FREDERICK, Md. -- To paraphrase the MasterCard commercial:
A one-hour rental of a helicopter to dry the rain-drenched outfield: $500.
About 90 bags of Turface brought in on short notice: $10 a bag.
The field being made playable enough to host the strangest ending to a championship series in recent memory: priceless.
As members of the visiting Kinston Indians arrived at Harry Grove Stadium Monday afternoon, in anticipation of the third game of the Carolina League championship series, they were greeted by a very strange sight: A helicopter hovering just a few feet above the center-field grass.
It remained there for just a few moments before flying off into the distance, perhaps to monitor rush-hour traffic on the nearby Capital Beltway.
But it had served its purpose.
Frederick Keys All-Star second baseman Paco Figueroa, who sat on the ledge of the Power Alley barbecue booth down the right-field line, glanced at his watch.
"It's been here for an hour," he observed. "That's what they paid $500 for."
And indeed, the hastily hired aircraft-turned-fan's work was done, but the Keys' grounds crew's work was just getting into high gear.
An unexpected and unpredicted rainstorm moved into the Frederick area late Sunday night and stuck around through mid-morning Monday, dumping several inches of rain onto the uncovered field overnight.
Though the team's "tarp watch" had been on alert all weekend, with no rain and no threat of precipitation, everyone went to bed Sunday night thinking that the skies would remain clear. They woke up to something else entirely.
The "emergency crew" consisted of, well, just about everyone on the Keys gameday staff and they all got to work in a hurry Monday, even those who had made the overnight drive back north from Kinston, where the Indians had taken a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
"We had ticket sales people, the folks from marketing, basically everyone down on the field," said Keys public relations and media coordinator Ryan Sakamoto, who had been the sole front-office member who had been in Kinston as well. "Everyone was raking the field and squeegeeing the infield to get rid of standing water."
By mid-afternoon, with the outfield still boggy and the infield resembling a giant mud puddle, head groundskeeper Chuck Cannon and company called in the big guns, hiring the helicopter for the outfield and bringing in dozens and dozens of bags of Turface for the infield. In addition, "flood control" workers came in to suck as much water out of the outfield grass as possible.
What seemed inconceivable at 3 p.m. -- that a game could be played on the field without the fear of a player getting hurt -- suddenly looked much more realistic by 6 p.m.
Cannon, who was the Midwest League Groundskeeper of the Year in 1998, inherited a tough situation when he joined the Keys to start the 2006 season.
The field conditions at Harry Grove Stadium are, in a word, horrendous. The infield grass is patchy, the infield dirt bumpy, and the outfield is not much better and was made worse a few weeks ago when Bob Dylan performed in concert in center field.
Most of the trouble is endemic to the field itself, and not something that a groundskeeper can fix, certainly not in one year. But Cannon and his crew have worked to make conditions much better than they were, punctuated by performing the nearly unthinkable Monday, waving a groundskeeper magic wand and letting the game get started only 10 minutes past the originally scheduled first pitch.
The only thing that kept the evening from being a total success for the hard-working Frederick crew?
The Keys' wild and crazy 11-inning loss, when a baserunner made the final out of the season on an interference call.
But at least no one got hurt.
The two teams that squared off in the Carolina League finals were familiar not only with each other but with the situation. The Mills Cup matchup of Frederick vs. Kinston was the same as it was in 2005, but this time with different results.
In '05, Frederick and its best record in the league won its first two games at home, taking that 2-0 lead to Kinston, where they dropped two before pulling out the championship on the road in Game 5.
This year, Kinston ruled the Carolina League roost with the best record in the league, best batting average, second-best ERA and both the league's MVP (outfielder Jordan Brown) and Pitcher of the Year (lefthander Chuck Lofgren).
Kinston hosted the opener this time and won the first two games, 10-4 and 3-2. But they made it a clean sweep when they also won their first game at Frederick, 2-1 in 11 innings.
Among the two rosters, 14 players had been there in 2005 as well, six with Frederick and eight with Kinston:
For the Keys, the heart of the lineup in cleanup hitter Nolan Reimold and first baseman Mario Delgado were on that championship Frederick team, along with catcher Brian Bock, shortstop Travis Brown and pitchers David Haehnel and Carlos Jan.
Kinston returners to the postseason included three-quarters of the starting infield for the '06 playoff squad: first baseman Stephen Head, the team's second-round pick that spring, second baseman Argenis Reyes, third baseman Rodney Choy Foo, along with backup catcher Caleb Brock, right fielder and leadoff hitter Jose Constanza, infielder Micah Schilling and closer Kyle Collins along with reliever Scotty Roehl.
The Kinston front office can pretty much plan on needing to find postseason housing options for their players.
Since becoming an Indians affiliate in 1987, the club has gone to the playoffs 15 times in 20 years, including each of the last six seasons.
In that time Kinston has won the Carolina League title five times (1988, 1991, 1995, 2004 and 2006). The club has won both the first and second halves of the North Division five times (the first three times, in 1990, 1991 and 1997 this exempted them from the semifinals, prior to the league adding a Wild Card option). And they've gone to the finals 11 times.