Friday, November 13, 2009

The Groundskeeper

Wondering what to do when the Oregon rains drown out every single game of the week? Find out if the school has a student groundskeeper.

Published April 1, 2005, in the Keizertimes

The youngest member of the McNary High School varsity baseball team is a sophomore, but you won’t find him at the plate or on the field.

He’s not even listed on the roster.

Evan Packer’s work is done before the Celts take the field. He’s the groundskeeper.

After three inches of rain, which with less upkeep could have been disastrous, Vic Backlund Field early this week had just two large puddles, both in non-vital areas of the diamond.

“Evan is the reason we could be ready to play a game in 20 minutes if we needed to,” said Craig Nicholas, Celt head coach. “This field is like glass, and it’s largely thanks to him.”

Packer spent about 11 hours a week atop a roller before the season began, creating a smooth surface. It’s a job he takes a lot of pride in.

“Mr. Nicholas says the field is the best it’s looked in 20 years and that’s a good feeling,” Packer said.

Packer began working on the junior varsity field as a freshman, but was asked by Nicholas to step up to the varsity field this season. He’s not allowed to drag the dirt using the school’s tractor, but almost everything else falls under his purview.

“I replace divots from the balls and shoes and keep the lines fresh,” said Packer.

His duties include fertilizing the grounds and rolling large sponges around the field to coax the ground into drying.

Walking across the outfield, he spies several large divots. His only response, “I wish we could do more for the outfield.”

He’s picked up many of the tricks of field maintenance from Nicholas himself.

“Mr. Nicholas probably treats me better than the players. If I’m ever doing something wrong he shows me how to do it correctly,” said Packer. “He’s really been like a second dad.”

Packer and Nicholas are hoping to travel to Arizona next spring to talk with the groundskeepers of the Bank One Ballpark, where the Diamondbacks play, and apply the knowledge gained to the McNary fields.

It’s part of Packer’s job to notice things that the average spectator wouldn’t.

“If the ball takes a hop, then I know I need to do some work in that part of the field,” said Packer.

Even though he takes pride in the work, it’s the people who keep him on the job.

“I like getting to work with Mr. Nicholas because he’s fun and extremely funny, and I know the guys appreciate having a nice field,” he said.

Nicholas said he is confident Packer could be successful at anything, as long as he puts his mind to it.

“Evan isn’t afraid of a little hard work and – really – what can’t you do with that?” Nicholas said.

Funny follow-up to this story, Evan was offered a job at Volcanoes Stadium, home of the local minor league baseball team. He told them, "No," and then went and told Nicholas he'd turned them down. Nicholas asked him why. Evan, ever earnest, responded, "I work for you, coach." Nicholas told him he was fired.

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