November 2009

There is No Offseason for… Gary Vanden Berg

In our first post, John and I attempted to dispel the myth of baseball’s offseason for members of the Brewers Front Office. I got to thinking that I ought to expand on that and had the idea for a new series, the goal of which is to explain more about what’s going on right now at One Brewers Way.

I decided to start off with Gary Vanden Berg, Director of Grounds. Gary’s been working for the Brewers since 1981 and 2010 will mark his 30th season with the Club. That means he’s worked the field at both County Stadium and Miller Park and has seen the fields though various events/milestones such as the 1982 World Series, the great flood at County Stadium, a tractor pull, the 2002 All-Star Game, the 2008 NLDS, two strikes, various rock concerts, bowling tournaments and much, much more. Gary’s son, John Vanden Berg, was even drafted by and played for the Brewers for four years and got as high as Double-A Huntsville.

Marketing doesn’t have the opportunity to work with Grounds Crew very often, so first, I had to look up Gary’s extension.

“Hi Gary, it’s Caitlin Moyer from Marketing, how are you?”

“I’m good,” Gary answered, and before I could start in with the reason for my call, he continued.

“I’m coming to the party.  I know, I need to bring in my RSVP card.”

I’m on the Employee Events Committee. We’re in the midst of planning our holiday party, but…that wasn’t why I was calling.

“That’s great.  You’re not late. But hey, listen, that actually wasn’t why I was calling… I don’t know if you heard, but John Steinmiller and I have this new MLBlog? We’re writing about stuff that goes on in the Front Office.  Our first post was yesterday and we wrote about how you know how people always ask us what we do in the offseason and then we say ‘There is no offseason’?”

I paused as Gary chuckled knowingly.

“Well, so anyway, I thought it would be a neat idea to do a weekly series called ‘There is No Offseason for… {Insert Front Office Name Here}’ where I follow a different member of the Front Office and write about what they’re doing right now. I thought I’d start with you, so, like, ‘There is No Offseason for… Gary Vanden Berg’. What do you think? Could I interview you for the blog?”

“Sure! That sounds like a fun idea,” Gary said.

“Cool.  Thanks a bunch!  So, uh, Gary…what do you do in the offseason? I mean, I’m not really sure what Grounds is up to right now and all. Is there anything interesting that I could come observe and write about?”

“Well, we’re actually going to be covering and sandbagging the field on Tuesday, why don’t you meet me down there at 9am?”

“Sounds great! Thanks a bunch!”

So that’s how I ended up down on the field this morning, where I got my crash course in turf management.

The Grounds Crew staff was already hard at work when I met up with Gary for our “interview” and he filled me in on everything they’d been working on this offseason.


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Gary Vanden Berg, Director-Grounds

“We spent a lot of time outside this fall. We are responsible for the entire grounds. There are 265 acres here.  A lot of our job is landscaping. Mike Boettcher is our Landscape Manager. We try to make it as close to a Disney-atmosphere as you can out there, but our staff is pretty small so we try to keep adding a few new things all the time.”

The Grounds Crew staff consists of just three full-time employees-Gary, Mike and Miranda Bintley, Grounds Manager– and several part-time and seasonal staff members. This fall, the Grounds Crew moved 15 trees and over 150 rose bushes in order to prepare for projects that will be done in the spring. They were also involved in removing the ivy from the batter’s eye.

The bulk of their time as of late, however, has been spent getting the field to be ready to be what Gary calls ‘put to bed’. 

“We’ve rebuilt the pitcher’s mound as well as both of the mounds in the bullpens. We’ve also made sure the field measurements were accurate. We did all of our resodding this fall as well, putting replacement grass in the area between the mound and home plate and some of the player spots in the outfield. Then, we top-dress the grass–that’s adding sand to the surface of the grass. It helps to smooth and level out the grass a little more and protects the crowns from the winter.”

“Next, every year, we try to make the infield dirt better. This is the same infield dirt that came from County Stadium. It’s been modified every year. It’s a unique blend. You couldn’t buy anything like this. It has an awful lot of calcined clay mixed in which helps to give the field body and when it’s really wet, it helps to make it play well.”

“About five weeks ago, we rolled and tilled it all up, added more clay to give it more body and then we had to laser-level it so she is completely flat again. There is a lot of work involved, trying to get all the edges done and get everything back to the way it is supposed to be.”

Thumbnail image for DSC04201.JPGToday signified the end of those preparations. It was time to tuck the field in and put it to bed. The Grounds Crew spent the morning covering the field with special turf covers (which help keep the grass from turning yellow, keeps the grass a little warmer and, in times of sunlight, can act a little bit like a greenhouse) and placing sandbags down to keep the covers from coming loose. They also placed 2″ insulation over the infield dirt to help make it more playable come spring; the insulation prevents the frost from going as deep.

Once the Crew tucks the field in for the winter, it won’t take them the covers off again until spring.

Thumbnail image for Grounds 2.JPGUntil then, Gary and staff will check the covers each day and keep a close eye on the weather.

Every winter, says Gary, is different. Last year, Gary was able to close the roof during the months of January and February because the grass was completely dormant. If the grass is completely dormant, then it doesn’t matter if it gets any light and keeping the roof closed and the snow out is actually a benefit to the grass.

If it isn’t completely frozen, even if the grass isn’t growing, the grass still needs to have light and thus, Gary has to keep the roof open until that happens.

The amount of snow that falls also plays a role in the care of the field–and also factors into how busy the Grounds Crew gets during the offseason because the Grounds Crew is also responsible for all snow removal around the grounds, including the concourses and parking lots for employees and year-round venues like Friday’s Front Row and the Brewers Team Store by Majestic.  

When they’re not braving the elements, the Grounds Crew has some administrative tasks to take care of, from hiring their next crop of interns to ordering and storing all of the products to be used during the 2010 season.

Gary is also looking forward to attending the Sports Turf Management Association Conference in January, where he’ll have the opportunity to get together with other Major League Baseball groundskeepers for three days and discuss things that are happening around the League. 

Before he knows it, it’s time for the season to start again.

“We have exhibition games this year, so it is always a little more difficult. The grass in Wisconsin doesn’t like to be played on too early. It’s just too cold. It’s hard to get the ground temperatures up to where the grass will start to grow again. Part of what these covers do is help me prepare for the spring,” Gary said.

Gary says that each year, he also meets with the Manager because every Manager wants to run the field a different way. Gary takes his cue on how to prepare the field based on what the Manager wants to do. 

“Some Managers want the grass a little longer and some a little shorter. Some want the area in front of home plate a little harder or a little softer. Those are all things that we have the ability to change and still stay within the rules. “

As for current Brewers Manager Ken Macha?

“Ken is the one of the easiest I’ve had to work with. I don’t remember him saying much to me about the field last year at all. For him, he wants the players to be comfortable when they’re out here playing and as long as they’re happy, I think he’s okay with it,” Gary said.

After we finished up our interview, I stuck around to take some photographs and even tried my hand at helping the Grounds Crew by placing a few sandbags.

Thumbnail image for Caitlin.JPGI figured out rather quickly that I’m more cut out for Marketing–those bags are heavy!  I returned to my desk and my “real job,” feeling very glad that I don’t have to do heavy-lifting or be exposed to the elements on a daily basis, especially on a chilly November morning like today. I will definitely leave all of that to the pros!

At lunchtime, I went back out to check on their progress and the quick-working Grounds Crew was already finished.  

Thumbnail image for Put to Bed.JPGThe field has officially been put to bed for 2009. 

“This has been one of the busier offseasons we’ve had,” Gary said to me during our time together. I would have to agree. Not just for Grounds Crew, but for Marketing and the entire organization. And it’s only November.

Stay tuned for the next installment of “There is No Offseason for…” and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

-Cait

Is there someone you’d like to see profiled in this feature?  E-mail us at johnandcait@brewers.com.

Who has Spring Fever!?


Brewers-Road-Crew-Final.jpgSpring Training is easily one of my favorite things about working for the Brewers.  I look forward to traveling to Phoenix every February.  Everything about it is fantastic: the weather (usually 80 degrees and sunny), the optimism (everyone is in first place), the laid back atmosphere (fans can get up close with the players and games are played in intimate ballparks) and the fans (a great mix of people of all ages and from all over the country). 

Spring Training is a great baseball experience for the avid fan all the way down to the newest baseball fan.  If you are a Brewers fan who has never been to Spring Training, it should definitely be on your list of things to do.   

The Brewers and Brewers Enterprises today announced an awesome opportunity for Brewers fans to visit Spring Training 2010 in Phoenix and cheer on the Brew Crew.  The first ever Brewers Road Crew Spring Training road trip will be from March 10 – 14, 2010–perfect timing as the cold Wisconsin winter is dragging on.  Brewers Enterprises, led by Jason Hartlund and his crew, have really put together a complete package and have taken out the hassle of figuring out details of a Spring Training trip.

Fans that are a part of the trip will get to see two games at the Brewers Spring Training home, Maryvale Baseball Park.  They will also get to see the Brewers take on the Chicago White Sox at Glendale’s Camelback Ranch.  Camelback Ranch opened in 2008 and is the Spring Training home of the White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.  I have been to all the Cactus League ballparks and, in my opinion, Camelback Ranch and Maryvale Baseball Park are two of the best Spring Training experiences in the Cactus League.  Game tickets and transportation are included to all three games.

Guests on the trip will stay at the Embassy Suites Biltmore in Phoenix.  It is one of the best locations in the Valley.  It is centrally located to great shopping, dining and golf locations.  You can literally walk right across the street to the Biltmore Fashion Park, filled with great restaurants and shopping.  The guestrooms in the hotel are two-room suites which make for plenty of room.  The hotel will host a special welcome reception for the Brewers Road Trip that will feature visits from Brewers front office personnel.

As an added bonus, included in the trip is a Loge Outfield ticket to Brewers Opening Day, Monday, April 5, 2010 vs. Colorado.  They really have thought of everything when planning this trip!  There will be other surprises along the way for guests of the trip including an opportunity to run in the Klement’s Sausage Race at Maryvale Baseball Park.

Space is limited to only eighty (80) guests and the travel packages go on sale tomorrow (Tuesday, November 24) at 10 a.m.  The price for a single traveler is $1,995 and the price for a couple (double occupancy) $3,695.  Each additional guest per room is $1,850.  If you need more information, visit brewers.com/roadcrew or call 414-902-GOAZ (4629) and some of the wonderful people in Brewers Enterprises will help you out.   

Spring Training is a “must visit” for every Brewers fan and this is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Brewers Spring Training baseball.

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Corey Hart signs autographs for Fans at Maryvale Baseball Park in Phoenix.

–John

johnandcait@brewers.com

Brewers Team Up With Local Partners to Give Thanks

The Brewers and Brewers Charities today along with friends with 1290 WMCS-AM Radio Milwaukee, Feeding America, the Hunger Task Force, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office and the Milwaukee Brotherhood of Firefighters teamed up to deliver Thanksgiving baskets to 500 area families.  A press conference was held just a few minutes ago here at Miller Park to kick off the deliveries to all parts of the Milwaukee area.  Brian Anderson was on hand to host the press conference.

 
This initiative was started 15 years ago by WMCS Radio and joined by the Brewers and Brewers Charities in the following year.  Feeding America, the Hunger Task Force and the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s office have joined in subsequent years to strengthen the program and this year, the Brewers Wives organization and the Brotherood of Firefighters joined the cause.

Each box includes all the fixings necessary for a complete Thanksgiving meal: stuffing mix, gravy, potatoes, cranberry sauce, macaroni & cheese, canned yams, corn, green beans, fruit, applesauce, corn muffins, cake mixes and frosting.  In addition, turkeys will be included in each meal box.  The Brotherhood of Firefighters also donated smoke detector vouchers for each family and will install the detectors free of charge.

This is a wonderful program that the Brewers and these other Milwaukee-area groups organize for the community.  Last year, the program fed 300 families and this year–in times where many more people are in need–it will feed 500 families.

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Brewers Charities Executive Director Cecelia Gore makes some last minute preparations to the Thanksgiving Basket Press Conference this morning.

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Brewers play-by-play announcer Brian Anderson joined by Mike Jonas (center) of the Hunger Task Force and DeWayne Smoots (right) of the Milwaukee Brotherhood of Firefighters.


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Mary Fischer, wife of Brewers Third Base Coach Brad Fischer, Brian Anderson, Brewers alum Larry Hisle, Brewers Bullpen Catcher Marcus Hanel and his wife, Jill were all on hand for this morning’s press conference and will all spend the day delivering baskets around the Milwaukee community.

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Marcus Hanel talks with Jason Newton of WISN-TV 12 about the Thanksgiving program. 

 

– John

johnandcait@brewers.com

 

Brewers Announce Changes For Miller Park in 2010

Like we said in our first post, there is action 365 days a year here at Miller Park.  Construction has already started on a number of these offseason Miller Park ballpark improvements.  Here is a sneak peak of some of those changes and improvements that the Brewers announced today.

Terrace Store - Axon.jpgThe “Brewers Team Store on the Terrace Level” will be updated to mirror the award-winning “Team Store by Majestic” on the Field Level.  New lighting, store fixtures and an updated floor design will greet fans.  The store will be open during home games when Miller Park gates are open.
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Not every fan will be able to see this, but Brewers players will be greeted each day with an updated clubhouse entrance.  A fresh coat of paint and new carpeting will be among the improvements in the home clubhouse.  Pavilion1.jpg

In the right field corner of the Field Level outside of Miller Park, the team is constructing a Plaza Pavilion.  It involves upgrading the existing smoking area into an outdoor gathering location.  Fans will be able to enjoy the game with televisions and purchase food and beverage from stands located throughout the Pavilion.

Braves Wall of Honor.jpg

I’m a huge history buff and love reading about baseball history.  The updated Milwaukee Braves Wall of Honor will include new plaques, artwork, lighting and photo banners celebrating the National League team that called Milwaukee home from 1953 to 1965.  I think it is important that the Brewers don’t forget the team that preceded them and this will be a welcome update to Miller Park.

Continuing on the history trend, the parking lots surrounding Miller Park will be renamed in honor of some of Milwaukee’s baseball legends.  Twelve lots around Miller Park will be adorned with the names of former Milwaukee Brewers and Braves Playesr with banners and other artwork notating the new designations.  Included in the list are Henry Aaron, Cecil Cooper, Rollie Fingers, Jim Gantner, Harvey Kuenn, Eddie Mathews, Paul Molitor, Don Money, Warren Spahn, Gorman Thomas, Bob Uecker and Robin Yount.

Here is the updated Miller Park parking lot map:
parking_map2.pdf

The “Uecker Lot” will include a special twist for fans that I think is going to be really popular.  Each game, 10 spaces will be reserved in “Uecker’s Front Row.” Attendants in the lots will select 10 cars paying cash for general parking at random to move up to the front row of the Uecker Lot for only $1.  There will be a special row of decorated “Uecker’s Front Row” parking spaces reserved for these randomly selected fans.  When that project is finished, I will be sure to post pictures.

John
johnandcait@brewers.com

The Myth of the Offseason

It’s the age-old question we get here as members of the Brewers Front Office: 

“What do you do in the offseason?”

They think that just because the play on the field has ended and the players have returned to Arizona, California, Florida, or wherever they call home, that we, too, must be leaving Milwaukee in search of warmer climates. They assume we are taking long vacations, cleaning our offices, and twiddling our thumbs, basically just biding our time until April when the team returns.

Wrong.  The popular answer around baseball is: “There is no offseason.”  The tarp may be covering the infield for the next five months, but we are always thinking about baseball here at One Brewers Way.  Building ticket plans, planning events like Brewers On Deck, writing media guides, selecting and trading players, improving the ballpark–whatever it is–there is action at Miller Park 365 days a year.

Through this blog, we hope to give you a glimpse of what the Brewers organization looks like from the inside out. We hope it will evolve into a source that Brewers fans turn to for up-to-date information as well as a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on with the Club.

We were given the opportunity to write this blog and we were told to run with it.

Ready or not, here we come.

If you have any questions, suggestions, ideas or concerns about the blog or topics you would like to read about, please e-mail us at johnandcait@brewers.com.

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