at least 21 years of age. They also have to undergo special training, mainly to instruct them in ways to identify and deal with fans who've had one too many.
The live organist at the ballpark seems to be going the way of the rotary-dial telephone. Today's fans prefer pre-recorded versions of "We Will Rock You" or "Jump Around" over another chorus of "Charge!" on the Wurlitzer. The tradition of having a live organist began on April 6, 1941, when the Chicago Cubs installed an electric organ at Wrigley Field and hired Roy Nelson to man the keys. Even though the Cubs lost, the music seemed to keep the home crowd stoked, so the live entertainment stayed. And though professional organists may seem to be a mild-mannered bunch, every now and then they manage to stir up some trouble. For example, in 1985, Jack Russell Stadium organist Wilbur Snapp was displeased with an umpire's call and retaliated by playing a quick rendition of "Three Blind Mice."Â The ump was not amused and had Snapp ejected from the game.
So Fresh and So Clean
Even when the economy is flush ballparks have to compete with amusement parks and other attractions for the public's entertainment dollar. They can't always reduce the prices of tickets or concessions, but many stadium owners have found that extra touches like providing a clean environment helps to attract repeat customers. So, as the spectators exit the ballpark, maintenance crews step into action.Â Every seat is power-washed and every concourse is machine-scrubbed.Â One set of workers walks along the rows of seats bagging debris, followed by a second set that use backpack blowers to move the leftover tiny bits (like peanut shells and pieces of popcorn) out into the aisles. The dustpan-and-broom team performs the last bit of surface tidying, sweeping up the debris blown into the aisles by the backpack crew. Finally, the pressure washers come out, using high-powered blasts of steaming hot water to remove food stains and even discarded gum from the concrete.