There is no more hallowed ground in college baseball than the one at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska. You know the legends that have played on it, and the seemingly immortal that have coached in it’s dugouts. Overlooked are those that not only keep the ground playable, but pristine each Summer in Omaha.
In our sport, the diehards arrive at the ballpark early to watch batting practice and take in the atmosphere of the sport’s grandest stage. Fans who arrive extra early, may even get a peek at Maple, the only 4 legged member of the grounds crew who belongs to the head groundskeeper. Those fans get what they came for, but they also become witnesses to the preparation and preservation of the field before, during, and in between games. One fan at Charles Schwab Field for Iowa’s victory over Michigan on Saturday said “you couldn’t pay me enough to do that job” as JT Parr, Cole Gideon, and other members of the grounds crew touched up the infield between innings. Parr and Gideon are veterans of the crew, although they've decided that Sunday’s Big Ten Championship will be their final game, at least for now, as members of the team that work both the Big Ten Tournament and College World Series.
JT and Cole have been friends since they were high school freshmen, now both finishing college, it’s time to move on from the time they’ve shared on the grounds crew. JT joined the crew in 2020, with Cole following him for the 2022 circuit. In that time, Gideon, Parr, and the other grounds crew members have grown closer through their work, as well as during the minimal free time they find at the ballpark. It isn’t uncommon to see members of the team sharing laughs or telling stories about their times at the stadium. Those stories can involve anything from previous interactions with players, coaches, or even unruly fans. Parr remembers chasing a fan who ran on the field in the 9th inning of the Arizona vs Vanderbilt game in 2021. Parr and other crew members were met with choice words when they wrangled him in and escorted him to law enforcement, but Parr will always remember the “all time adrenaline high” that comes with chasing a streaker with 25,000 fans on hand.
Most fans pay close attention to the grounds crew when their talents are needed during the game. The crew can be seen dragging the infield dirt in after the 3rd and 6th innings of each game, but, more famously, as soon as bad weather strikes, the crew is there. No fan likes seeing the tarp leave its casing down the 3rd base line, but they know the cost of not protecting the field during delays. Gideon says that the tarp is a lot easier to manage than most fans may think, especially with a whole team of guys committed to preserving the work that they’d already done. During delays, the grounds crew get together to play cards, or even play basketball on the hoop on hand. Others catch up on much needed sleep until word comes down from either the Big Ten or the NCAA that teams are good to return to the field.
Despite the randomness of weather and unruly fans alike, the grounds crew has become a beacon of consistency at Charles Schwab Field. Not only has the park made arrangements to quickly overcome rain with unique draining facilities, but the crew knows what has to be done when they show up to the stadium each day. Parr says that the day starts with watering the warning track, and then a majority of the work comes between batting practice and the start of the first game. Parr and his coworkers have to deconstruct from BP and set up the field once the teams are done warming up. Crew members usually arrive two and a half hours before the first game of the day, and leave about an hour after the last one, which can make for lengthy days, especially with bad weather.
In his time, Gideon has prepared the bullpen, helped water the infield, stenciled the logos, and has, much to the dismay of many College World Series fans, popped beach balls that find their way onto the field. Gideon says they’ve been instructed to pop those beach balls as they are a banned item at Charles Schwab Field.
Gideon and Parr both say the most strenuous time of his career was last year’s Big Ten Tournament, which, due to weather delays and postponements, caused the grounds crew to work over 80 hours between start of play on Tuesday, and Sunday’s championship. This meant the entire crew arrived at 6:30 AM, and left around 3:00 am each day. They’re happy to do it, though, as Gideon and Parr both cite that it all boils down to the players. Gideon’s favorite memories at the ballpark include playing hacky sack with members of the Michigan bullpen, talking with players like Stanford’s Quinn Matthews, and tarping the field with larger than life figure Stephen Schoch. Gideon can be seen pulling the tarp with Schoch below.
Parr says he loves talking to the players because “they’re just college kids like me, but they’re getting ready to play on the sport’s biggest stage”. In turn, Parr says players from last year’s National Championship Ole Miss team recognized him and other grounds crew members in downtown Omaha as the Rebels celebrated their victory.
While Parr and Gideon are unavailable for this year’s College World Series, the grounds crew will continue to preserve the field that produces championship celebrations. Neither Parr nor Gideon are willing to rule out a return to the crew sometime in the future, though. Next time you’re at Charles Schwab Field, pay close attention to the attention and detail that goes into preparing the field for play. Just like the players who play for glory at Charles Schwab Field, the Omaha grounds crew is made up of some of the best in the country.