See that visitors' bullpen mound way out there? What I suggest, son, is to shave four or five inches off that and add three inches to your game mound. Their reliever comes in, feels like he's all of a sudden standing on Mount Everest, and his first half-dozen pitches sail in nose-high. Sure, the league sends a cop twice a year to check your mound height, but—get this—they call in advance to warn you!
Dirt. Can't emphasize it enough, kid. Your infield dirt is where 70% of your plays in a ball game are made, and where 70% of your blood, sweat and tears gotta go. Ask your dad. I started pounding it into his noggin when he was just a teenager: "How's your dirt, Rog? You learning your dirt?"
Go down five, six inches and to this day you'll strike dirt I laid a half-century ago. Ain't that somethin'? When Gene took the job here, back when he was barely old enough to vote, I helped him install this infield in old Comiskey. A rock pile, infielders used to call it before Gene came—ground balls took hops that could make a grizzled shortstop sing like a Vienna choirboy. Stick this under your bonnet, kid: There are 6,000 soil structures in the United States, but only 10% of 'em belong on a baseball infield. We brought in a native Midwest clay, one that water would soften but not turn to mush, mixed it nine parts to one with soil conditioner, and when we were done...well, Luke Appling, the old White Sox shortstop, could've kissed Gene. Loam, sweet loam, bounces so true that when old Comiskey was about to be demolished back in '90, Rog dug up that infield, all 550 tons, and hauled it in 22 dump-truck loads to the new Comiskey. A lady called him one day and asked, "Is it true that you're using the old Comiskey infield in the new park?" and when Rog said yes, she started crying. "I thought he was gone!" she said. "Now I'll always know where my dad is." Turns out Geno had let this lady scatter her old man's ashes across the Comiskey infield!
That big black hose? Don't you dare touch it! That's your father's paintbrush. Wouldn't let my sons Harold and Marshall hold mine till they turned gray, and Gene was nearly as neurotic with Rog. Give an infield too much water? Catastrophe! Too little? Apocalypse! Your father's got it down to a ritual—you could set your clock by it. Five wettings on game days: 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 25 minutes before batting practice and then one last wetting just before game time. Sorry to tell you, kid, but no two days are alike, so it's no formula, all feel, every time. Windy? Dirt's gonna dry out quicker, gotta give it more H20. Humid? Ground's gonna hold moisture, gotta cut back. Cloudy? Sunny? Adjust again. Sun sets on the third base side? That means the first base side needs more drink. Rain last night? Factor that in too. It's all in the sweep of the wrist, the position of the forefinger over the mouth of the hose. Nozzles? Bossards are the only groundskeepers in baseball who don't need 'em, only ones with forefingers strong enough to control the flow on an inch-and-a-quarter hose. O.K., I'll admit it, for that final light spray just before game time, Rog'll resort to that beat-up nozzle Gene made back in the '40s, a keepsake nobody else better touch.
There, look at your daddy scurrying back and forth across that infield, stopping every few steps to cut a line with the edge of his sneaker and make sure it's dark and wet a good inch down. Highest water bill in baseball, softest and darkest infield on earth, and then that final touch, his secret weapon: that soil conditioner he piles near each infield position. Pro's Choice, it's called—Rog helped invent it—a calcined clay baked at 1,400 degrees in granulars that run from one- to three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. Just before games, he shovels those piles of Pro's Choice across the heavy traffic areas, enough to make sure that the perfect sponginess he's achieved with those five wettings doesn't evaporate and break down for three hours—nine innings. Put your toes in it, boy, bounce on it! It's genius!
Our true trademark? Bossards custom-tailor every position to the infielder's taste. First we get to know him, become like a teammate, join in on pregame high jinks. Gene used to deposit the stub of his wet cigar on the plate just before a ball game, and poor Sherm Lollar, the Chicago catcher back in the '50s, had to pick up the dang thing and flick it away. Roger sprays Robin Ventura, the White Sox third baseman, every day during sprints. Robin gets revenge by knocking over Roger's piles of soil conditioner or scooping up balls in the outfield and using Rog for target practice. Robin likes his third base area soft. He gets it soft. Julio Cruz, the old second sacker, liked the front half soft for true bounces and the back 20 feet hard so he could charge everything and be flying by his fourth step. Every day, there it was waiting for him, like one egg over easy and one sunny-side up.
Here's how fanatical Bossards are about dirt: Gene and Rog are the only two groundskeepers in history, I'll bet you, who ever matted their infields during batting practice as well as before and after. You know how dangerous that is? Watch your dad do it someday, scampering around with one eye on the batter and one on the ground, like a squirrel trying to eat nuts in a backyard with a German shepherd. Can't bear the thought of a pockmark on his infield, even during warmups. Oh, he's paid for it, all right. Roger's been nailed a half-dozen times—Bill Melton knocked him clean off his feet once—and Gene took a line drive that busted his hand. See, those two could risk it because they were ballplayers as kids, damn good ones who trusted their instincts. Me? Never played a lick of ball, never dreamed I'd go anywhere near a ball field. And there never would've been a Bossard dynasty if it wasn't for a bottle of booze.
Funny thing, Brandon. I was your age, just turning one, when I got on that boat in 1892. Imagine my old man, this hard-headed Swiss plumber, deciding one day to uproot his wife and four boys—ages seven, five, three and one—and plant 'em clear across the ocean to start over! Opens a hardware store and works till it's the biggest one in St. Paul. Baseball? You kiddin'? I didn't even finish school. All us boys (Mama had one more after we got here) learned a trade, and guess what mine was? Plumber, too.
So one day, must've been 1911 or '12, I'm 21, when things go a little slack in the plumbing racket and around Papa's store. I catch on hauling lumber for some new construction in the stands at Lexington Park, where the old St. Paul Saints played, and I'm not there but a couple weeks when they ask me to give the groundskeeper a hand. Turns out this fella has a hankering for the bottle, so on Opening Day, when he reports to the saloon instead of the stadium, they offer me his job, and 80 bucks a month is 25 more than I'm making patching pipes, and that's how come I'm showing you how to tinker with a ball field instead of a ball cock and flapper on a toilet.