Barney Lopas takes the field at Angel Stadium nearly every day. But instead of grabbing a bat and taking some warmup swings, Barney starts his day off with a close inspection of the infield turf. For 17 seasons, the LA Angels’ Head Groundskeeper has led the preparations to keep the field ready for game day. “We spend a lot of time here, just prepping the field,” he says.
Southern California is a long way from Barney’s original home field. “I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin,” he says. “We lived about two blocks from Goodland Field, where the Timber Rattlers, a White Sox Single A affiliate played. I always hung around the ballpark. My brother was a groundskeeper there. When I was a senior in high school, he moved to Florida and I took over.”
After graduation, Barney became a full time groundskeeper. He bounced through a half dozen clubs before making the big leagues in Los Angeles. “In ‘96, I was lucky enough to come here,” he says, “and it’s been really great. I’ve found the right guys—this crew puts in countless hours. I just have to be a leader and back them up. We have so much passion for what we do.”
Attending to the Details
Hours before the first pitch is thrown out, Barney is working the mound with a bucket of water and a heavy tamper plate. He scores the dirt in front of the pitcher’s rubber with a trowel, then drowns the earth with water before tamping it flat. Barney repeats the process, compacting the sodden sloping face until he is satisfied that the mound’s surface will hold up to hundreds of pitches without eroding beneath the players’ cleats. “I'm not trying to cut any corners,” he says. “You have to be your best every day.”
Before he leaves the mound, Barney lays a stencil across its back face. Using the bucket’s remaining water, he imprints a crisp Angels' “A” logo into the dry soil facing the outfield. Now it’s ready for prime time.
The Endless Season
The Angels may play half their games on the road, but Barney’s crew stays busy. “Just because the team’s gone doesn’t mean this place shuts down,” he says. In fact, his biggest challenges come during long stretches of away games: When the Angels hit the road for a week, their stadium becomes a concert venue.
“Two years ago, we had U2,” he says. “Last year, it was Kenny Chesney.” The arrival of a musical act means that Barney’s crew will have to transform the stadium into a concert venue, pulling up the field’s pristine turf before the outfield is swarmed by as many as 40,000 fans. After the show, his grounds crew will spend up to five days resodding the field, getting the playing surface laid out in time for the next home game.
Passion for the Game
Maintaining the field requires an intense commitment. “It’s all about putting your time in, and hitting every spot, really working hard.” For each game, forty-five thousand fans will fill the stands and thousands more will tune in at home. Barney knows they will all see his work. “We try to be the best,” he says, “and make the field the best we can every day.”