The beautifully manicured field at Shaw Park has always hit a home run with the fans.
Baseball Digest has, consistently, ranked it as one of independent ball's top-five nicest ballparks. But with two acres of field to take care of, maintaining the diamond is a big job. Fortunately, Donald (Fergie) Ferguson is the "Sodfather" behind it all.
"I was always a golf course guy, so I knew my grass," Ferguson says.
The 67-year-old has been the head groundskeeper for the Goldeyes since Shaw Park (formerly CanWest Global Park) opened in 1999. Ferguson has seen a lot of crazy things over the years, but said it's hard to top the ballpark's opening night.
"I enjoy cutting grass, it’s my quiet time, as I call it. Nobody can drive me crazy when I’m out here cutting grass. Most of the time I won’t even get off the lawnmower if my phone rings, I just have to finish the grass and get it done." – Shaw Park head groundskeeper Donald (Fergie) Ferguson
"Our very first ball game, we're laying sod as the team is coming on the field to play the game," he says.
"We had to lay these little pieces of sod down and they made a ‘no bunting’ rule — it was really quite interesting for that one. The sod was legitimately thrown down minutes before the game."
Since then Ferguson has developed a routine, one that he's stuck to for the past 21 years. His morning begins with a weather check, then he makes his way to the field, grabs his list of repairs to complete and then waits for the dew to dry off the grass. After that comes his favourite part of the day.
"I enjoy cutting grass, it’s my quiet time, as I call it. Nobody can drive me crazy when I’m out here cutting grass. Most of the time I won’t even get off the lawnmower if my phone rings, I just have to finish the grass and get it done," he says.
Ferguson cuts the grass once every two days when the team is the road, but daily during home games to keep the field in top playing shape. After each game-day cut, he creates a design using the rollers on his lawnmower.
"Everybody likes to see some kind of design. I like stripes, circles, checkers, diamonds. Sometimes I cut different angles across the field. Once in a while I watch TV and see something new and I want to try it on ours. You just got to try and fit it in here," he says.
"Takes a little bit of planning in your mind to get this thing drawn out in your head, but other than that it works out pretty good."
"He’s the heart, the bloodline of this organization. He makes everything go smooth. Everything you don’t see that runs perfectly well, that’s because Fergie is a part of it." – Goldeyes' bullpen catcher Danny Perron
Depending on the design, Ferguson spends between an hour-and-a-half to more than three on the mower before each home game. Shaw Park visitors can expect to see a new design from him every three days, unless he feels the need to change the team's luck.
"Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t — depends what happens. I’m very superstitious. So if we’re winning I keep it going, if we don’t I gotta change it," he says.
Goldeyes' longtime bullpen catcher Danny Perron says it's Ferguson's heart and dedication that makes him such an important member of the squad.
"He’s the heart, the bloodline of this organization. He makes everything go smooth. Everything you don’t see that runs perfectly well, that’s because Fergie is a part of it."
Although Ferguson has Shaw Park's field maintenance down to a science by now, there are things that are out of his control.
"This season has been terrible for rain," he says. "Last year wasn’t bad at all, this year we’re making up for it. It makes it a little more interesting, but also a little more difficult."
The Fish have been rained out three times thus far this year, twice on home turf. Whenever there's a threat of rain, Goldeyes staff have to team up, drop everything and roll out a massive tarp to protect the diamond. Goldeyes general manager Andrew Collier is always part of the "tarp party," as he calls it, but says it's the only field-related thing he's had to think of since Ferguson joined the organization in '99.
"I know the grass is going to be in good shape and I know he's going to be here doing his thing, it just makes my life easier because it's one less thing for me to worry about," says Collier. "Especially when there's rain or a threat of rain, we work very well together."
"I have to make the game happen, that’s all I know. That’s my main concern, I gotta get the game going. I don’t want no excuse that I had anything to do with slowing down the game, the game has to go." – Donald (Fergie) Ferguson
One of Ferguson's fondest memories is preparing intricate field designs in all three all-star games Shaw Park has hosted. It took hours on the mower, but he says it's just all in a day's work.
"I have to make the game happen, that’s all I know. That’s my main concern, I gotta get the game going. I don’t want no excuse that I had anything to do with slowing down the game, the game has to go," he says.
With the season only a quarter of the way through, fans still have plenty of time catch a game and see Ferguson's latest design.
And if you see him at the ballpark, just call him Fergie.