SI Vault
 
Nitty Gritty Dirt Man
John Garrity
May 17, 1982
And grass and artificial turf man. George Toma is groundskeeper supreme of Kansas City and, increasingly, all America
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 17, 1982

Nitty Gritty Dirt Man

And grass and artificial turf man. George Toma is groundskeeper supreme of Kansas City and, increasingly, all America

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

He stops at midfield, where it is dry, and kneels down, probing in the turf with a penknife. A jagged hunk of molten metal pops out. The Pro Bowl's second half was delayed five minutes because of smoke bombs, which were exploded during the halftime show. Red and white plumes had billowed from canisters attached to floats. Toma and the grounds crew had rushed onto the field to minimize the damage from molten metal dripping from the canisters and burning through the carpet.

Now the metal has hardened into grapeshot. Every piece will have to be cut out; the carpet will have to be cleaned, glued and patched.

"I'm not knocking band directors," Toma says, "but more groundkeepers quit because of band directors than any other reason. They say, 'If I can't have my flaming baton twirlers, we won't play!' " The center of the field is covered with friction burns, black scars left by the searing heat of grinding shoes—the litmus test for football intensity. "We can tell how hard a game was fought," he says. In Kansas City, Toma's grounds crew endures as many as four days of tedious stoop labor after a football game, repairing similar burns with ammonia solution and a brush.

"I'm dedicated to the Chiefs and Royals," Toma says. "I'm too dedicated, in a way. I'll stay that extra hour to make the field beautiful." He shakes his head. "I'm not bitching. If I'm unhappy, I should take off."

What would happen to the Chiefs and Royals, he is asked, if he did?

"They'll get the job done. I'm not indispensable." Toma starts walking again, looking back over his shoulder. "Maybe they'll need a few more men," he says, winking.

No matter what he may say, Toma isn't so much the dirt of the organization as he is an organizer of dirt.

Every spring, in Fort Myers, Fla., he gets down on his knees and molds Georgia clay and Jordan clay from Maryland with his bare hands into the best pitcher's mounds in the Grapefruit League. To Candlestick Park, in December, he brought five tons of Dialome (an absorbent and conditioner), 1,000 square yards of Hawaiian kikuyu grass from San Francisco's Kezar Stadium and 21 tons of Turface (another soil conditioner) from Mississippi and Georgia, by way of Texas, to fill holes punched in sod laid over an Enkamat (a water-permeable polyester support layer). For motocross, mud-a-thons and thunderous tractor pulls, he allows thousands of tons of soil to be dumped on the floor of Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium.

"Toma's dirt was always dragged the best," says Oakland A's Coach Clete Boyer, who remembers old Municipal Stadium on Brooklyn Avenue in Kansas City from his days as a Yankee third baseman. "When we used to play there, you could barely see a footprint in the dirt." So enamored were ballplayers of Toma's infields that he often got requests for his recipe, a heady mixture of Marshall loam, calcinine clay and No. 8 blaster sand from Kansas' Kaw River. Toma says, "People used to call up and say, 'Hey, can you ship us a boxcar load of that dirt?' "

He never sent any. "It's not the dirt," Toma says, laughing. "It's the man who takes care of the dirt!"

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7