Catch-playing on Halloween must be jinxed as it has been quite difficult finding a willing partner. I’m certain the cold and rainy forecast did not help the situation any, nor did the beginning of the off-season blues. I used the day before All Saints’ Day as an excuse to wear one of my favorite Royals shirts, figuring no one really cares what a writer wears anyway.
For the 8th consecutive year, Hammons Field, home of the AA Springfield Cardinals, has been named the 2018 Texas League Field of the Year. Head Groundskeeper Brock was also named Texas League’s Turf Manager of the Year and he is quick to acknowledge the help of Derek (Day #43) and the field crew staff. I still take pride in being part of the grounds crew for 6 weeks during one of those award-winning years.
In the dark morning fog, my daughters and I passed Hammons Field on the school commute and my synapses sparked. I reached out to Brock to see if he had any interest in playing catch. I hoped he wouldn’t play any tricks on me.
Brock has been with the Springfield Cardinals since the beginning, overseeing construction of the field in 2003.
“That was a really neat experience, even if it was stinking hot when we were putting the field in. I remember having to hand shovel and dig out portions of the drainage lines.”
Brock grew up on a farm in Lamar, Missouri. He was a pitcher and first baseman for his summer ball team as his high school didn’t start a baseball program until after he graduated.
“My favorite sport in high school was basketball. God gave me the ability to jump.”
Hammons Field is the home of both the AA Cardinals and the Missouri State University Bears, which means there is a significant time in early spring when both teams are using the field.
“It’s controlled chaos,” Brock said with a smile. “But we’ve been doing it for so long it’s now second nature. The Bears played here in 2004 and the Cardinals didn’t start until 2005.”
Springfield is known for its great variety of weather. Not too many years ago, I remember mowing while there were piles of snow in my backyard. Through triple-digit heat, oppressive humidity, flash-flood producing rains, and freezing temperatures, Brock keeps the field in pristine shape.
“I’ve learned a lot about patience. I have no control over Mother Nature.”
We walked to the field, Brock stopping only momentarily to grab his glove out of his car.
“I bought this at Bass Pro,” he said, holding out his first baseman’s mitt.
Bass Pro Shops used to have a fantastic baseball section. I remember drooling over gloves and bats and baseball equipment instead of walking around looking in the various aquariums. I, too, bought my glove at Bass Pro, back in 1990. (I haven’t been able to connect with Johnny Morris for a game of catch. Yet.)
Brock unlocked the centerfield fence and we stepped out on the warning track. The deep red crushed lava rock almost perfectly matches MSU maroon. Even in the off-season, the outfield turf is perfectly manicured, mowed multiple times each week, waiting for its next game action in February 2019.
Brock’s skills have been used on the big stage too, as he and Derek both worked on the field at Busch Stadium during the 2006 World Series — “I even got a hug from series MVP David Eckstein” — and the 2009 All Star Game.
Throughout today’s catch playing venture, I was careful not to step on the grass no matter how much I desired to simply run. Brock threw sidearm knuckleballs with a smile and said that he’s had a month off, he’s ready to get back into game day routine.
As are all avid fans of the game, no matter which team you cheer.