RED WING — Baseball players may not be using the fields at the Ath, but if you asked groundskeeper Neal Newman how he was keeping busy in a non-sports spring, you might be surprised.
When Gov. Tim Walz ordered schools closed, it signaled the postponement of school-sponsored sports. On April 23, the Minnesota State High School League announced that spring seasons would be canceled. Then, on Saturday, May 9, the American Legion announced its season would also be canceled. With the Minnesota Baseball Association and youth baseball in limbo for their respective seasons, there’s a chance that the fields at the Ath won’t host a baseball game this summer.
None of that has deterred the Red Wing Baseball Association from finding ways to improve the city’s crown jewel baseball complex though. Newman, who has been caring for the fields for seven years, has found plenty to do.
Many projects on the radar
While the baseball complex is city-owned, Newman is not a city employee. He works for the RWBA, which receives a lump sum from the city to pay Newman and in turn coordinates with the city on all projects related to the Ath.
Newman is contracted from March through the end of October so he has spent this entire spring working under safe pandemic guidelines.
“It’s actually a pretty good quarantine job,” Newman said. “I mean, I’m socially distant — I don’t have to wear a mask, I don’t see anybody.”
Under his watch, he takes care of the four baseball fields, the ice rinks and the playground. But the bulk of his work is spent on the ball fields.
“Mowing and dragging the field are the big ones,” he said. “If there are games, then there’s painting outfield lines, chalking, painting bases; then also there’s weeding, raking, weed whipping, cleaning bathrooms in the grandstands and emptying trash cans.”
Mowing and weeding remains a constant for him, whether or not there’s baseball to be played. While the fields are empty, however, there’s a new opportunity to tackle some of the jobs that have been on the back burner.
First up? Giving the youth field dugouts a fresh coat of paint. He said he’s also seeded and sodded a lot of the infield and cut the baselines on the youth fields. Now, the basepaths have a straight line on them and no weed overgrowth.
He has a larger project on the main field in mind next: redesigning the look of the grandstand’s exterior, which he says has a “pukey pink” look. Although the potential redesign is in planning infancy, he has some ideas in mind.
The fascia would be painted the same shade of green as the scoreboard and windscreens on the dugouts. Then, the walls would have some graphics or logos.
“Along the parking lot side, we’d have ‘Welcome to the Ath’ or something,” he said. “On the Bohmbach Drive side, we’d have the four logos of the teams that use the field — the Wingers, Aces, Legion and VFW.”
However, that project may get put on hold if baseball is given the green light to resume this summer. Newman said he actually has a number of projects that he’d have to get moving on right away if baseball resumes anytime soon.
“There are things that I haven’t done simply because we’re waiting, such as outfield windscreens and bullpens — they are zip tied up top,” Newman said. “It takes me almost a full day to cut and roll them down and zip tie them at the bottom.”
Add to that list: chalking the infield, painting outfield lines, putting trash cans in place and cleaning the bathrooms and bleachers.
There are also the rodents to deal with. Right now he has two traps in the outfield just beyond second base. Last year he said he caught three moles on one of the youth fields.
When asked if he ever had a “Groundhog Day” moment? Chuckling, he responded, “No, and I’m OK about that.”
Even if he gets to finish all those projects though, there’s still the matter of getting baseball games back on the field. Something that the baseball association and Newman are both anxiously awaiting.
“I’ve got no shortage of work,” Newman said, “but we hope we can get some baseball in.”