While watching old All-Star game films on MLB Network last night ("Get a life BR"), I noticed something that I hadn't really thought too much about in the past. That was the fact that the fields in the 50's and 60's were in horrible shape.
Examining pictures from previous decades also showed that the playing fields of days gone by were rockpiles compared to the pristine playing surfaces of today.
In the old days of Yankee Stadium (the original, not the renovated stadium) the fans would be allowed on the field after the game to view the monuments in center field and to exit the stadium through the bullpens. Can you imagine that happening today?
When I took a tour of Yankee Stadium in 2008, they let us walk around the warning track out to the monuments. The tour guide specifically mentioned, several times, that if anyone stepped on or touched the grass they would be removed from the tour and escorted out of the stadium. When I asked, "Is it OK to take a picture of the grass?" I got a dirty look and no answer. He meant business.
I wouldn't have wanted to be an infielder back in the day and play on those fields with lumpy grass and bare patches. Wait, I would. That would have meant I was in the Major Leagues.
Take a look at baseball dimaonds from years ago and compare them to the modern day playing field. There is no comparison. One reason I believe there are better fields today is that only the Athletics and Marlins share a stadium with a football team. Football is not a friend of baseball fields. But the biggest reason though has to be the technology of growing and caring for grass and the maniacal manner in which groundskeepers obsess over their fields. Although I could do without all the designs, other than checkerboard, that groundskeepers cut into the grass. I would even go as far as to say that a beautiful looking field adds to the game day experience for the fans.
Having been on the field at Coors Field many times (while keeping off the grass) it is easily the best playing surface I've ever seen up close. Mark Razum is the head groundskeeper at Coors Field and if I were Troy Tulowitzki, Todd Helton or any infielder, I would thank that guy every day for such a fine surface to field grounders on. The only people who probably don't like current Major League fields are dentists.
As for my mediocre playing career, the two best fields I've ever played on are Doubleday Field in Cooperstown and Sky Sox Stadium in Colorado Springs. I could name all the crappy fields I've played on but it would take a long time to list them all. I will say Arvada High School in Colorado is the worst surface I've ever played on. It is downright scary. Lumpy and uneven with bad grass, rocks the size of chicken nuggets, clumpy dirt, you name it, that place is horrible and dangerous.
By the way, when I was a kid I always wanted to be a groundskeeper. I would marvel at the groundskeepers drag the field, put the lines down, water the infield and put in the bases. That said, I always hated yard work at home. Doesn't make sense does it? I wonder if groundskeepers take as much care of their own lawns as they do at the ballpark? I've heard that professional window washers have the dirtiest windows at home. Maybe that translates to groundskeepers too.
So, I raise a glass and make a toast to the guys with dirt under their fingernails and grass stains on their pants, the groundskeepers of baseball fields.