Players work hard to keep the shine on their baseball diamond

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Covering all the bases

Members of the Dillon Cubs pull a tarp as part of their maintenance duties. M.P. Regan photo

Coloring outside the lines

Dean Smith chalks the batters box prior to a recent game. M.P. Regan photo

The Dillon Cubs doubleheader finishes, about six hours after it began, on an uncommonly hot, dry, energy-draining July afternoon.

And then the club’s grounds crew hustles out to tend to Cubs Field.

Pete Gibson climbs on a tractor fitted with a leveler and drives around the infield dirt, eliminating clumps and indentations that could cause bad hops or twisted ankles.

Dean Smith meticulously re-chalks the rectangles of the batter’s boxes, and then sets the long foul lines that define the outline of the diamond.

Greg Fitzgerald hoses down the infield dirt to keep the drought-dried area from swirling up into a cloud—a task that had to be performed between innings during a particularly blustery June doubleheader interrupted by a mini-dust storm.

Kale Konen, Conner Vezina, Sawyer Tackett and Cohen Hartman grab a heavy tarp and together drag it more than 100 feet, then settle it over the critical home plate area to protect it from the elements.

Jace Fitzgerald, Connor Curnow and Cole Pulliam tend to another key portion of real estate—the pitching mound, examining it, raking it and, when necessary, getting on their knees to groom it with their hands to ensure it provides a safe launching pad—and landing spot—for pitchers.

If those names sound familiar to Dillon Cubs fans, it’s because they are all Dillon Cubs players, many of them long-time starters for the team—and their head coach.

Because the local Boys of Summer also work part-time, for free, as members of the spring and summer grounds crew at Cubs Field, toiling before and after games and practices and sometimes on off-days to keep their field looking good and playing safe.

“When we’re playing, we don’t have to worry about the field giving us a bad hop or the mound not letting you push off on a pitch or the batter’s box letting you get a good swing. We do it as a pride thing,” said Jace Fitzgerald, a veteran leader on the Cubs.

“Each day before games we are out here raking out lines, getting the edging done, dragging the field, getting home plate fixed up, getting the mound fixed up. It’s a solid 30 minutes to an hour before each game,” said Curnow of tasks that also have to be performed between games of doubleheaders.

“Especially early in the season after the field has been sitting out there all winter, it’s crucial to get it looking the way it needs to,” added Curnow of rougher duties that include filling gopher holes and coping with any undulations caused by runoff from rain and melting snow.

“That’s probably the worst thing—filling gopher holes,” commented Curnow, now in his fourth season with the Cubs program. “But none of it is too bad.”

It all adds up to a lot of good done for the club and the community, with the Cubs players donating hundreds, probably thousands, of hours of their time each year to take care of the field at the city’s public Ray Lynch Park.

“It’s probably countless,” said Jace Fitzgerald, of all the hours he and his fellow Cubs have spent on field maintenance during his time with the program.

“It’s just part of being on this team,” said Jace, now playing in his sixth season with the Cubs team he joined during his seventh grade year in school after being a longtime fan.

“I’d been going to Cubs games forever. You kind of just take the field for granted watching games,” recalled Jace, who followed his older brother RJ into the program.

“You don’t realize how much you have to put into taking care of a field. It’s a lot of work. My first couple years, I learned what it takes to keep a field in good shape from some of the veterans. So, we’re teaching the young guys now. It’s a cycle,” said Jace, son of Cubs Head Coach Greg Fitzgerald.

“You’ve gotta take care of your field so it looks nice and plays well. It’s important for players on both teams and for people watching. The community has put a lot of money into this field, so we want to keep it up and keep it looking good,” noted Jace of the Cubs Field facility that debuted in 2016 after a vigorous community effort to raise the funds to construct what is now one of the finest American Legion sites in the state.

“We want the field to keep getting better. It’s gotten a lot better from the first year to this year. Every year we just do a little more and try to improve it,” added Jace of the value additions he and his fellow Cubs make a point of compiling every season for the baseball facility that brings in more than a thousand visitors each year.

“I really enjoy playing at this park. Dillon always does a fantastic job taking care of it,” said Helena Reps Head Coach Dick Fuzesy after a recent twin bill at Cubs Field.

“The kids take pride in it,” said Cubs Head Coach Greg Fitzgerald, himself a member of the volunteer grounds crew.

“We had a sprinkler break out here today. We had to dig that up and fill it back in. It’s a continuing process,” said the Cubs skipper after their July 2 doubleheader against the Reps.

“It’s something we try to instill in all the Cubs—that their field is a reflection of you as a player and person and team.”