When fans settle in to watch a baseball game at the Patterson Baseball Complex, they see the hard work of the players pay off on the field. However, if one looks beyond the players to the field itself, they will see the fruits of a different Gonzaga team’s labor, one which consists of only two members.
For every home GU baseball game, men’s and women’s soccer game, and all the days the teams practice in between, athletic turf manager Tommy Brown and groundskeeper Cody Reeves are hard at work ensuring the Zags have no worry about what’s under their feet.
“They are a huge part of our program and what we do.” Gonzaga baseball head coach Mark Machtolf said, “We really appreciate the job that they do when we travel around the country and see the shape other fields are in that have much better situations weather wise.
Brown has been in charge of keeping the grounds at GU for 13 years, with Reeves assisting him for the last seven.
Prior to GU, Brown became familiar with the work of a grounds crew during 14 years as a superintendent at a golf course, a job which evolved out of his love for the sport. He then became well experienced in ground crew work for college athletics in Spokane, working for six years at Whitworth University in the same role he has now.
Reeves path to GU also stems from a love of sport. A native of Spokane, Reeves played baseball all across the area growing up. This included a summer with the Spokane RiverHawks, a colligate summer baseball team who played in the West Coast League from 2005 to 2009.
“With the RiverHawks we used to play [at Gonzaga] in the summer and we would think ‘this is the greatest field ever,’’’ Reeves said.
After working baseball camps in the Midwest, Reeves decided it was time to come back home to Spokane and Brown gave him a chance at what turned out to be a dream job.
“It fell into my lap working for Tommy,” said Reeves. “When I moved back here, I didn’t have a job, but I knew Tommy from playing summer ball and he asked me if I could help him out as a part-time guy and I really just never left.”
Reeves takes pride in his ability to make infield dirt pristine, which paired with Brown’s skill and vast experience, allows them to keep every aspect of Coach Steve Hertz Field in prime condition.
“I always used to know how to work on a field, but when I started working for Tommy my IQ just went through the roof,” Reeves said. “I’m really good with the dirt and Tommy is exceptional with the grass.”
Their skills and experience have led to an efficient game day process to ready the field with little to no communication needed between the dynamic duo. By game time the pair has made sure to drag the infield, water the grass and paint the baselines among other responsibilities.
By now, they know how each aspect of a field should look. They now see imperfections in fields that would go unnoticed to the untrained eye.
“Some little spots wrong with the field bother us now,” Reeves said. “We’ll watch a Major League Baseball game on TV and text each other things like ‘see that lip on the grass’ and other nerdy groundskeeping things.”
While game days require significant work, keeping the fields up is a constant job from early spring through fall. Compared to baseball, Luger Field, the home of men’s and women’s soccer, requires much more upkeep between games, as the soccer season lends itself to playing games in harsh weather.
It is not uncommon for Brown and Reeves to have to resod Luger Field during soccer season, with spots of the field falling victim to the cold weather and rain. The most extreme example of in season maintenance for soccer was in 2016, when historic rainfall flooded the field. This required the field to be squeegeed, stream rolled and dried with backpack blowers for multiple days along with up to 50-yard chunks of the field needing new sod.
Rain poses problems for baseball too as in a city like Spokane it can come at any time. This puts an increased importance on prep and communication among Brown, coaches and umpires to address rain affected areas of the field during a game.
“You just can’t do a thing about weather … It’s definitely the biggest challenge of the job,” Brown said. “If you have a game scheduled and it starts raining you just have to react to get the game in.”
Making sure the fields are playable for games and practices is most essential to their jobs, but in working so closely with GU baseball and soccer, Brown and Reeves have essentially become members of the teams.
“With the baseball team especially getting to know the team really well is one of the pleasures of the job,” Brown said. “We become pretty good friends with the players in their three or four years here and even when they come back as alumni.”
With his past in baseball Reeves relates especially well to the players, having even been in the wedding of one former player.
While some days are long and often unpredictable due to Mother Nature, Brown and Reeves take pride in the work they do and the immediate visual reward it provides.
“The way the field looks when we get done setting it for a Friday night game,” Reeves said. “The sun sets over our shop and the field looks perfect with no marks on it yet. The guys are leaning over the dugout nodding or giving you knuckles … That’s what I like about doing the job.”
Trevor Bond is a staff writer.