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A Conversation with Steve Peeler 

 

 

Nobody in town has been revving up for the All-Star Game more than Steve Peeler. The North Carolina native has been head groundskeeper at PNC Park for the past three years. Previously he worked with the Florida Marlins, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox.

 

 

This grass is so green it looks fake.

We use a four-way blend of Kentucky bluegrass. The main ingredient's a variety called P-105, which is really tough and will hold up under foot traffic. We fertilize this field every 10 to 12 days, and we water a lot. We're pushing about 43,000 gallons a week. We had to replace a lot of the field after the Rolling Stones concert last year.

 

How many hours a day do you work?

If we have a game, we're here about 14 to 16 hours. Non-game days are just eight hours, so that's like a half-day! Most of our day is spent on the infield ... about 4 or 5 hours ... since that's what's most important to the players. Only the three outfielders are on the grass. That only takes an hour-and-a-half.

 

Can't you just get some goats?

In the '20s in Washington they used to keep goats under the stands and brought them out after the game. They're pretty consistent.

 

Growing up, were you into baseball, or into grass?

I had my heart set on playing. I was a baseball and football player. I played baseball in Florida after high school. My goal was to make it into the major leagues. I had no thoughts of grass. When they called me in and told me my playing days were over, I started leaning in this direction. I went to Catawba Valley Tech for college and got a degree in agronomy. When I was young, my grandfather had built a golf course and I worked on that from when I was 6 up to about 14, when he sold it.

 

So you ended up making the big league after all!

Yeah, I made it. I guess I just wasn't specific enough when I prayed. I didn't ask God the right questions.

 

What keeps you up at night before a big game?

Rain. I was told with the Cardinals that each decision you make with a rainout is a half-million dollars.

 

Are you a strategist for the team?

There's a lot of strategy to my job. For our team now, I like to keep the grass a little taller to help our pitchers out by slowing the ball down. It hurts the hitters, but we've got a good-hitting ball club. ... A certain manager I used to work for in the National League, a very winning manager who likes to have home-field advantage, would have us slant the baselines in.

 

You're allowed to do that?

Well, the rulebook doesn't say you can't do that. ... It's a gray area. When I was with the White Sox, Roger Bossard took me under his wing and taught me the "17 tricks of the trade" for home-field advantage. Those aren't publishable. That stuff used to go on years ago, but now they watch you with a close eye.

 

Some of the old groundskeepers were real characters. When you'd go into a park like Comiskey, you'd know there was a home-field advantage. You just didn't know what it was. I've heard tales that at the old park in Cleveland they used to move the fences in and back. There's no way you could get away with that today. I've seen secrets of the players and coaches and managers that people would love to know, but I'll never tell. But the game has changed so much over the past 10 years. ... There aren't any characters anymore, guys like Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb. There's no looseness in the clubhouse anymore. It's all business.

 

How's your lawn at home?

In Seattle I had a synthetic lawn! It looked real and nobody asked me any questions. Here, it's not bad. My mother-in-law mowed it a few times at the beginning of the season when she was in town. I've sprayed a chemical on it to slow the growth down.

 

Do you have a favorite team?

Growing up, my favorite player was Dale Murphy and the Atlanta Braves were my team. Today, the game for me has lost its luster. You take it for granted being around the players and the teams. When Barry Bonds comes to town, no disrespect, you see him as a normal person.

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