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