Survival of Natural Grass: Part I

Have you ever felt like writing a company or an organization complaining how their product may not be as efficacious as they promoted it to be? You probably thought: “How could my little opinion have any effect on a corporation’s decision-making?” Shame on you. You’ll never know unless you try. Well, I gave it a shot back in the winter of ‘92. It wasn’t a product I was dissatisfied with, but more like an image a certain organization was hypocritically cultivating. Before I get into the specifics, allow me to digress momentarily.

In mid-December of 1991, I took off on the first of several trips that I would take to the “Mystical East” during the early nineties. The final destination was Rockville, Maryland, where “The Kids” had decided to call home after seven years in San Diego. I thought it befitting that I share their first Christmas with them in their new domicile. This particular journey became a leitmotif of succeeding trips to the east, that is, I usurped myself metaphorically as a Santa Claus on Goodyear treads. In a capsule, I dropped off aquarelles that I washed for my good friends, starting with Ian and Shenna Millar in Monroe, LA, then “Boo” Farrier in Knoxville, and finally the Tooheys in Kingsport, TN. (subsequent odysseys took me all the way to Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, and Vienna, Maine). Those were fulfilling trips, distributing gifts of the “home-made” variety… labors of love, you’ might say. I loved every mile of it.

On the return trip back west, I ventured through eastern Kentucky, or Appalachia as it is more commonly called. Gee-mo-nee, I had seen some sad slums in the big cities, but I was unprepared for the cultural shock of seeing such deprivation and poverty in rural areas. It was a seriocomic setting: on the one hand, dwellings sheathed in sheet metal and plywood with blankets covering broken windows suggested a severe Spartan existence; on the other hand, there was the flotsam everywhere that has spurred redneck jokes (Jeff Foxworthy, for one), like the refrigerator on the front porch, laundry hanging from the eaves, weeds growing around a pick-up’s carcass, and so on (inside, there was probably a Chevy transmission in the bathtub). All this was documented along State Hwy 80 between Watergap and Garrard. It was one eye-opening experience.

I scooted up to Louisville, then across southern Indiana, where I visited some inexhaustible stone quarries, from which hundreds of this country’s most magnificent structures have been built. It was an awesome sight. Then, it was on to St. Louis and straight across Missouri to Kansas City. And this is where I pick up the beginning of my story. Please excuse the digression.

I pulled off I-70 at the Harry S. Truman Sports Complex exit, which wended its way between two impressive sports facilities – Arrowhead Stadium (home of the football Chiefs), and Kaufmann Stadium (home of the baseball Royals). I meandered through a sea of asphalt until I found a spot at the front entrance to the Royal’s arena. Even though it was the off-season, I found it unaccustomedly easy to be able to walk into a stadium without having to answer to anybody… no security guards, nobody. I just ambled in and strolled up an entrance ramp to where I could survey the entire panorama – a sculptured and symmetrical ballpark replete with a waterfall beyond centerfield and an application of artificial turf, pristine with tidy little sliding pits around each base and paint-sprayed foul lines. There was something eerie and somber about seeing a ballpark laying so exposed and vulnerable under cold, gray clouds in the dead of winter, even though the playing field itself was a sham.

I just stood there on the concourse, shaking my head and thinking how ironic it was that the Kansas City Royals had in their employment a one George Poma, the indisputable premier of groundskeeping in the entire baseball world. Now, if that’s not the most ludicrous position in all of sportsdom, I don’t know what is. Here’s a guy who probably has a masters degree in horticulture, and he’s out there making sure the seams in the “carpet” were all secured to the 2 X 4.’s. Here’s an appropriate anecdote, although I don’t think Tony Fernandez would find it very amusing. The stellar shortstop of the Toronto Blue Jays suffered a broken wrist as he was up-ended trying to complete a double-play. As is the norm, a player will extend his arms and hands in order to break his fall. In this case, Mr. Fernandez’s right hand came slamming down on a slightly protruding 2 X 4, thereby ending his season. I couldn’t believe this atrocity when I saw it on an ESPN sportscast. Astroturf for the sake of economics? That injury cost the Blue Jays the pennant.

I managed to find an administration office that was open, and I asked the receptionist for the correct mailing address of the Royal’s organization. There was a method in my madness…once I got home, I was going to fire off a letter that I hoped would make them stand up and take notice, by golly. Just for the sake of polite conversation, I asked the young lady, “Why isn’t there natural grass out there instead of that artificial stuff?” The bimbett’s inane reply was “It seems like they can’t grow grass because the soil is too rocky.” What a crock. Here they were in the heartland of America, where the corn grows as high as an elephant’s eye, and they can’t put down a Bermuda sod for some ballplayers. Well, thanks to the airhead, I had enough fodder now for a good volley of reprimands for the Royal organization.