SEATTLE -- Bob Christofferson will miss the ballpark, the sight and smell of the gorgeous green grass, the raking and grooming and mowing that comes with 40 years of being a head groundskeeper. But mostly he’ll miss the people who’ve brightened his world and shared his baseball stadiums over 20 seasons in Tacoma and the past 20 with the Mariners at T-Mobile Park.
Christofferson, 66, announced Sunday night that he’s retiring and turning the reins -- and rakes -- over to his top assistant, Tim Wilson.
“It’s been emotional, but I’m OK,” Christofferson said. “It wasn’t the way I’d hoped to retire, but we’re not living in a world right now where things are the way anybody wants them. The circumstances of the season and COVID keeping me away from the park, it just ended up being the right time to leave.”
Because he’s in the at-risk age group with the coronavirus, Christofferson hasn’t been able to join his crew at work at T-Mobile Park for the past two months as the Mariners and the rest of Major League Baseball remain on hold.
One offshoot of MLB’s shutdown is that T-Mobile Park’s turf is in fantastic shape, Christofferson said, and he’s hopeful that baseball will resume soon at the field he’s impeccably prepared since 2000.
But future games will be played now without his participation. It will take some getting used to for a man who grew up in Tacoma playing baseball and worked with his dad on the grounds crew at Cheney Stadium after playing as a "junkball left-handed pitcher" at Central Washington University.
“It’s certainly hard. I’ve been reading all the Twitter response, and that is just flat out amazing to me,” he said. “There’s a lot to absorb and figure out. I sent 200 emails yesterday, to all the other head groundskeepers, and it brings tears to my eyes.
“[Former Mariners first baseman] Alvin Davis sent me an amazing email. It’s the people that I’ll miss most, absolutely. The fans, players, coaches, umpires, my crew. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for and proud of, for sure. It’s all good.”
Christofferson lists the playoffs in 2000 and ’01, the '01 MLB All-Star Game and Félix Hernández’s perfect game in '12 among his favorite memories, and says never being able to work a World Series is the one regret.
He takes great pride in helping to raise more than $1.1 million over the years for charities through groundskeeper fundraisers. He laughs about being part of the Mariners Dancing Grounds Crew routine that entertained fans between innings for years, noting he “has two left feet” and that it took countless hours of practice to rehearse each routine.
But putting in the work never seemed like, well, work to Christofferson.
“It was never a job,” he said. “It was never going to work. I put a lot of hard hours in, but it never was a job. I was doing something I loved.”
So what now?
Christofferson says his yard in Puyallup is looking better than it ever has with all the time spent at home the past few months. Ironically, he hired a crew to mow his own large lawn years ago, since he was always too busy working to take care of it himself.
He laughingly notes that he’ll coach them to mow in straighter lines in the future, and he’ll keep the grass as perfect as you’d expect. And, maybe, just maybe, there’s another smaller baseball field in his future.
“I’ll try to figure out something I can do, and it’ll probably be something for Little Leagues,” he said. “I told my wife -- we have a big empty lot right behind us with trees on it -- and I said, ‘How about we buy that property and cut the trees down, and I’ll build a Little League field, and you can sell popcorn and I’ll drag the field?’ She didn’t seem to really like that idea though.”
Give it time, however. Bob Christofferson Field has a nice ring to it.