It’s hard to believe that another season of Tacoma Rainiers baseball is just around the corner. While many think that it’s all quiet on Cheney Stadium’s baseball diamond these days, quite the opposite is true. Michael Huie, Head Groundskeeper for the Tacoma Rainiers, and his crew are preparing for the upcoming season. With some new and exciting events at the stadium this year, Huie and his team are going to be busier than ever. But he’s not worried. After all, they don’t call Huie “The Man Behind the Magic” for nothing.
Michael Huie discovered his passion for groundskeeping at a young age.
“I golfed a lot in high school,” he says. “I love golf, loved being on the course. I didn’t know what I was going to do after high school, so someone suggested that I try turf management. I thought it was kind of a quirky job so I gave it a shot, took some classes and really got into it.”
A Walla Walla native, Huie earned his degree in turf management from Walla Walla Community College in 2011. After that, he bounced around the country for a few years, spending time in Michigan and on the East Coast. Then in 2016, Huie headed back to the Pacific Northwest to work for the Tacoma Rainiers.
Since then, Huie and his crew have maintained Cheney Stadium through two baseball seasons and an All-Star Game. A lot of that means long hours, especially when the season is underway. Yet this time of year, there’s still much to do.
“During the baseball season, we’re working 100 hours a week easily,” Huie says. “So during the offseason, it’s just our time to clean up the stadium and get the field ready. And it’s a team effort. There’s a lot that goes behind the scenes, just prepping for the year.”
While it may seem to many that being a groundskeeper for a stadium is just about making the baseball diamond look good, Huie emphasizes that there is much more to it than that.
“There are three important aspects in turf management,” he explains. “The number one, and perhaps the most important, is player safety. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here so the field is 100 percent safe and playable. These guys play at a high level. They get paid a lot of money. If they get hurt on the field because of bad play, that’s on us. Number two is playability, how the ball reacts to the clay and grass, which goes hand in hand with safety. And then number three is aesthetics. But the aesthetics just falls in place. If it’s playing safe, if it’s playing well, it usually looks good anyway.”
So how do Huie and his crew make the field look so good? And how are those designs created and maintained?
“First and foremost, we mow every day,” Huie says. “We have triplex mowers that have three reels on them. And essentially they have rollers on them that lay the grass down in certain directions. So when the grass blades lay down a certain way, the light hits it and reflects it differently. That’s how you get patterns. And since we mow every day, we burn the design in and they just get brighter and brighter.”
The 2018 season will be especially busy for Huie and his crew. Starting this year, the Seattle Sounders S2 team (think minor league soccer) will be playing 17 matches at Cheney Stadium while the Rainiers are out of town. That means a complete field transformation each and every time.
“That’s going to be a huge part of our job this year,” Huie says. “We’re no longer just working 100-hour weeks when the Rainiers are in town. When the Rainiers go out of town, then S2 comes and plays a couple matches here, and the entire field will be sod. We’re going to sod over all the clay, which involves digging the clay down, sodding over that. We have a removable mound that was engineered so that we could drive a semi-trailer out into the field, winch the mound out of the ground, pop it out, go put it in the parking lot, drop another insert into that hole that has turf growing on it, and that will be for soccer.”
Huie estimates it will take about 20 hours just to switch the mounds out. “It’s a full day,” he laughs.
Yet Huie wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a quirky job to be sure, but a job that allows Huie to take his dog Taz to work each day, to be outside and to play a pivotal role in celebrating America’s favorite pastime. “I’m very lucky,” he says.
Opening Day for the Rainiers is on Thursday, April 5. For information on both single game tickets and season tickets, contact the box office located at 2502 S. Tyler Street, Tacoma, WA, 98405, contact them by phone at 1-800-745-3000, or go to the Tacoma Rainiers website. For information on the Seattle Sounders S2 team, go to their website here.