Because the opening day approaches, Nicole Sherry, Head Groundskeeper of Baltimore Orioles, displays on the distinctive 2020 season – Forbes

BALTIMORE, MD – SEPTEMBER 2: Baltimore Orioles chief home nurse, Nicole Sherry waters the field … (+) before the game against the New York Mets on September 2, 2020 at Orioles Park in Camden Yards in Baltimore, MD. (Photo by Mark Goldman / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nicole Sherry was one of the few people other than players, umpires, media, coaches, and managers who personally witnessed a ball game last season when 30 teams tried to navigate their way through a 60-game season that ended in the An attempt to weather the COVID-19 pandemic was filled with numerous logs.

Sherry had to be among the few people who got to see the sport in person as she starred as groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles and her 14th season overseeing the field at Camden Yards was both very fearful and very Fearful The feeling of relief to get through what someone is hoping for is a once in a lifetime situation.

"It was definitely an experience I'd never want to see again, but definitely a different experience," Sherry said from her office in the right corner of the field last week when another groundskeeper was doing field maintenance in the distance.

Getting through the 2020 season was the final chapter in a career in which Sherry joined Heather Nabozny of the Detroit Tigers as the only female head nurse in Major League Baseball. Since joining the Orioles in 2001 and returning after three years with Trenton Thunder, Sherry has seen things like the end of Cal Ripken Jr.'s career, Manny Machado's debut, and the Orioles' resurgence under Buck Showalter.

These situations played out in public, but by March 2020 there was the new reality of getting into the quiet of downtown Baltimore a few days a week to make sure the field was preserved. It was surreal for Sherry, who had been appointed to the Board of Directors of the Sports Turf Management Association months earlier.

"We still had to do our duty to possibly use a tarpaulin in a game situation," said Sherry. “There you were masked and you should still be three feet apart. You just trust that your employees are as safe as possible. It was very scared. It was very overwhelming. "

And then came the ramp to the actual season, a two-month 60-game sprint that also included spring training in the middle of a hot summer with 60 players using one field instead of multiple fields in Florida and also finding creative ways to get yourself their necessary work in.

Los Angeles Dodgers versus Baltimore Orioles

BALTIMORE, MD – SEPTEMBER 12: Referee Sam Holbrook # 34 and Head Groundskeeper Nicole Sherry of the … (+) Baltimore Orioles checks a tablet with a weather radar while it rains during the fifth inning of the game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Oriole Park in Camden Yards on September 12, 2019 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton / Getty Images)

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Sherry had a front row seat – at least as close as possible in the age of social distancing that has been around for a little over a year.

"We had the idea that spring training could take place in our home stadium or be resumed," said Sherry. “In my mind, I always plan the worst so I think we could try to get these guys to exercise on a daily basis, but I hope I can discuss with the manager and coaches where these workouts should be done in the field We are going from five to six fields that they use in Sarasota, to one field, to do all this work with an exponential number of people.

“We had to get creative, we had to use the hall for a few exercises, the bullpen mostly and the distance to everyone so they could train, and we were able to keep the field at a level even in the regular season. "

After Sherry and her two assistants took turns spending days being the only ones tending the grass in an eerily quiet stadium, it happened that the key leaguer were in a second round of spring training.

Tending to the grass was something Sherry and her two assistants did for nearly four months before the players started kicking in in early July. At a time when people were encouraged to stay home as often as possible, Sherry made sure this was done because this is what the weed might look like after several months of inactivity.

"It's growing so fast that it would have been three, four inches, and thirty inches every day by the time we could have been back in the field," said Sherry. "It's such a big investment that a lot of people probably don't realize that the playing field itself is probably one of the bigger components of the game. So unless you say it's a critical part of the game." If it's not kept at this optimal Major League standard, it will be a disadvantage. "

Games eventually began and the ground team's concerns revolved around monitoring the weather and communicating with the umpires about possible inclement weather that could result in a delay.

It turned out that the weather wasn't a big problem, at least ignoring the warm weather.

In their 30 home games, the Orioles had three rain delays totaling four hours, 29 minutes and no postponements. It was much better than 2019 when the Orioles had two home shifts and eight weather delays that together lasted 11 hours and 21 minutes.

However, there was one week in the season that the marlins showed up in Baltimore – less than a week after their COVID-19 outbreak in Philadelphia. And when the marlins showed up for four games, there was the specter of a hurricane.

"We're often not quite side by side with the athletes, so we just made sure that if we touch anything, we put on batting gloves or disinfect them as soon as possible," said Sherry. “But the caveat was that we had a hurricane that day (which was downgraded to a tropical storm). I was great to see all this high tension from these athletes that might be possible who knows if someone is going to get it.

“Then you throw a hurricane into the mix, then we have to be there to bring the tarpaulin down, will we play or not. It was just a lot of weirdness that happened to the Marlins in this short series and of course everyone was on high alert trying to stay as safe as possible. "

Ultimately, the weather did not delay the marlins' visit and with minor delays Sherry and her staff were able to watch the games from the empty first base seats if they did not adjust the bases for the repair of dirt and grass.

And when she didn't hear the noise of the crowd that became the standard for all stadiums, she was able to hear some of the nuances of the game and take her back to her time at the University of Delaware, where a trip to Camden Yards inspired her path to one of To be 30 head groundskeepers in baseball.

"I really enjoyed being out there under the circumstances," said Sherry. “It was really fun for me to hear what was going on in the field despite the fan noise loop. They talk to each other. You call where the guy last met it and that brings back what we grew up with. "

Sherry's first game in 2021 for her 30 or so employees will be played against the Boston Red Sox on April 8. Participation will be 25 percent full, with fewer restrictions as the situation improves.

While Sherry and her staff heard that some of the chatter was a nice change of pace, they look forward to going back to the days when viewers watch everything that contributes to the development of the game, including the significant role a ground crew plays .

"People know, but in my eyes no one really understands the moving parts it takes to play this game from a groundsman's perspective," said Sherry.

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