Entrepreneurs hope to hit pay dirt with stadium soil As end nears for ballpark, infield's leftovers go on sale

August 05, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

The Baltimore Orioles throw away 400 pounds of excess infield dirt before every game they play at Memorial Stadium.

And in these last days of major league baseball on 33rd Street, Kenneth J. Goldberg and Alan N. Terner want to sell you 2 1/2 ounces of that dirt for $8.95.

Each jar of dirt comes with a certificate declaring it to be "authentic infield dirt from the seventh oldest ballpark in the country."

For $34.95, the soil is accompanied by a certificate autographed by Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer, a pair of Birds who made it to the Hall of Fame by playing on Memorial Stadium dirt.

Not that the dark brown dirt is from the team's World Championship years of a quarter-century ago. It's fresh dirt from the team's sixth-place farewell season at Memorial Stadium, raked up after a few recent home stands.

"I've got a bottle of it on my desk at home," said Mr. Robinson, who added that he and Mr. Palmer were paid by Kols Containers Inc. of Baltimore for their signatures on 1,000 of the certificates.

Mr. Robinson, who soiled many an Orioles uniform diving for line drives and ground balls as baseball's premier third baseman, said yesterday that he was paid to help promote the sale of dirt by "a couple of guys" whom he had met but whose names he could not remember.

Those guys are Kenneth Goldberg and Alan Terner of the Kols company at 1408 De Soto Road in southwest Baltimore, makers of glass and plastic containers.

The latest glass container from the company is filled with a combination of one or more of the following: clay from the pitcher's mound and batter's box; infield soil made from a mixture of sand, silt, clay, and peat; calcined clay; grass clippings from the playing field, and foul line chalk.

"We're actually helping the Orioles out, they just throw [the dirt] away anyway," Mr. Goldberg said.

The Orioles agreed to let Kols have dirt left after the grounds crew grades the field before home games. In exchange, the company said that it would donate a percentage of all sales to the Orioles Foundation, which benefits charities such as the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and the Baltimore Reads literacy project.

The Kols company also had to pay a licensing fee to Major League Baseball to use the Oriole logo and was prohibited from selling the bottles of dirt at the stadium.

The dirt is only available by mail from Kols Containers Inc.

"With the charity component, everybody thought this would be a winner for all concerned," said Bob Aylward, Orioles vice-president of business affairs. "It was an idea that we kicked around as something that people would want. When Kols came forward, we said that would be a good way to get it done."

Before Kols came forward, discarded infield dirt was returned to the earth.

"We used to throw it away in the back of the stadium, and the city came over with a dump truck and hauled it to a landfill," said Paul Zwaska, head groundskeeper for the Orioles.

The dirt isn't native to Waverly-- it's trucked in. Mr. Zwaska said that he selects the dirt from local topsoil merchants and buys it with public money from Baltimore, which leases the ballpark to the Orioles.

"I don't think there is natural dirt at 33rd Street anymore. I think it's a landfill. The site was a brickyard around the turn of the century," said Mr. Zwaska, who said that he holds a University of Wisconsin degree in soil science. "We had to dig down an XTC irrigation head right behind third base in the outfield not long ago and there was all sorts of crap under there, asphalt and trash and other stuff."

Carol Sanner, who operates a paving and excavation company in Finksburg with her husband, Richard, can't believe that anyone would buy 2 1/2 ounces of dirt for almost $9, no matter where it came from.

"I think it's crazy. Would you pay $9 for a bottle of dirt?" she asked. "We sell topsoil for $90 to $110 a truckload. That's 9 square yards of dirt. Now that's a lot of dirt."

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