It doesn't rain much in Midland, Texas, so the RockHounds' grounds crew rarely has to deal with the necessary evil that is the tarp pull. Drying agents and squeegees stay in the groundskeeper's shed, and ponchos almost never have to be worn.
A world free from delays and rainouts might sound like a Minor League Baseball dream come true, but be careful what you wish for. Eric Campell is head groundskeeper for the Midland RockHounds, and his job is not easy. Disastrous weather and lethal critters are all part of a day's work.
During a recent RockHounds game, I wandered over to Campbell's shed, located down a path off the first-base concourse, and landed an exclusive interview in which he talked about the trials and travails of his job.
MiLB.com: How did you end up as the groundskeeper for the Midland RockHounds?
Eric Campbell: I'm from Kansas, originally, and didn't want to work in the freezing cold. And it's in the Midwest, so I'm not flying home when I when I want to see my family. And it was the first place that offered me a job [laughs].
MiLB.com: Groundskeeping often means pulling tarps and dealing with wet fields, but you have to deal with other kinds of problems?
Campbell: Yeah, in Midland it's high winds and wondering when we're going to get the next dust storm. And there are all kinds of deadly animals out here. We've got tarantulas, scorpions, bats....
MiLB.com: Whoa, okay, let's take things one at a time. So what strategies do you have when it comes to dealing with dust storms?
Campbell: We've got to water down our dirt, that's for sure… For most people it's just watering a couple days before the homestand to get moisture, but we have to do it even on the weekends. If we get a weekend off, we'll still be out here watering, keeping it packed down.
MiLB.com: And if you hear a forecast that says strong winds are coming, do you make the field even wetter?
Campbell: Well, we'll nail down the bullpen tarps as good as we can. ... About two years ago we bought some bullpen tarps from this guy, and he was telling us that they were wind proof. The first week we had them, the grommets were just blown out from a wind storm.
MiLB.com: And are brush fires an issue as well? What have you dealt with in that regard?
Campbell: We had a smokeout once.
MiLB.com: You had a game that was smoked out?
Campbell: It was before the game ... when you came in the stadium you could see the smoke coming across [toward the field]. There's such low humidity and we never get any rain, so stuff catches fire quick here. … It's horrible on those days. You'll be sweating and you go outside and there's just this charcoal dust that's stuck to you. The wind blows that charcoal dust, and it's just brutal.
MiLB.com: And if it's never raining, it must be tough to keep the grass in good shape.
Campbell: You look at the weather, and try to pick maybe two or three hours at night when it's not windy. It's really hard, trying to water -- the wind affects everything. Trying to spray, trying to fertilize. Were you out here for pre-game, watching me trying to water the field? It's so annoying. I wish they had would've built this stadium with the wind blowing out. It's just so hard.
MiLB.com: Okay, so you mentioned this before. What kind of wildlife do you have to deal with here at the stadium?
Campbell: A couple years ago we had a swarm of grasshoppers, I'm talking thousands that came in for a homestand. They were all over the backstop net, all over the concourse. ... After a Thursday game, a whole bunch of dead ones -- these grasshoppers smashed all over the concourse.
MiLB.com: That sounds like a biblical plague.
Campbell: They just came out of the desert or something, needing their vegetation. I mean, we're mowing the grass and there's grasshoppers just flying all over the place.
MiLB.com: So you had grasshopper body parts spraying out from the mower?
Campbell: Yeah, and another year when it was a little wetter, we had an infestation of tarantulas. You'd see them crawling on the buildings, all over the place. It was pretty cool that year. It's been so dry this year, though, and tarantulas don't like that. ... During rain delays they'd crawl underneath the tarp where it's all humid. And we get scorpions too, the real small ones, and they say that those are the most poisonous ones.
MiLB.com: Have there been any grounds crew fatalities due to scorpion bites?
Campbell: Not yet -- I don't think my health insurance would cover that. Not black widow bites or rattlesnake bites either. ... And we get wild foxes, too. Anything that has rabies or is poisonous.
[At this point, a stadium operations employee identified only as "John" enters the conversation.]
John: We get bugs, sparrows, grackles [a type of bird], rattlesnakes, scorpions, tarantulas, foxes, owls…
Campbell: Yeah, we do have a team owl. He hangs out here and then he'll go fly to football stadiums and pick up mice. ... Last year they used to put him on the videoboard. And sometimes you find those vomits that the owls do. [Note: these are commonly called "owl pellets."]
MiLB.com: On the field?
Campbell: On the concourse. It's something else, man. If you live out in the Midwest, or the North, and never been in a desert before, it's something different out here.
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.