A Day With Dave: Team Player

David Volk joins the Mariners grounds crew and discovers that mowing might be the easy part of the job

By David Volk

Things were not off to a good start. I had just shown up to Safeco Field for my day as a member of the Seattle Mariners grounds crew and a co-worker was already asking questions I couldn’t answer—questions that had nothing to do with lawn equipment.

“Do you know the song?” Lindsay Guzzo asked. “Do you know the dance?”

No matter how old you are, you know things won’t go well when the answer to both is, “Um….no.” It’s the equivalent of showing up for a final exam without a lick of studying under your belt.

And that’s when she punched me.

Admittedly, Guzzo didn’t hit that hard, and she wasn’t aiming for me. Punching the air is part of the dance routine and I was standing too close. Still, I was quickly learning that grounds crew jobs are more demanding than I thought.

Along with dancing, the crew does cut grass—100,000 square feet of it several times on game day. Crew members must also smooth the clay-like dirt (called Turface) on the infield, add more, wet it, hose down the sidelines, resmooth the Turface, chalk in base lines, protect the grass during practice, resurface the pitcher’s mound and complete hundreds of tasks so that the field is ready 5 minutes before game time, and then broom, re-smooth and clean the base paths several times throughout the game. Moreover, it makes landscaping a spectator sport. If the crew doesn’t mow in straight lines and match the grass pattern perfectly, fans will notice as soon as they settle into their seats, crew member Sergio Pedroza says. “I’ve had people watching TV at home [in Walla Walla] and say, ‘You’re lines are a little off,’” Pedroza jokes.

All of which explains why the Mariners crew didn’t want me actually touching the equipment. They never said I couldn’t, they just seemed happier when I was walking the field, asking for pointers on mowing, sweeping and, of course, dancing (see sidebar).

Dancing wasn’t always part of the job. The club added it in 2002 after former chairman Jim Ellis saw New York Yankee groundskeepers dance to “YMCA” and decided the Mariners’ crew should do the same. They now spend about 60 hours learning three dance routines each season—which, of course, adds to the crew’s workload, points out head groundskeeper Bob Christofferson. On the day I joined the crew, they’d already put in 20 hours learning the routine. So I was a little behind.

I didn’t have long to think about my sad situation because “Dance to the Music” had started and our second dance run-through had begun. Like everyone else, I punched to the right, shuffled three steps right, punched left, shuffled left and then I…um…er…followed the person next to me. Normally, this would have been a good strategy, but I was standing next to Christofferson and even he admits he’s not the greatest dancer. But compared to me, the Sodfather looked like Fred Astaire.

After a 20-minute blur of clapping, pointing, punching, missed turns, missed steps and miscues, the rehearsal continued outside. Each crew member was issued a rake, and sent out to storm the infield. Except for me—I’m guessing for safety reasons (after all, they had seen me dancing). So I ran rakeless behind the groundskeepers. They went to work, raking in a staggered half-wedge formation around second base, and in unison threw down their implements and began dancing with the music blaring. Figuring I would look goofy circling the bag without an implement, I took my place and waited for the number to start again. After repeating the routine several times, I found myself wanting to be more involved, but lacked the proper implement to do so. Until inspiration hit. 

The next time we hit the field, I pulled out my notebook and pen and took notes in formation. I didn’t circle second base, but I threw my pen over my back when the crew dropped their rakes.  

How’d I look?

As Christofferson put it, “You’re not ready for prime time. You’ve got to practice a little bit more. What usually happens is you feel really, really stupid, but then it clicks.”

If that’s the case, it probably should have clicked long ago.

Dance Tips From the Crew

  • “Avoid it, if possible.” Bob Christofferson
  • “Always act like you know what you’re doing.” Lindsay Guzzo
  • “Don’t worry if you mess up, the crowd loves it when you mess up.” Lauren Christofferson
  • “You’ve gotta have some rhythm.” Dave Mattson
  • “Always stand next to someone who has a lot of good moves.” Bob King
  • “Have fun. Don’t take it too seriously and try to do the best you can for who you are and what you do.” Roy Young
  • “You’ve got to put a little dance in everything you do.” Don Brisbois

Lawn-care Tips From the Crew

  • “You’ve got to talk to the grass. You’ve got to sing to it. When you dance on the grass, you’ve got to say, ‘I’m sorry.’” Don Brisbois
  • “If you want to mow in a straight line, focus on an unchanging point on the opposite end of the row, say, the Starbucks sign, for example, aim for it and make sure your body is centered behind the middle of the mower as you go.” Leo Liebert
  • “Mow only a third of the height of the grass or you’ll shock the roots.” Tim Wilson
  • “The key to a lawn is consistent care.” Bob Christofferson
  • “Mix up the pattern. Don’t use the same pattern every time you mow.” Sergio Pedroza
  • “If you want your lawn to look nice, stay off the grass so that all the work you put into it pays off.” Bob King

Home Maintenance Tips From the Crew

  • “Sometimes, when I’m vacuuming, I put a pattern in my carpeting.” Bob Christofferson.
  • “When you’re using a push broom, there are times when it can be more efficient to pull rather than push.” Tim Wilson
  • “Keep your broom low to the ground and don’t use any jerky motions.” Leo Liebert