Georgia had two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and Nick Paserchia couldn’t have been happier.
It was after 10 p.m., and Paserchia, the Foley Field grounds foreman, was tired after spending 14 hours at the stadium. Only the post-game cleanup — raking dirt, scooping up baselines and watering the infield — stood in his way from going home.
It’s standard procedure for Paserchia, in his first season as the head grounds foreman at Foley Field. But Paserchia isn’t new to lawn maintenance. He’s been around it his entire life, after starting his own lawn business at 13 and earning his certificate in Turfgrass Management from the University of Georgia.
But game days require a lot more time and energy, and Paserchi is used to games that last more than five hours — and working the late shift. But on this particular Friday, the Bulldogs were treated to a shorter game, which meant he might finally make it home before midnight.
“It’s nice to get out of here before the start of the next day,” Paserchia said. “Most of our games go nearly three and one-half to four hours.”
An average game day for the grounds crew starts at 9 a.m., when Paserchia arrives and checks the field. He first looks for hazardous spots on the infield dirt, usually resolving any issues by sprinkling Calzyme clay on the affected area. Then he’ll rake and water the field; the moisture allows for a safe playing surface.
“On a baseball field, 80 percent of the time spent on the field is on the clay,” Paserchia said. “You got to make sure to get the proper moisture levels. On a game day, we will water with a hose, and I will probably water at least four or five times a day. I try to gradually water throughout the day build the moisture up.”
At around 11:30 a.m., Paserchia starts to work on the outfield grass. Sprinklers are turned on to water the field, a mixture of Bermuda and Rye grass seed. Each one is grown throughout the year at different times.
“Right around now, Bermuda grass is starting to come out of dormancy and likes to be grown in 90-degree weather,” Paserchia said. “One of of the big challenges is to keep the Rye looking good and get the Bermuda going at the same time.”
Bermuda serves as the bottom layer in the field. It is primarily distributed via Pike Creek, a Turfgrass production company located in Adel, just 26 miles north of Valdosta. However, some of the sod is also purchased from Ben Oak Farms in Alabama. The Bermuda from these companies is certified sod, and is used by many professional teams.
Having Bermuda is important at Foley Field, as it doesn’t hold moisture, allowing important nutrients like oxygen, phosphorus and potassium to seep through the soil and into the roots.
Rye grass, from Turfnology in Watkinsville, is grown on top of the Bermuda. It is seeded on top because it can grow in the cooler months and is usually spread in September to balance out the dying Bermuda — and keep the field looking healthy.
“The biggest thing for highly maintained grass is to get your roots down deep,” Paserchia said. “The bigger your root system, the better your grass is. We have to manipulate the grass.”
At around 1 p.m., the first of the student workers start to arrive. The first to arrive is Chris Conley (no relation to the former UGA football player). He’s a Turfgrass Management major, and his primary role is to work on the pitching mound and cut the grass surrounding it.
Next to arrive is Scout Carter, who acts as the comedian of the grounds crew. He’s the guy the other guys tell stories about.
“It’s the bottom of the ninth and it’s already a long day,” Conley says of Carter. “Normally I would go first and as I made a turn, I felt someone step on my drag. It was Scout fumbling as he almost eats the ground. The dugout and fans erupted. He regroups and does the same thing again. It should’ve gone on ESPN’s ‘Not Top 10.’”
Both students help cut the infield grass and rake the infield clay. Meanwhile, Paserchia is on a John Deere mower cutting a diamond pattern in the outfield.
At 2 p.m., another student worker, Sam Fouche, clocks in. Fouche, a student at North Georgia majoring in physical education, joined the crew because he wanted to do something related to sports. His role is to help set up for batting practice. He helps in taking the tarp off the pitching mound and removed excess dirt from the turf. He does this by using a broom to brush it back into the infield.
As batting practice begins, three other members of the grounds crew start coming to work: Drew Morris, Chad Austin and Mason Spratling, all UGA students. The three met during their freshman year, and their friendship is the key to working well together.
“This job can be really tough if you don’t work with people that are fun to be around,” Spratling said. “That’s why I like working out here as we all get along and work together.”
Morris, now a senior, has become the de facto team leader.
“I assign roles pre- and post-game,” Morris said. “I try to tell everyone what their job is and what they are doing on a given day. I just want everyone to do the best job that they can. No one is perfect and I just want them to give their best effort every time out there.”
One of the roles that Morris assigns is the painting the batter’s boxes at home plate. This helps make the field stand out after its $12 million renovation from 2015.
The renovations included adding luxury seats behind home plate and adding a lounge area behind the field level. The idea was to give fans a stadium experience on par with the likes of MLB stadiums and other schools in the Southeastern Conference.
With the new additions, Foley Field now has a capacity of 3,921, though it still ranks among the lowest in the SEC. For comparison, Mississippi State and Arkansas each boast 10,000-plus-capacity stadiums, at 15,000 and 10,737, respectively. In terms of attendance, LSU leads with an average of 10,726 fans, while Georgia averages 2,180 fans.
By 5:30 p.m., everyone has arrived to work. Paserchia tells the crew their assigned jobs, and they head out to the field, where they have nearly 45 minutes to get it ready for the game. The workers are split into teams, and each student worker is assigned a job.
The first station is the base lines. Two workers use a string to create a straight line while a third student comes behind and paints from home plate to the first and third base.
While that’s happening, the home plate crew paints the batter’s box and uses a wooden structure to leave an imprint in the dirt. They then help place the bases into position and water the field one last time.
At 7 p.m., the game starts. This time serves as a chance for the crew to rest. The only work to do during the game is to drag the field after the third and seventh innings. As the crew relaxes, they head to the the local Kangaroo Express on South Lumpkin Street, where they grab a mid-game snack and take a break.
“Going to the ‘Roo’ is the highlight of our day,” Conley said. “We look forward to it during every home game.”
While the student workers relax at the gas station, Paserchia comes up with the final post-game positions. Still tired, he knows the finish line is near. The jobs don’t vary from pregame, but Paserchia still wants everyone ready.
At 10:30 p.m., the game ends. In a matter of minutes, the crew heads out to scoop dirt from the base paths. The excess dirt is then placed in buckets and disposed of. Afterward, the base paths are watered down and mound clay is added to the pitching mound and landing area.
Once that’s done, the crew adds conditioner to fix any clay that was displaced during the game. The mound is raked and the tarp goes back over it. The infield is manicured one last time, and the transition line from infield clay to the outfield grass is watered down.
“Coach (Scott) Stricklin’s biggest things is the transition from grass to clay,” Paserchia said. “One of our biggest concerns is to make sure the field is safe for our student-athletes and to maintain the highest quality field that we can.”
With everything finished, the crew gathers at home plate. They all place the tarp over the area and Paserchia gives everyone a time to be back on the field the next day. A final glance at his watch says the time 11:15 p.m.: just enough time for his crew to make it home and enjoy their Friday night.
“We all work hard and like to have fun,” Carter said. “We have fun on the job and get everything done. It is an enjoyable environment.”
Several people have noticed the hard work, including the Georgia coach.
“We had close to 10,000 people here this weekend and they all got to see (the field),” Stricklin said. “When they walk in here, I want them to look at this place and say, ‘Wow!’ When you look out there and you see it, it is manicured and beautiful.”
This story was written by Jaylon Thompson of The Grady Sports Bureau, which is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.