Grounds crew always busy for Marlins

Grounds crew always busy for Marlins

MIAMI -- This may sound like an opinionated statement, but it's pretty close to being a hard fact: The grounds crew at Dolphin Stadium is the hardest-working team in the Major Leagues.

"No question about it," head groundskeeper Alan Sigwardt replied.

And he isn't just saying that.

If you look around baseball, there likely isn't a single grounds crew that goes through what the one in South Florida battles on a daily basis. First and foremost, you have the threat of rain almost every day in July and August -- not to mention hurricanes -- and on top of that, Dolphin Stadium doesn't just field the Marlins. It's also currently home to two football teams -- the Miami Dolphins and the University of Miami Hurricanes.

So while most Major League grounds crews take the offseason off, Sigwardt's crew is working from January to December, setting up for football games, getting the field perfect for baseball, and transferring back and forth constantly.

And that's without even mentioning all the other extracurricular events that go on there.

Last year, Dolphin Stadium hosted the Super Bowl and is set to host it again in 2010, the FedEx Orange Bowl and the BCS National Championship Game are coming in 2009, and one of pop's biggest stars, Madonna, is having a concert in November.

"It never stops," Sigwardt said.

Oh yeah, one more interesting fact: Despite the constant threats of rain at Marlins games, before a rainout on May 24 this season, Dolphin Stadium hadn't had a game rained out since Sept. 5, 2004 -- and that was because of Hurricane Frances.

Sigwardt said his crew isn't totally responsible for that -- it has more to do with the weather patterns in South Florida -- but they are responsible for making sure the game is played after rain delays. One of Sigwardt's assistants, Willie Taylor, said the tarp they have to carry onto the field whenever there's a delay weighs about 1,300 pounds. And if they don't get it on the infield in two minutes, the baseball game has to get cancelled.

So, every time they run out on the field, Sigwardt is holding up a stopwatch to make sure they're on time.

"Usually, [one minute and 30 seconds is good], but we have to make sure it's under two minutes, no matter what," said Taylor, whose crew went through 11 rain delays last season and 146 in 15 years coming into this season.

Another reason Marlins games are able to be played is a state-of-the-art drainage system in shallow right field, which gathers all the water from the tarp and sucks it out of the grass.

"It's a pure sand field, and underneath it, there's drain pipes," Sigwardt said. "It's all hooked up to suction pumps. When the tarp dumps it, that's where it goes, and it moves the water out very quickly."

The grounds crew for Marlins games is broken down into three different teams. The first team comes in from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and gets the tarp off from the night before, starts mowing the grass and cleans everything up. The second comes in from 11 a.m. until game time and starts working on the mound and infield dirt -- "every day it's a different process," Sigwardt said -- as well as edging the field, painting the foul lines and working on the bullpens, home plate and indoor batting tunnels. Finally, the third crew takes over during the game and for the rest of the night. They're responsible for the third-, fifth- and seventh-inning drags, as well as dealing with the rain delays and putting the tarp on at the end of the night.

"I have a very, very good crew," said Sigwardt, who's held his position since the Marlins' inaugural campaign in 1993. "We've done it a lot of years, we're very experienced, and we know what we're doing."

Currently, only Dolphin Stadium, Oakland's McAfee Coliseum and Minneapolis' Metrodome house both NFL and MLB teams.

Sigwardt said that's the toughest challenge for his crew.

"On conversions, we're here all night long until the sun comes up in the morning," Sigwardt said. "We can turn the field over from one sport to the other in 24 hours. We do it quite often. It takes a couple hundred workers, drains, forklifts, and everybody has different jobs.

"It's a coordinated effort with a bunch of people that, just through experience, we get it done."

Just like everything else.

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.