A year or two ago, I was at a conference where the organizer held an ice-breaker activity to start the event. The theme of the ice-breaker was to discuss the most difficult job you had ever had with the people sitting at your table. I was the youngest person at my table and felt a little intimidated since the people around me probably had a lot more job experience to choose from.
I thought about past jobs I had had. I had enjoyed all of my jobs in my professional, post-college sales career. Before that, I had waited tables in high school and college and at times performed odd jobs for my uncle, who is an entrepreneur. I even remembered having a lemonade stand during my younger days and a faux-jewelry store with my older brother. But then it came to me: my hardest job was working on the grounds crew with The Boston Red Sox.
Saying this to the people at my table made me seem like a spoiled brat. Indeed, I had grown up as a die-hard Red Sox fan, and working for the Red Sox is a job that many would kill for. As a kid, I listened to every game on the radio or watched it on TV. I spent all of my free time collecting and trading baseball cards. It pained me that I was always an average baseball player because my dream was to play for The Boston Red Sox. Never mind that back then we were one of the longest suffering teams in all of sports – I could not get enough of baseball, especially my favorite team.
The opportunity to work for the grounds crew really came about as more of a favor than anything. Our family knew someone tied to the organization, and he was able to land me a summer job on the crew in high school. There were a handful of people like me – white collar kids who were getting a favor – interspersed amongst a much larger group of college students doing summer internships majoring in turf science at predominantly midwestern schools, and older locals who had been working on the grounds crew for many years.
The job was really very different than what I think most people expect it to be. When most fans think of the grounds crew, they think of the people who comb the field in between innings, water the grass before the game, or put the tarp on the field when it rains. But most of the work happened behind the scenes, and as someone told me when I got started, it is very cool to work at Fenway Park, but after about a week or so, you realize it is just a job like any other.
It is pretty incredible how much preparation goes into each and every single game. Because of my lack of experience, I was often relegated to the most mundane of tasks. I would arrive early in the morning around 7 or 8 am each day. The first hour or two would be spent with a wheelbarrow, a rake, and a shovel, walking around the entire perimeter of the field. My job was to rake up the debris and sunflower seeds from the game the day before, shovel them into a wheelbarrow, and dispose of everything.
When I was not doing that, another responsibility might be to clean both the dugouts. Let’s just say that baseball players have little concern about how to treat the dugouts after the game. Covered in mud, bubble gum, and sunflower seeds, they needed a good rinse, mop, and scrub to get them back to game condition before every game. Even the runways that lead from the clubhouse to the dugouts needed to be vacuumed and scrubbed clean. Dirty drains needed to be cleared up all around the perimeter of the ballpark, regardless of what kind of foul odor was being emitted. The grass needed to be clipped, the bullpens needed to be cleaned up, and even the bases on the field needed to be scrubbed until they looked pristine again.
Because I did not have a ton of experience, I was not particularly good at my job. This meant that I was there mostly for all of the trivial and lesser jobs. It was still hard work. I did not live close to Fenway Park, so I had to get up at 5am every day to get there and then had a long commute home, covered in dirt on the train. The days were hot and long. Coupled with being not very good at things, I was also relatively young, so I was usually the brunt of jokes by some of my co-workers. Being a teenager was already tough, but that job made me tougher.
I learned the value of money because of that job. I was always making minimum wage or something close to it. Back then, that was $7 or $8 an hour. I would always be counting down the time until lunch because the work was hard and it made me hungry. The idea that I was spending about an hour of labor in order to buy a sandwich at Subway was a bit daunting. It was then that I really started being able to tie the value of my labor into dollars and to care about saving money. I also really began to appreciate people who work in similar labor positions, like janitors for example, because much of my job was really very much the same.
Beyond the scope of all the physical labor that happened during the day, there were also days that ran well into the evening. I would work many of the games as well, which meant many 15-16 hour days with the long commute and the early turnaround the next morning. One of my other responsibilities was to help pulling the tarp on the field and laying down new turf material in the event of inclement weather. That was always kind of exciting because there is an adrenaline rush that kicks in running on the field with the tarp with 35,000 people watching, and we would get to sit in the dugouts with the players until the rain cleared off.
Over the course of my tenure on the grounds crew, which spanned several years between high school and college (and multiple prizes for being part of the crew when the team won World Series titles), I came across many famous managers and players. I rarely, if ever, initiated conversation with them. In fact, I remember cleaning the field the day after Jonathan Papelbon’s first career start. Papelbon was jogging around the field and I spent an hour or so debating with myself whether or not I would congratulate him. I didn’t.
But among the highlights, one day Frank Robinson was walking down the tunnel between the clubhouse and the dugout while I was cleaning it, and he stopped to thank me for all of the hard work I was doing. Another time, as I was exiting the infield for preparations for a game, Derek Jeter thanked me for everything I was doing. And on another less fortunate occasion, I accidentally dropped a 50 lb. bag on Vladimir Guerrero’s foot while trying to place it down during a rain delay, and he gave me a very stern glare.
Between my junior and senior year of college, I secured an internship in the front office for the organization working directly under then-CEO Larry Lucchino. Again, I was fortunate to have a couple things going for me there – his son was a peer at my high school, and we were both tied to Princeton University. The perks of that job were more or less the same as the ones I had on the grounds crew – the ability to go to any game, the ability to secure some free tickets every now and then, discounts at the team store, and things like that. But the work itself was a lot simpler. My job was usually a standard 9 to 5, with no threat of being sent home early for not working hard enough. I did not break a sweat in the air-conditioned office. It felt a little less painful to buy lunch every day.
So as we went around the table, I did not expect everyone to understand why the job was so hard. Especially in comparison to the person who had worked on a military submarine. But I didn’t have time to explain myself either. All that matters to me is that I got the experience: it really put into perspective the value of hard work.