HOUSTON – It is the calm before the storm. Everyone is getting ready. It is game day. While the Minute Maid stadium awaits the fans, there is already a team on the field making sure a really important part of the game is ready to go.
There is a whole crew who maintain the field at Minute Maid Park and they make sure it is perfect for game days. Houston-born, Izzy Hinojosa is the man who heads them up.
“It started 16 years ago. I was literally just a part-time laborer on the staff. And, I worked my way up going from the very bottom to head groundskeeper,” Hinjosa told Houston Life Correspondent, Melanie Camp.
The journey to Head Groundskeeper in Major League Baseball is not that different from that of a player. Hinojosa made his way up from part-time laborer to Head Groundskeeper of a short season rookie league team in Greenville, Tennessee. He then went to Double-A Corpus Christi for three seasons.
So, being a groundskeeper. Is it science or magic?
“A little bit of both. It depends on how you look at it. We look at it as science and to the untrained eye, it’s magic” said Hinjosa.
Now, if you are thinking Hinajosa has tips to help make your lawn look as good as the field at Minute Maid, think again.
“I always get asked, you know, for, for spare cuts of sod whenever we’re done laying a new field and I say, ‘Sure, you know, you can you can have it.’ And you know, people come and take it and then they wonder why their lawn doesn’t look like this. And I’m like, ‘Well, you know, how much time are you putting into it? Are you putting eight hours into it like we are?’ And the answer is always no.
To the groundskeeping team at Minute Maid Park, it is not just a matter of maintaining the field for game days. They have to keep it good all the way through the playoffs and beyond and this means taking into account all the non-baseball events that stress the field.
“...this season, we had four concerts in August and September. So we redid the outfield and the foul territory grass, we left the infield the same. So right now I’m just really hoping that that infield keeps performing the way it is. I don’t need it to slow down anymore. Just you know, keep rolling,” said Hinajosa.
While Hinjosa is not responsible for cancelling the Elton John concert scheduled at Minute Maid, with the 2022 ALCS upon us, he said with a chuckle,” I’m thankful for whoever did!”
Sixto Zapata is part of the groundskeeping crew. He told Houston Life when he watches the game, he is always looking at how the players reacting to the ground, “...I’ve seen there’s times where like, I’ve got it real compacted, that I see Altuve digging and digging and digging and digging. Like, that’s not a good thing. So that’s what I look out for.”
“As long as the players are happy, we’re happy. It’s a lot of attention to detail that goes into everything that we do everything from maintaining the batter’s boxes, the pitching mound, the outfield. I mean, you can see Mike on the infield groomer right now,” he said gesturing over to a groundskeeping crew member atop something that looks like a ride on mower, combing the red dirt neat and clean.
There is a lot of measuring, too. Groundskeeper Trey Feltch is good at that.
“We’re getting ready for inspection. So the first game of each playoff series, we’re inspected by a member of the umpire committee. So what Trey is doing is he’s making sure that...our pitching rubber is 10 inches high,” said Hinajosa.
There are also bases to be measured, the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s mound, and the bullpen mounds.
“As long as the players are happy... We’re happy,” said Hinajosa.
And that is the science...and the magic of getting the field ready for game day.
Watch the story in the video above.