Rockin’ and Rollin’ in Memphis: Groundskeeper keeps major-league conditions at AAA ballpark

October 15, 2012  - By
Ed Collins

Head groundskeeper Ed Collins mows the field at AutoZone Park in Memphis. “It only takes me about an hour-and-a-half to do the whole field. It’s my escape time, no one can bother me when I’m mowing.” Collins says.

Just a Mark McGuire home run from the sweaty blues bars of Beale Street in Memphis stands AutoZone Park, home of the Memphis Redbirds. As the AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Redbirds proudly represent their iconic major league big brother in name and colors.

Nestled deep in downtown Memphis, AutoZone Park is surrounded by historic buildings, relics and landmarks. Although the setting makes an idyllic background for minor league baseball, it presents a few extra challenges for Head Groundskeeper Ed Collins.

“Because we’re a downtown stadium, we have absolutely no space for anything,” Collins says. “When we first installed the turf in 2000, we literally pulled sod off flatbed semis that were lined up outside the stadium.”

Collins has been with the organization since 1992, back when they were called the Memphis Chicks. He played a big role in the development and construction of AutoZone Park. Collins’ cultural practices are typical for a bermudagrass field that sees long, hot summers.

“We mow before every game, topdress about 5-6 times a year, use solid tines in May, verticut in June, and pull cores in July,” Collins says.

He keeps the grass at about three-quarters of an inch and will go lower in the heat of the summer. Collins goes light on the ryegrass overseeding in the fall (about 300 lbs.) so he doesn’t have to worry about killing it all in the spring.

Autozone Park

Another successful season is in the books for AutoZone Park. “If you don’t love coming to the ballpark everyday like I do, this is not the job for you,” Collins says.

Although Collins shares the load with his assistant Andrew Strong, he likes to do most of the mowing himself. “I mow with the Jacobsen Greens King triplex mower before every game, it only takes me about an hour-and-a-half to do the whole field,” Collins says. “It’s my escape time, no one can bother me when I’m mowing.”

On the infield, Collins uses Pros Choice for the infield mix and clay from Southern Athletic Fields. He uses a steamroller several times a year to firm things up.

For Collins, the biggest challenge is the everyday grind of the season. “We have several eight-game home stands during the year, which means really long days for us.”

But the long hours and hard work have paid off for Collins, Strong and the Redbirds. In 2005, AutoZone Park was named Field of the Year by the Pacific Coast League. Collins was also awarded the 2003 AAA All-Star game, which forced him to flip the entire infield grass in less than 12 hours.

“We started ripping the sod out right after the ninth inning of a night game and we had it all out by 4 am,” Collins says. “We had all the new sod down by noon the next day. We rolled, watered, topdressed, and had the field perfect in just five days.”

Most of the field is 12 years old and mutations are starting to pop up. “We’ll probably rip it all out and install new sod after next season. It’s just about that time.”

fireworks damage

Fireworks can be a problem for Collins and his crew. “Again, being in a downtown stadium, we have nowhere to light them but center field. We pull out a big trailer and surround it with plywood and tarps, but still never know which way the wind will blow. When they land on the turf, they create big ugly burn marks.”

While most of Collins’ challenges are firmly on the ground, sometimes he must fix his gaze upward.

“We’re doing fireworks 14 times this year and it’s been challenging,” he says. “Again, being in a downtown stadium, we have nowhere to light them but center field. We pull out a big trailer and surround it with plywood and tarps, but still never know which way the wind will blow. When they land on the turf, they create big ugly burn marks.”

From long home stands and late nights to fireworks and mutations, Collins takes it all in stride. “If you don’t love coming to the ballpark every day like I do, this is not the job for you.”

 

AT Staff

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