Outside Blue Bell Park on Friday, an eight-foot pile of snow stood as a monument to the three days of frigid work done by Texas A&M’s grounds crew.
“It’s a pretty good little mountain,” assistant fields manager Nick McKenna said.
Since Wednesday the staff led by A&M’s athletics fields manager Craig Potts and McKenna has cleared the fields of snow and ice at Blue Bell Park and Davis Diamond in preparation for season-opening weekends for both the Aggie baseball and softball teams.
“I think people are going to be shocked at how good it actually looks,” said McKenna, who leads the work at Blue Bell Park.
The snow surprisingly worked in favor of the grounds crew as it insulated the grass from the record-breaking low temperatures over the last week in the Brazos Valley, McKenna said. The ground never froze, which left the grass healthy and green after the crew removed the snow.
Ridding the fully covered fields of four inches of snow and ice was the challenge. A&M’s staff did most of the work covering about four acres of land between the two fields by hand and shovels. Staff members dumped the snow into utility vehicles that in turn dumped it in the parking lot outside of Blue Bell Park.
“You sit there and you think on Monday, ‘Man, that’s a really daunting task,’” McKenna said.
Uncovering the infield of Blue Bell Park took a full day of work Wednesday, the first day a full crew could gather on the field. Some plastic plowing tools could be used to push snow to the sides of the tarp that covered the infield, but crew members did most of the scooping by hand as not to damage the tarp.
Because of their work, the Aggie baseball team was able to hold practice on the infield area Thursday for the first time in almost a week.
The crew moved to the outfield Thursday. On Friday it focused on the warning tracks and any other areas that collected pushed snow over the previous two days.
A&M practiced on the full field Friday, the original date of its season opener against Xavier. The Aggies postponed that game for a day and will start 2021 with a doubleheader at 2 p.m. Saturday. The three-game series finale remains at noon Sunday.
The Aggie softball team will host the delayed A&M Invitational beginning Saturday against Central Arkansas at 3 p.m. followed by a 5:30 p.m. matchup with Colorado State at Davis Diamond.
In total, 17 people comprised the crew on both fields through the three-day period, including student workers. The numbers grew throughout the week as people regained power in homes and travel became easier around College Station.
Potts and McKenna were the only two to come to the parks every day this week, working out a plan to most effectively prepare the fields for play Saturday. The most difficult part of the process, McKenna said, was waiting.
“The hardest part was having the competence to just be patient and wait it out and have faith that we could wait and still get the job done in time,” he said. “Once you got past that, [it was] the physical labor of load after load after load.”
The crew used a few diesel heaters to melt some of the ice and snow but couldn’t rely on propane heaters as the gas was in short supply throughout the area. Extra shovels also were widely unavailable, McKenna said.
For McKenna, this kind of winter weather isn’t unfamiliar. In four years at Virginia Tech, he encountered one storm that dumped more than 10 inches of snow a week before opening day.
A week ago, the fields at Blue Bell Park and Davis Diamond were in immaculate shape after a year spent slowly revitalizing the playing surface. The shortened 2020 seasons allowed for the grounds crews to spend more time on the fields.
A week before opening day, nature threw Potts and McKenna a curveball, but the grounds crew sat back and drove the challenge out of the park, McKenna said.
“[A&M head coach Rob Childress and assistant coach Chad Caillet], they might sign up a few of us for the team,” McKenna said with a laugh.