Watching the grass grow is a cliche that implies something mundane. Walk a few days in Monte McCoy's tennis shoes at The Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, and that saying has a much different meaning.
McCoy, 42, is the head groundskeeper of the Oklahoma City RedHawks. He is in his 16th professional season of not only trying to maintain a safe and nice looking field, but all the while attempting to accomplish the near impossible — trying to anticipate Oklahoma's weather.
Whittle those previous 15 seasons down to two, 2007 and 2011, for just a pinch of the craziness that has become a norm for McCoy.
“The most stressful part about my job is just dealing with the weather,” the Lindsay native said. “Because it's not just hard on us, but if we don't get it covered or something happens it's not just all our hard work that goes to waste, it's the sales, the concessions, everybody that's getting ready for the game, it's to no avail if the field's unplayable.
“The extremes in Oklahoma weather are really atrocious, but you just learn to live with it.”
From April through September 2007, 38.6 inches of rain was recorded in Oklahoma City. The temperature never got above 92 that June and didn't reach triple-digits until August. The six days of 100s were the only triple-digits in 2007.
“That summer it was rain every day and after awhile you just get used to it,” he said. But tarping the infield day after day makes the grass more prone to diseases, he said.
However, the only time they missed any games was when it was pouring at game time. And that was very rare.
In contrast, 2011 was a summer of record heat, both statewide and for individual cities and towns.
Oklahoma City had its first triple-digit day June 14 and its last on September 13. In all, Oklahoma City had a record 63 such days in 2011.
“Last season it was just the high temperatures, over and over,” McCoy said. “It just really starts taking a toll and not just on the field but your staff and players and everything else.”
If the triple-digits of last year were a fastball, this year has been a change-up after a warmer-than-usual winter and early spring.
“This year obviously with the warm March and April we're about a month ahead of time in terms of the rye to Bermuda transition,” he said. “This is usually about where we're at with the Bermuda after the Big 12 Tournament.”
The field within
About 18 inches beneath the playing surface is a grid of 6-inch pipes slightly tilted for gravity purposes. The perforated tubes drain water to collector draining tiles and off the field into the city's sewer system.
Over the drainage is a light fabric, a geotextile. Above that is about 4 inches of pea gravel.
And that's important because this is a sand-based field.
In fact, above the pea gravel is 12 inches of sand composed of various sizes of particles. That's where McCoy starts going a little technical, talking about the infiltration and percolation rate.
“Infiltration is how fast water goes into the soil and then percolation is how long it takes it to go through the soil,” he said. “Theoretically, if we got the infield tarped, the outfield could take 10 to 12 inches of rain an hour on the turf and we could still play.”
Again, that's a high priority when not playing means lost revenue.
Watching the grass grow
After serving as groundskeeper with the University of Oklahoma's baseball team, McCoy shifted to the Oklahoma City 89ers for the 1997 season. He's been the only person to serve as head groundskeeper for the RedHawks and along the way has garnered Pacific Coast League Sports Turf Manager of the Year honors in 2001 and 2003.
Through the years he's learned to notice things most people don't when it comes to fields.
“What bothers me is when I see something that is preventable, whether it's on a T-ball field or whatever,” he said. “Its things like unkempt edges or sloppy mounds. There are things you can't control, but those you can. Sometimes that's a plus and a minus, because since I'm out here all the time that's all I focus on.
“I see the bad areas, but that's what I'm trained to do. Look for the bad areas and fix them.”
That's why McCoy's always watching the grass grow.
The extremes in Oklahoma weather are really atrocious, but you just learn to live with it.”