His Grass is Greener
No one in Baton Rouge cares for his turf more than Alex Box groundskeeper Randy Partin
By Cody WorshamPosted Apr 18, 2012
In the third inning of Friday’s baseball game pitting LSU against Alabama in an important SEC weekend matchup, far before the final score was settled, Crimson Tide catcher Brett Booth stepped up to the plate under the bright lights of Alex Box Stadium. With a runner on first, two outs, and a 3-1 LSU lead, Booth knocked a ground ball in the direction of Tiger shortstop Austin Nola. It was a can-of-corn grounder – a certain out and an end to a relatively unthreatening inning.
Only instead of obligingly rolling into Nola’s glove, as have thousands of other ground balls in the senior’s four seasons at LSU, this rebellious baseball hopped up and popped Nola square in the chest. The unplayable bad bounce of the ball off the infield was so extreme that the game’s official scorer ruled it a hit, forgiving Nola for his bad fortune.
Though the hop would eventually cost the Tigers a run, as Alabama would narrow the score to 3-2, a Nola grand slam in the fourth would cement a 10-2 victory for the Tigers. For everyone in the stadium, the freak hop became a forgotten incident – that is for everyone except Randy Partin.
An unsung hero
Partin, who is entering his second season as the groundskeeper at Alex Box, never forgets bad hops. If it’s the job of the Tigers’ infielders to secure every ground ball hit their way, it’s Partin’s job to make sure the ball gets there in standard fashion by way of glass-smooth grass and flawless dirt.
No matter that Booth’s grounder on Friday hit no imperfection or impediment to steer it off course. It was a product of awkward spin and bad luck that is as universal in baseball as sunflower seeds and sweat-stained caps. In order to be as good as he is at his job, Partin can’t be the sort of guy who buys into bad luck.
“If a ball takes a bad hop and a guy makes an error, I feel pretty bad,” Partin told Dig in an interview. “It’s my responsibility to make sure there aren’t any bad hops, so it can be disappointing.”
If Partin is disappointed, he’s the only one. LSU players and coaches rave about his work on the field of college baseball’s most-attended venue.
“Randy Partin is one of the real unsung heroes of the LSU baseball program,” said Head Coach Paul Mainieri. “He never gets his name in the headline, the fans don’t cheer him, but it’s he who is out here all hours, starting early in the morning with an unbelievably dedicated effort.”
Consistency is key
Partin got his start in turf management as a high schooler, working at a baseball field in his hometown of Zachary, La. It was there he discovered he could leverage his passion for baseball into a career.
“I never knew you could go to school in turf management until I got to LSU,” he said. “Once I found out you could go to school for it, I fell in love. I always knew I wanted to do something in sports, so this is perfect.”
If it can be boiled down into its simplest terms, Partin’s job with Alex Box is both functional and aesthetic. First and foremost, the field must play true and consistent – a facet of the job best reflected by his work on the infield. To satisfy Partin, the infield must be indiscriminant, treating all grounders the same so as to keep routine plays routine. In order to accomplish this, Partin maintains constant and open communication with the LSU coaching staff and players, asking them in detail what they are seeing on the field.
“I just to try to get a feel on how the field is playing,” he said. “Consistency is what I’m looking for. The more consistent the better, because then the players know how it’s going to play.”
While no baseball field is perfectly consistent – allowing for unfortunate, unexpected bounds like the one that left its imprint in Nola’s chest – people around LSU say Partin’s is about as close as it gets, in large part because of that communication.
“Before games, after games, during practice, he’s always asking about the field and what he can do better for me and the rest of the infielders,” Nola said. “He is always trying to cater it to how we like it, and you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
In addition to talking with Nola and co. regularly, Partin also makes sure to keep close contact with Mainieri, informing the head coach on playing conditions, current and future weather patterns, and general field issues.
“We talk every day,” Partin said regarding his relationship with Mainieri. “I let him know what’s going on with the field and what we’re doing.”
“He’s very easy to work with...especially when they’re winning,” he added with a laugh.
Communication alone isn’t enough to keep the field true, however. There’s also the hours of precise raking, dragging, mowing, and watering, all of which falls on Partin’s shoulders for up to 70 hours per week during home series. That’s where work ethic comes into the equation, and those around the program say Partin’s is unmatched.
For example, Nola recalled an instance earlier this season when the large infield hose, capable of watering the entire infield in about 15 minutes, was malfunctioning. That’s when Partin grabbed a tiny nearby garden hose, thumbed the nozzle, and spent an hour and a half ensuring the job was done.
“It’s unbelievable how much work he puts in,” Nola said.
Zen and the art of groundskeeping
Playability is only half the battle for Partin. There’s also an aesthetic element to his work, reflected primarily by his efforts in the outfield.
Every week, tens of thousands of fans marvel at the intricate patterns Partin creates on the grass between the foul poles. The trick, he says, is the direction he mows. Mowing in opposite directions makes the grass appear different shades of green, presenting a sort of two-tone palette with which Partin can perform his artistry.
“That’s probably my favorite part of the job,” he said, “to come up with creative ideas to design the field. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about how I can design the field. I’m always trying to stay one step ahead, thinking about what I can do next, building on previous patterns to make something new and unique.”
“I just get in the zone when I’m mowing,” he added, “especially on game day. I just get a clear head and really focus on what I’m doing. It’s sort of relaxing.”
It’s not just for personal satisfaction of the creative impetus that Partin intricately patterns the field. He says it’s also about creating an atmosphere of success and excellence for fans and players.
“I want the LSU players to walk out on the field and get fired up because of how great it looks,” he said. “I want the fans to just be in awe and use that energy to cheer even harder. It’s kind of like, in a way, I feel like a part of the team, because I can give them that home-field advantage.”
Mainieri, meanwhile, is less reserved in his consideration of Partin’s role with the Tigers.
“He’s such a huge part of our success,” Mainieri said. “His dedication is amazing, and I feel so grateful to have him as a part of our baseball program.”
Regardless of recognition, Partin, a lifelong Tiger fan who calls his work “a dream come true,” is just proud to see the game he loves – played by the team he loves – on his field.
“This field is my baby,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in what I do to make sure I have the best product available for LSU baseball. That’s what they hired me for, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
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