The New Yard Man

April 03, 2001|By Patricia Meisol

It was decades in the making, this inaugural Opening Day for Al Capitos, the Orioles' new head groundskeeper.

His first came on a field long ago, in seventh grade, in his back yard in State College, Pa. That diamond had chalk lines, bases and spotlights scoured from garage sales and then strung on trees in the infield. The night the lights went on, every kid in the neighborhood showed up.

He mowed all day, they played all night. He loved that summer routine.

Capitos' parents never guessed he'd make a career out of keeping up the lawn. He veered off into the Air Force, then back to Penn State for a degree in sports turf, thinking golf. One day he awoke to recall how much he loved the smells, sounds and well-manicured lawn of baseball.

Appropriately, the 31-year-old bachelor starts his career in the major leagues with a new field. The old one was torn up in November, a new drainage system installed and sod laid quickly to winter over.

Yesterday, he was at the park at 4 a.m. to be sure TV cameramen didn't set themselves up on his newly conditioned mound.

That's not all: He set up chairs, directed his lost parents and calmed Brady Anderson, who after seeing the uneven space between grass and rubber warning track, angrily wondered if Capitos was "trying to kill us." (The bluegrass will build up mass, closing the gap, he explained.)

The snags of Opening Day will pass. Now begins what Capitos hopes will be the routine of his career.

He was dragging the infield on his polished Toro tractor when the singing started, "Take me out to the ball game ... "

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