DLD 616-17: We had righteous grass until the Police showed up

I hadn't thought much about the Police concert until I heard longtime A's groundskeeper Clay Wood (yes, Clay Wood; an Earth sign, one supposes)  interviewed on the Friday radio pre-game.  He said the Police stage was on the field from Monday morning until Thursday AM, leaving less than 36 hours to get the field ready for last night's game.   Wood called it tougher than the changeover after a Raider game, made worse by our heat wave this week, which, with the stage up, forced Clay and Co. to water the entire field each day by hand.

Then I saw the field on TV.  It seemed much better than the post-Raider turf, which looks more like guys wielding sledgehammers had pounded salt into the ground as part of a scorched earth strategy  (Al Davis never blinks first.  He actually might not blink at all; eternally damned minions with eye droppers might do it for him).  Last night looked more a series of thin racing stripes flamed over a random outfield stretches, which, to all appearances, did seem to make the A's bats go faster.

To my untutored eyes, Clay Wood is awesome.  He's in his 13th year as the A's head groundskeeper, and 18th year with the team.  At the park or on TV, when the grounds crew goes out to drag the infield midgame, Clay's the guy in white shorts (in any weather) manning a rake.  And if you've ever gone onto the field for postgame fireworks, if you grab a patch of grass near the infield you'll see Clay Wood angrily striding the dirt, glaring away anyone who'd dare think of touching his soil.  You can tell he just despises the thought of having these heathens on his field.  One of these times I gotta get my kids out for the Sunday run-the-bases dealio, for the fun and cuteness, sure, but also to see if (as I suspect) Clay Wood hates those kids too.  As he should.  They're threats.

BTW, the radio interview mentioned that the Woods just had their second kid last week, a daughter.  Clay was back fretting over the diggity-dank grass the Police had confiscated within a day.

(Tangent:  I never really dug the Police, but I did see Sting play in Vegas in 1993, when he opened for the Dead for three straight nights.  Awesome set of Dead shows, and a really cool campground scene on the shores of dammed Lake Mead.  Anyway, Sting opened the first night, and it was OK, enjoyable enough.  He said "this is my first Dead show" and folks responded nicely.  The next day he came out...and played the exact same set.  That's not a winning move with a Dead crowd, who'd go like six or ten shows in a row without hearing the same song twice.  There was grumbling and a few boos.  When doing "King of Pain," Sting reached the perfect lyric, and we all joined in:  "It's the same old thing as yester-dayyyyyy."  My, how we laughed.  To his credit, for the Sunday finale Sting pulled together a completely different set and rocked the place, an entrée to what turned out to be one of the very best Dead shows I ever saw.)

But I was talking about Clay Wood.  In late September '04 me and the Aphid and some pals drove all day down to Anaheim to show the green and gold behind the Orange Curtain.  It was a Sunday, last road game of the year, and the A's lost 6-2 in a game that never felt close. You remember it:  Mark Mulder, badly leaking oil, gets the start in a must win pennant race game even though young Joe Blanton was ready.  Jose Guillen had flipped out on Scioscia the night before and was suspended for (as it turned out) the rest of his Angel career.  The Angels scored in each of the first three innings, the finest South Coast Plaza 15 year olds were making a point of shrieking in our ears at every turn, and it was generally miserable.  To make matters worse, ESPN flipped it to a 5:00 start time for the national audience, leaving us to drive back late into the night to make work on Monday morning.  After a loss which meant the A's were pretty well cooked for the year.  Anyway, as we rolled up 880 past the Coli around 3 or 4 AM, we were greeted by the blazing full lights, as the crew was removing Raider bleachers ahead of that night's A's home game.  I am certain Clay Wood was there, sweating over each blade of grass.

The Coliseum field is considered one of the best in baseball.  Mark Ellis said  "Opposing players love to come here because the field is so nice. You don't have to worry about bad hops. It's a lot easier to play defense when you can expect a true hop."  Ellis and Crosby told Josh Suchon that the A's infield was the best in the league.  Kotsay rates the Coli outfield one of the five best in all of MLB:  "Fast, but true.  You won't get a bad (hop) situation. The ball gets on you. I like a quick field."

Again, to me, Clay Wood seems like the kind of hardworking, skilled professional who proves his value to the franchise year after year, not getting by on tenure or blackmail but on talent.  I'll leave contrasts to any other team employees to the mind of the reader.

What, you thought that was enough?  Hell, no!  we haven't heard nearly enough about the chronic, the shizznit, the pakalolo...the grass!

The California Farm Bureau Federation informs me that Clay scores his grass from West Coast Turf, in Stevinson CA, about which the CFBF opines:

Saying they have the best yard in the neighborhood would be an understatement. The lush grass is meticulously cared for. It's mowed, watered, harvested and otherwise pampered 365 days a year...Clay Wood, head groundskeeper at the McAfee Coliseum, couldn't imagine working with anyone or anything but West Coast Turf.

"It's just the best stuff around," he said. "The quality is far and away the best. And on top of everything, they're just great people to work with. They even invite you down to their farm to look at the sod and make suggestions and just ask questions. They're great."

A quick jump to West Coast Turf's site and we learn the valuable lesson that their motto imparts:  "Life is short.  Sod it!"  Further delving reveals that the A's play on a Bermuda grass blend trade-named Tifway II, which Clay completely resods every year.  Clay attests that "bermuda resists damage better than Kentucky bluegrass or tall fescue, recuperates better, and provides a better field both earlier and later in the season. Of course, there is no contest during the summer. Overseeded with perennial ryegrass, you can't even tell you're playing on Bermuda grass.... Tifway II has become the sports turf of choice for the Bay Area. "When you have to convert from baseball to football or motocrosss every year, you don't have time to let turf build a new base for footing," explains Wood. "The sod has to come in with that base already there. It also has to be actively growing to repair divots quickly."

By the way, supposedly the Police sucked.  The Merc's reviewer called it "the most shockingly mediocre stadium show in Bay Area history."  And the Chron's irrepressible Joel Selvin wrote that

(Sting) kept making tiny winces that otherwise wouldn't have been seen. He didn't look all that comfortable, almost as if he didn't know what to do with this whole Police reunion idea.   With his typical timing, however, Sting did know exactly when to reconvene his old rock combo. His solo career has been at probably its lowest ebb since he left the Police -- his latest album was Elizabethan folk songs backed by lute ...

But back with the Police, the chemistry is obviously still unstable. Summers is a phlegmatic soul whose guitar style depends more on carefully processed sounds than fiery playing. He brought as much joy and charisma to the task as a cashier giving change. ...

(Stings's) frustration came through in his joyless exuberance, his phony bonhomie as he coasted through vocal parts he used to burn through. ...

Grass good.  Police bad.  A's rock June the hardest.