Affiliate News
October 09, 2014

Profile: Polar vortex no match for this crew

Service Employees International Union Local 1 members successfully opened the ballpark for baseball despite the freezing weather lasting well into the spring this year.

Profile: Polar vortex no match for this crew

As Chicago emerged from its brutal winter this spring, playing baseball on a stunning green natural turf moved beyond a mere challenge─it was looking to be almost a sheer impossibility.

“There was ice everywhere. Some spots in the outfield, it was two to three feet deep. It was pretty dire,” said Jerry Powe, Service Employees International Union Local 1 member and Grounds Crew Foreman for the Chicago White Sox.

He worked diligently with fellow SEIU and Grounds Crew member Harry Smith. Powe has been with the Sox since 1980, Smith since 1991, and the two are the most senior members of the crew, serving under the “Sodfather” Head Groundskeeper Roger Bossard.

Together, the team of eight full-time regulars and 26 total achieved the impossible, using a Bossard-designed heating system to blast the ice into submission, and even using jackhammers on the thickest slabs around home plate.

They successfully opened the ballpark for baseball despite the freezing weather lasting well into the spring this year.

“I like the challenge. Parks in Arizona, Texas, they have it easy. We have variety in Chicago. They don't even have weather out there,” said Powe.

The two men take pride in their field, saying it's the best grass in the Majors. The perfectly-trimmed greenery is unaffected by the soggy summer of 2014 thanks to an excellent drainage setup perfected by Bossard, as well as the fact that there's no dirt under the grass, it's all sand. The clay is old school, transplanted from the old Comiskey Park, along with home plate.

“The old clay we have, it's a better mixture than the new stuff. You can tell it came out of the Earth. You can order 50 pound bags of clay now, but it's all sandy. I'm not sure where that comes from,” said Smith.

It's that attention to detail that makes the surface at U.S. Cellular Field second to none, as well as the rest of the stadium, which the men are also in charge of taking care of.

“We wash every seat every day, and we clean the park inside and out, and make sure it's ready for the games,” said Smith.

On game day, no fan wants to see rain clouds, and the same goes for the Grounds Crew.

“Dragging that tarp out is the hardest part about our job. It's heavier than it looks, especially when wet, and we have to really hustle that thing out there when it's raining,” said Powe. “We really have a limited time to get it out there.”

The record for tarp coverings during a game for the men is five. Five times they covered the field, five times they pulled it off.

“They gave every one of us a bonus that day,” said Smith. “I think it was earned.”

He recalled his best day at work- the day he started in 1991.

“I stepped onto the field. Wow! This was Major League Baseball. I was overwhelmed and excited,” he said. “I've been excited ever since I've been here. It's been wonderful.”

For Powe, his favorite memory was an Aerosmith concert at the old Comiskey Park in 1976. He was just a teenager, cleaning up the field with an air compressor after the show, hard work that earned him a spot on the team.

“I was 16 years old, and I blew the trash off the whole field. It got me noticed and led to my job,” said Powe. “It's been great, a true dream come true.”