That ballpark, over the next quarter century, is where I built my name and started grooming my three boys, Harold, Marshall and Gene. Marshall hated it at first, and even Gene was lukewarm, but a family legacy is a funny thing once it gets rolling. It turns into your destiny more than your choice. I understand that's what your father's scared of with you.
Anyway, my three sons became my assistants when the Indians offered me the job in '36, and in no time teams were beating down my door to hire the boys away. Gene left, the other two stayed, and before you knew it, Harold's son Brian, god rest his soul, started trailing us around Municipal Stadium, and he went on to become the Padres' and the Yankees' groundskeeper before passing on—couldn't have been much older than 40—five years ago. Before you knew it, Gene had Rog in a cute little White Sox uniform, shagging fly balls alongside the players' sons before ball games and following Gene around on off days, imitating him with the rake and the nail drag, trying so hard to get it just right that Gene confided to his wife, "He's a real Bossard."
Odd, how far a man has to go sometimes to realize that what he loves was right under his nose all the time. That's what going to Vietnam did for Rog. Saw some things there that are too terrible to talk about, came home after a year with pneumonia that darn near killed him, and sure, even though he'd figured for years that he'd end up as a groundskeeper, it was the spring after his discharge in 1968, working in the sun at Comiskey again, digging his fingers back into the dirt, that helped him to heal inside, to really appreciate the peace and beauty of a ballpark and cherish this craft. Worked under his dad till '83, and then Gene, at 65, turned the hose over to him.
Me? I worked those 100-hour weeks till that same age, then handed the head job at Municipal Stadium to Harold in '56. But I kept right on manicuring the Indians' minor league and spring training diamonds long after my wife died, till I was 88. You ask the old-timers in the Cleveland organization, they'll remember me—the wiry pepper pot with the chaw of tobacco in his cheek, the thick gnarly hands and the weatherbeaten face. The ol' coot driving the yellow '64 Impala SS convertible and still winking at the gals. Dare you to count the number of Indians and old ladies at my funeral when I finally got tired of breathing in '80.
Seems to me I've failed to discuss your alleys, kid. Simple: If your outfielders are faster than theirs, you lower your blade an inch when you're mowing your gaps, and conversely, if yours are slower, you raise it an inch, give your boys that extra second to cut off a—hey, you listening, boy? All right, go ahead and roll in it; I know how good it feels, and let's both thank god it's not that artificial crap they shoved down Gene's throat back in the '70s. Nothin' sorrier than seeing a Bossard down on his knees scouring tobacco stains off a strip of plastic: a sculptor turned into a scrubwoman.
What you're sprawling on, Brandon, is an eight-blend blue-grass, a hybrid hatched by your father and Dr. Hank Wilkinson of the University of Illinois, lying on top of a 12-inch sand drainage cavity that's still got me scratching my head. Nobody, least of all Gene or me, ever dreamed grass could grow on sand without mixing in 10% or 20% peat, but Rog proved us all wrong. Took him five years of experiments in three boxes out behind the wall in old Comiskey, but he was determined, because the peat's what slowed the drainage after a rain, which led to scarred fields and postponements. So what's he do, when it's time to install the new Comiskey field in '90? He goes sand a foot down, because water drains through it lickety-split, and he revolutionizes groundskeeping. Sure, he has to fertilize and water the hell out of it, because food and drink go through it like it's got the runs. Forty-eight hours without agua and this grass is cooked, and so's Rog, which means he can't go a day on the road without phoning to ask his assistant, Harry Smith, "How's the field? What's the weather like? You check the irrigation panel?" Fourteen fertilizings a year—your nitrogen for color, your phosphorus for root system, your potash for uprightness of blade—and a trim every day, just an eighth to a quarter of an inch.
Bottom line is, Comiskey can swallow three inches of rain in a half-hour typhoon—192,000 gallons—and 45 minutes later the ump's croaking, "Play ball!" Five years from now, you'll see Roger's system in just about every big league ballpark in America, and damn right he was smart enough to patent it. Yessir, Brandon, your daddy's the one who majored in agronomy at Purdue, who sets up experiments under UV lamps, who was hired by a Saudi Arabian prince for three straight winters to make soccer fields grow in the desert. He's taken what Gene and I taught him to another galaxy, and more power to him, 'cause there's not a groundskeeper alive who packs the experience and the classroom smarts that Rog has.
But I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you about the agony. Right here in centerfield's the spot, over at old Comiskey, where the Veecks had that wooden container placed between games of a White Sox-Tigers doubleheader back in '79 and loaded it up with disco albums for Disco Demolition Night. About 53,000 people in the stands, half of 'em 20-year-olds juiced on beer, and once those albums went up in flames and the jackals started pouring out of the stands, I thought I was gonna lose my son and grandson both. Rog stood his ground trying to fight off the hordes, but the two of 'em finally had to make a run for Geno's office and lock the door. Took mounted police swinging clubs to beat the crowd back, then Gene and Rog came out and staggered across the battlefield like soldiers with shell shock. Patches of our dirt, our grass, clawed up by freaks with hair halfway to their asses! Our outfield scorched from a bonfire they'd started after dismantling the picnic benches out behind the leftfield wall. Rog, he was always more sensitive than Gene. It was as if somebody had carved up his child.
And that wasn't the end of it, because back then Bill Veeck was hanging on to the club by his fingernails, renting out the ballpark for anything that would help him stay out of the red. Poor Rog, running behind circus elephants and scooping up souvenirs...keeping all-night watch on roadies roaring in with forklifts and tractor-trailers and miles of cable to set up those gigantic rock-concert stages...then cringing when it rained, because it always rained, like God's punishment, and left the ball field looking like another one of those damn Woodstocks. Poor Rog, staying up all night and day laying another 20,000 square feet of Merion bluegrass.