Pride carries Bandits groundskeeper to perfection

Originally Posted Online: July 28, 2013, 6:53 pm
Last Updated: July 29, 2013, 7:47 am
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By Daniel Makarewicz,

DAVENPORT -- It's an off day, a little more than 24 hours before the Quad Cities River Bandits begin a six-game home stand.

Inside Modern Woodmen Park as a mid-morning rain rolls through, Bandits head groundskeeper Scott Blanchette, nearing the start of six consecutive 15-hour work days, stares at the diamond. What he sees through the window brings an honest conclusion that speaks volumes.

"You don't realize what it takes until you're around it on a day-to-day basis," Blanchette said.

Maintaining a minor-league field offers challenges Blanchette cannot fully explain. A glance at his timecard reveals the commitment it takes to make Modern Woodmen Park what he calls one of the top diamonds in the Midwest League.

Time is not an issue when it comes to this job.

Pride is what drives him.

"It's cool that you can have $19 million (worth of signing bonuses) in baseball players playing on something you take care of," Blanchette said. "It gives you a big responsibility."

More than halfway through his first season as the head groundskeeper, and second overall with the club, the 2012 St. Ambrose graduate and Kankakee native is completely grasping the duties of keeping the field is pristine shape.

Herbicides and fertilizers are part of Blanchette's vocabulary. Mowing and laying sod also are included in the routine.

All these chores started in late March, two weeks before the Bandits started this season.

"We didn't get any growth on the grass because it was so cold and wet (this winter and early spring). It was hard getting the grass growing," said Blanchette, an intern last summer under former head groundskeeper Kyle Brudos."Usually around that time is when you start getting growth, start cutting and getting fertilizer."

Considering what the field has gone through the last two summers, any grass is something to cherish.

A year ago, record droughts with a prolonged heat wave saddled the Quad-Cities during the summer months. Those conditions gave way to a damp, cool spring this year, highlighted by a winter storm a few weeks prior to opening day and record-setting rains weeks into the season.

Climates certainly can be harsh on the Modern Woodmen Park turf, but his biggest worry is "determining when to put the tarp on" the field. Other than that, the field does its job.

Renovated prior to the 2009 season season, the field can handle the harshness that defines local weather. Part of it is the draining, something Blanchette said is the key to its success and calms his nerves about its appearance.

"With the amount of rain this year and a little bit of dry weather, it still is in good condition," Blanchette said. "It looks pretty decent."

Other than a patch near third base, the grass fits Blanchette's description.

With the help of Steve Bush, certified sports field manager for Milan-based Bush Turf, Blanchette uses water, fertilizers and herbicides to survive the rigors of a 70-game Midwest League regular-season schedule and other contests. Maintaining the infield dirt requires daily manicuring, too.

The tedious process means patience and hours are needed to ensure perfection. Blanchette said on game days, he arrives at the park about 8 a.m. and will not leave until 11:30 p.m. During road trips or off days, the hours still are high.

"When I see spots," Blanchette said, "it kills me."

Any imperfections are immediately addressed. During the Bandits' current 12-game road trip, he worked with Bush to replace some sod and laser grate the infield. Blanchette said both jobs are needed to make sure the field "remains healthy."

Blanchette also executes a design for the infield and outfield grass. Whenever a home stand starts, he incorporates a new pattern after seeing pictures from other professional fields.

Working with a full-time intern, game-day staff and an ownership group "willing to do what it takes to get the field at its best," Blanchette has the resources to ensure the diamond remains playable and respected.

In order for that to happen, countless hours are needed.One person sets the tone for perfection.

Based on the ending to a 20-minute conversation, he strives for more.

"I have a lot to learn," Blanchette said. "I love learning all that stuff. I really do like it a lot."

River Bandits extra bases

Bandits this week: at Beloit (today); vs. Peoria (Tuesday-Friday); at Cedar Rapids (Saturday-Sunday)
Bandits news and notes: Entering Sunday, Vincent Velasquez (109) and Lance McCullers (101) were the only pitchers in the league to reach the 100-strikeout mark. Neither Bandits hurlers rank among the top 17 in innings pitched. As a team, the Bandits have a Western Division-leading 825 strikeouts. ... Nearly 30 percent of Carlos Correa's hits have gone for extra bases this season as the shortstop carries a .317 batting average. ... After concluding a season-long 12-game road trip today, QC has one more multi-city trip this season. The Bandits have a seven-game swing through Burlington and Wisconsin the last week of August. ... QC is the only Western Division team with no players having at least 10 home runs this season.
QC alumni: Washington Nationals outfielder Denard Span has a .258 average with 21 doubles, seven triples, one home run and 27 RBIs this season. Span has appeared in 98 games, getting 391 at-bats in his first season with the Nationals. The 29-year-old Tampa, Fla., native played 64 games for the Swing of the Quad Cities in 2004, finishing with a .264 batting average.
FYI: Zach Petrick continues to impress in the St. Louis Cardinals system. The right-handed pitcher, who started this season with Peoria, has a 6-0 mark and a 1.08 ERA in 28 appearances. So far, he has pitched for low-A Peoria, high-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield. Petrick, a Morris native, has 98 strikeouts and 16 walks in 83 2/3 innings after going undrafted last year out of the University of Northwestern Ohio.
Around the Midwest League: Bowling Green pitcher Taylor Guerrieri underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, according to a report in the Tampa Tribune. Guerrieri, rated among the top prospects in the Rays system, left a start early on July 15 in Cedar Rapids with elbow discomfort in the third inning. ... Wisconsin Timber Rattlers pitcher Preston Gainey threw seven shutout innings during a 9-1 win over the Clinton LumberKings on Wednesday. Gainey, who was drafted last year out of the United States Naval Academy, allowed one hit. ... The Peoria Chiefs set a Dozer Park nine-inning record by getting 19 strikeouts against the West Michigan Whitecaps on Monday.


Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Oct. 21, the 294th day of 2014. There are 71 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The weather is discouraging for our great Democratic rally tomorrow, but never mind that. Let our Rock Island people show they can make a big procession themselves, rain or shine.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Apparatus arrived for drilling an artesian well on the premises of George Warner's Atlantic Brewery.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The German army continued its attacks on the allies line near the Belgian coast.
1939 -- 75 years ago: The farm home of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Zachert northwest of Buffalo Prairie, burned to the ground.
1964 -- 50 years ago: WVIK-FM, noncommercial educational radio station at Augustana College, will return to the air tomorrow. The station operates at a power of 10 watts at 90.9 megacycles on the frequency modulation band. The station is operated with a staff of 92 students.
1989 -- 25 years ago: An avenue of lights, 13 Christmas trees strung with more than 44,000 sparkling lights, will expand the Festival of Trees beyond the walls of RiverCenter in downtown Davenport in mid-November.

(More History)