Cubs Groundskeeper Plays Key Position
Roger Baird takes his lawn care seriously. He knows he has a team depending on lush, green grass not to trip them up on the way to making a tough catch.
“This is my dream job,” says Baird, head groundskeeper for the Chicago Cubs. “There are maybe 31 or 32 of us in baseball who have this kind of job. I love it.”
Baird started working part time in 1979 – just out of high school – to take care of the 2.5 acres of grass in Wrigley Field. He continued while he went to college, and in 1995, he was promoted to head groundskeeper.
“Yes, I’m a Cubs fan,” he says. “I was born and raised in Chicago. I’ve always been a Cubs fan. My father was a die-hard Cubs fan.”
Now a seasoned veteran in his line of work, Baird says that of all his experiences, hosting the 1990 All-Star Game is the most memorable for him.
“Any time you host a playoff game, it’s really exciting,” he explains.
More Than Just Mowing Grass
Baird’s job, simply speaking, is to make sure the outfield and infield Kentucky bluegrass is in perfect condition, which can include a variety of factors – from disease control to proper fertilization. And he relies on Don Michaels, certified turf specialist with Conserv FS Inc., to help him make these vital decisions. Michaels, whose clients include the Chicago Bears and Chicago Cubs, along with various schools, businesses, park districts and landscaping companies in northeastern Illinois, has become a bit of a specialist when it comes to sports turf.
“Sports turf, from the little leagues to the big leagues, is very important,” Michaels says. “Safety [for the players] is our main concern.”
Baird agrees, adding that maintaining a major league baseball field is more than just mowing grass. It’s a process.
“As quick as I can in the spring, we start fertilizing,” Baird says. “As soon as Chicago starts getting temperatures in the upper 30s and 40s and nighttime temps no lower than 32 degrees, we jump out there.”
He’s virtually “waking up” the turf, from having “put it to sleep” just before winter. Between winter and spring, no one is allowed on the turf. Once the grass starts growing, he’s mowing it daily, currently with a Toro lawn mower. A riding mower is used on the outfield, but only a hand mower in the infield.
His secret to a great-looking lawn – whether at Wrigley or his own yard in the city – is quite simple.
“Change the blades on the lawn mower,” he says. “I put on a new blade every year. A sharp blade cuts the grass; a dull one rips it, causing stress and yellowing at the tips.”
He also waters weekly – a good soaking of an inch – rather than daily smaller watering.
In the spring, he and his team cut the grass short, but as the temperatures rise in June and July, he raises the mower height, choosing to mow more often.
“Players want the grass to be the same height every time they play, so sometimes we’re taking off an eighth of an inch; other times a quarter of an inch,” he explains, adding that at least an hour and a half each day is spent just grooming the field for play.
Baird is quick to add, though, that being head groundskeeper is more than just preparing the field for Cubs home games.
“When I first started, we had 81 home games,” Baird says. “That’s all changed. Now we have a lot more activities. When a team is on the road, activities are scheduled.”
Just Part of the Game
One of his biggest challenges came last season prior to opening day when he had to prepare for a National Hockey League game. The game required an ice rink cover the field for two and a half weeks.
“We ended up having to re-sod the field,” he remembers.
The weather can play a factor in the field quality, too, especially when the city of Chicago experiences significant rain during the ball season.
“Depending on the temperature and humidity, having the tarp out for an extended period of time can open the door for disease,” Baird says. “But not covering the field can lead to more problems.”
Even so, the weather – along with the other factors Baird manages on a daily basis – is just part of the game.
“It’s still fun, even with the pressure to have it perfect,” he says. “But I admit, the weather can add a few gray hairs.”