A rookie groundskeeper's perfect job SMOOTH MOVES

April 08, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

Say hey to the veteran and the rookie.

The veteran has put 20 years into the game. He's seen it all. To him, baseball means little more than a job and a paycheck come Friday.

"When you've seen as many games as I have, you get kinda bored by it all," the old pro was saying yesterday at Memorial Stadium. Asked how many games he has, in fact, seen, he snapped, "Jesus! You figure it out. Twenty years' worth. One or two thousand. It's a lot, that's all I know."

The rookie was to get game No. 1 under his belt today as the Orioles opened their 38th and final season at the stadium on 33rd Street. He's awe-struck at having made it to The Show.

"I love baseball," says the kid. "I can't imagine a better job than the one I have."

If you thought the veteran and the rookie were ballplayers, you struck out. They're actually members of the Orioles' ground crew.

The veteran -- William "Jim" Webster -- is in his 20th year on the crew. He's its senior member.

The rookie -- Ron Potter -- is beginning his first year on the eight-man team.

Yesterday, the groundskeepers touched up the field for today's game, smoothing out the infield dirt, tidying the warning tracks, trimming outfield grass. Webster and Potter, sitting in the ground crew's "dugout" in the left-field corner, bantered about baseball and the passion it does, or doesn't, inspire.

Webster, like any veteran, was quick to needle the kid.

"Let's see a year from now if you still love baseball," he said to Potter. The older man moved a toothpick back and forth across his mouth. "I guarantee, you'll have more than your fill after one season. These games and stuff, it's nothing but work to me."

"Wait a minute, you like football, don't you?" Potter asked him.

"Sure, I do, but if I were a football groundskeeper, I might get pretty sick of that, too," Webster answered. "Listen, do you think Cal Ripken would go out there to play shortstop every day if he wasn't getting some money for it? Some serious money, at that."

Webster went away. He had to fine-tune the pitcher's mound in the visitors' bullpen. That gave Potter a chance to wax euphoric about his good fortune at being an employee of a ball club he has followed for a lifetime.

NTC He recalled last year's Opening Day, when he had to pay for a lower-deck seat about 30 rows back of home plate. For today's game -- and every home game this season -- he was to have a reserved spot among the ground crew's 10 seats in the left-field corner.

"There's no comparison between my seat for this year's Opening Day and last year's," says Potter, 25, a Cambridge native who previously worked as a groundskeeper at the U.S. Naval Academy's golf course. "This is a better seat because it's so close to the field, and it means I'm working on the Orioles' ground crew. I mean this, it's really a thrill."

The old/young, jaded/exuberant contrast was evident elsewhere at Memorial Stadium yesterday.

James Fisher, the electrical supervisor for the stadium, was making final checks of the scoreboards, the lights and the sound system. He has worked at the ballpark since 1966. In his first year on the job, the Orioles won the World Series.

Does Fisher hope to see the O's depart Memorial Stadium with another championship?

"I don't follow baseball that much," he said. He stood in the Orioles' dugout testing microphones that were to be used today for pre-game introductions and the singing of the national anthem.

Well, then, Fisher was asked, does this final Opening Day at the stadium bring a tear to your eye? A smile to your lips?

"No," he said. "I can't say it does."

Nothing? Not even a lump in your throat? A mild rash? Hiccups?

"I've really been too busy working to worry about what Opening Day means," Fisher said politely. "It's just another working day to me."

At least David Mitnick can cook up some enthusiasm for Opening Day. Mitnick, 18, manages the Premier kosher food stand at section six of the stadium's lower deck. It's reportedly the only kosher stand at any of the 26 major league ballparks.

"I'm a big fan," Mitnick said yesterday. He wore the traditional Jewish skull cap, or yarmulke, as he scrubbed the Premier counter-top. "My first Oriole game was 'Thanks, Brooks' Day in 1977. My father took me. I was about 4."

A student in pastry-making and hotel and restaurant management at Baltimore's International Culinary College, Mitnick said he is "very sentimental" about Memorial Stadium.

Yet, he added, "Progress has its place in life, and it's a natural course to move on. Anyway, I understand the concession stands will be much better and easier to work with" at the Camden Yards stadium scheduled to open in 1992.

Back on the Memorial Stadium field, the Chicago White Sox held a workout while the Orioles played an exhibition game with the Boston Red Sox in Washington.

At the start of the practice, Chicago pitcher Ken Patterson picked up a ground ball near third base and, like a child imagining himself on a big league diamond, provided a radio-style description of his own play:

"He scoops the ball behind the bag, turns and guns it to first -- and gets the runner!"

Baseball is back. Bring the kids.

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