James Lee: Close to the game, the field at Jackie Robinson Ballpark

Apr. 10, 2013

Getting a baseball field ready for a game is no easy task, just ask Ormond Beach's James Lee.


If you’ve been to Jackie Robinson Ballpark during the past three years, you’ve seen James Lee’s work.

Lee, a Seabreeze alum and former Sandcrabs and Golden Spikes baseball player, is part of the grounds crew for the Daytona Cubs. He saw the job opening three years ago. It was a way to stay connected to baseball after his playing days.

“I love just being out here, and being on the field,” he said. “I love being able to watch the game, knowing that we helped produce this.”

But getting the field in game condition, and keeping it that way, is no simple task. The work starts in the morning, when the grass is cut.

It can take up to an hour, each day, for Lee and the rest of the grounds crew to get the field ready. Calcined clay is spread over the infield and on the pitcher’s mounds — on the field and in the bullpens. It’s the brown clay, or dirt, on the infield, and it needs to be applied and tended to just right.

Imperfections in the mound or infield can affect the game, or, worst-case scenario, lead to an injury.

“If (the mound) isn’t packed the right way — too loose — you’ve got guys slipping out there,” Lee said. “Same with the batter’s box.”

Once the game starts, Lee and the grounds crew can’t just kick up their feet, eat a few hot dogs and take in a ballgame.

“We’re pretty much waiting for something to go wrong,” he said. “We’re on edge. I mean, we’re watching the game, relaxing. ... (But) say the mound isn’t right, we might have to go out there and pack the mound in between innings.”

And never too far from their minds, or their smartphones, is the weather forecast. When the sky opens and the rain falls, the game may be halted, but Lee and the grounds crew are thrown into action.

“It’s all just going fast-paced,” he said. “You find, just, little things you have to do — covering the bullpens, finding where the water is going to be. Which way is the wind coming from? It’s crazy. I don’t really know how to explain it.”

During those moments, once the adrenaline starts working its way through his body, Lee said he doesn’t really think about all the things that need to

get done while the rain pounds the field, and fans and players run for cover. He just reacts.

When the game ends and fans leave, Lee and the crew have more work. The calcined clay pushed into the grass during the game is removed. The field and bullpen mounds are touched up, the infield is dragged, the plate is cleaned and the field is watered.The work has started all over again, because chances are there’s a game tomorrow, and without Lee and his crew, there would be no baseball.