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Baseball is in a “rain delay” due to COVID-19

April 15, 2020  - By
Photo: Mitch Hooten(courtesy of Buffalo.Agency)

Photo: Mitch Hooten

When March rolled around, Mitch Hooten, head groundskeeper of Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Mich., was anticipating the start of the minor league season for the West Michigan Whitecaps. The infield was shaping up and the water for irrigation was about to be turned on.

But then, on March 12, Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball announced a delay to the start of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and spring for the Whitecaps, the Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, came to a grinding halt. On March 16, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer enacted a stay at home order for all nonessential businesses.

“We were literally going to turn on the water to ballpark that [next] Monday and be up and running,” he says. “Now we’ve had to hold up everything.”

Hooten says since he’s part of a team that maintains a facility, he’s considered essential. But he’s scaled back to working around 15 hours total the whole week.

He may mow twice a week at the most. He says he’s also done a round of Tenacity (Syngenta) herbicide, and he’s using this time to nurse along a couple of trouble spots in the turf.

“There are some Poa annua spots that got wiped out but the seed never took hold,” he says. “I have a couple of bare spots that are slowing coming in. The bluegrass is filling it in. Besides that, it’s really slowly maintaining it.”

He says he plans to spread out fertilizer treatments and sprays. He’s been asked to hold back on expenses as long as possible. Luckily, Hooten participated in early order programming, and his order of everything he’d need to maintain the field — from PGRs, fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides — arrived the week before the shutdown

“I got really lucky,” he says. “Worst case scenario this year, I still have everything on hand.”

Hooten says it’s a strange feeling, especially since there is no set time frame at the moment for when the season starts. Michigan has extended its stay at home order until the end of April. But he’s taking it “one day at a time.”

“I think most groundskeepers like to be in the control of everything they can be in control of,” he says.

While there’s some control, Hooten says there’s still a lot of uncertainty. But, he’s relishing in some of the positives of this slow start to the season.

“I don’t have to work eight or 10 hours a day to get the field to where it needs to be,” he says. “I don’t need to run myself into the ground. I’m going at my pace. Especially this time of year. The first couple of weeks, I’m always really tired, really sore going home.”

He says the front office has been supportive of his approach. “There’s no pressure — they’re in the same boat,” he says.

Hooten says he’s also enjoying the time with his family, nothing his wife has told him “it’s kind of weird, but it’s nice having you around.”

And, when baseball returns, he knows he and his field will be ready.

“I’ll actually be able to get the field really tight and really strong, in midseason form,” he says. “When we do play, the place will be looking really, really great.”

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