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Groundskeeper Christofferson always in giving spirit

Veteran employee has helped grow Mariners' annual United Way campaign

SEATTLE -- Mariners fans know Bob Christofferson as the guy who keeps the grass green at Safeco Field. And, yeah, as the amiable gentleman who always anchors the left side of the Dancing Groundskeepers, a Safeco tradition for the past 12 years.

But around the Mariners offices, Christofferson has another reputation. For the last decade, the team's head groundskeeper has helped grow the club's annual United Way campaign with friendly persistence and positive reinforcement.

Along with co-chair Norma Cantu, the club's director of procurement, Christofferson has pushed and prodded so well that the Mariners just completed their fourth consecutive year of having 100-percent employee participation in the United Way fundraising drive, no small feat with an office staff of more than 100 workers.

Christofferson, the head groundskeeper at Safeco Field since 2000, takes great pride in the all-in attitude among his co-workers. Not only has the participation rate gone from 74 percent to perfect scores since 2009, but the dollars pledged has increased more than 70 percent over that period as well to $104,238 in the just-completed campaign.

"Getting everybody involved was a goal we had four years ago and we've just kept it going," Christofferson said. "It's kind of snowballed now. We made a button that everybody wears when they turn their pledge in and the Mariners promised that if we got 100 percent, they'd give everybody a floating day off during the year.

"It just shows the support management has with United Way. It's a good charity and they match all our employee contributions. It's just a good thing all around."

Over the years, Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, minority owners John Stanton and Jeff Raikes, and former catcher Dan Wilson and his wife, Annie, have all chaired the United Way of King County's annual giving campaign at various times.

Wilson just concluded his year leading the program, during which he introduced a United Way All-Star Softball Classic at Safeco Field that raised $1.2 million for homeless youth services in the Seattle area.

Christofferson lent a big hand -- as well as a lot of rakes and his groundskeeping crew -- to that softball fundraiser.

"We're involved quite a bit with Dan," he said. "The All-Star [Softball Classic] was a lot of work because we had to turn Safeco into a softball field, put a fence up and create the right environment. But that was a real good event and we're going to have a second annual this year and hopefully raise a lot more money for the homeless. I like those type of community efforts."

Indeed, Christofferson is the kind of guy who jumps at any chance to help. And he doesn't mind asking others to chip in, particularly his 15-member grounds crew, a fun-loving group that has done everything from singing Christmas carols to conducting coat drives for different charities.

The club has even offered "Groundskeeper for a Day" opportunities that are auctioned or raffled off by organizations to raise money since 2004. Winning bidders get to suit up and spend the day helping Christofferson and his crew with their usual pregame, in-game and postgame field preparations. Since 2004, those opportunities have netted $537,000 for various charitable organizations around the Northwest.

Christofferson's coat drive to aid Battered Women's Shelters is in its third year, with people asked to drop off new or slightly used coats at the Safeco Field office through Dec. 14.

"We've always done different things," he said. "We used to do stuff for the Northwest Harvest food bank. We started singing Christmas carols and sold raffles. One year we did a golf tournament. It's just a way to do things and thank people. I have a pretty tight-knit crew, so it's fun for us to do different things that are family oriented."

Christofferson also served as head groundskeeper at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma for 19 years before joining the Mariners.

"I don't consider this a job," he said. "It's just what I've done all my life."

The Dancing Groundskeepers were added in 2002 and Christofferson acknowledges with some chagrin that he's known more now for his funky footwork attempts than his true profession.

"I'd like to think people know me because the field looks clean, but I get more comments on the dancing," he said. "It's not my favorite thing to do, but the crowd likes it and I think the players do, too. I have two left feet and our rehearsals are pretty funny. But we put a lot of time and effort into it. I don't just look like a dummy on my own. I have to work at it."

Staying light on their feet and putting grow lights on the field keep Christofferson and his crew busy year-round. Things are obviously craziest during the baseball months, so he gears most of his charitable efforts toward the holidays and offseason.

Having an outdoor stadium in Seattle means letting Mother Nature do some of the winter work. There's not a lot of need to water the grass when the roof is open in November and December in the Pacific Northwest. But Christofferson and his group find ways to keep on giving.

"The grounds crew goes indoors and does coat drives and sings Christmas carols and other stuff," he said. "We just keep going."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.

Seattle Mariners