With the help of skilled practitioners like Murray Cook, Major League Baseball brought groundskeeping back to the grass-roots level this week. Cook, MLB's field clinic coordinator, led a pair of tutorials in Houston and New Orleans as part of the 2013 Sports Turf Management Clinic.
MLB hosted groups at the Urban Youth Academy facilities in Houston and New Orleans and gave them a chance to learn some of the cutting-edge techniques used to keep fields in playing condition, and Cook took some time out to speak about the experience on Thursday afternoon.
"It's going real well," he said of the New Orleans clinic. "We've got a good group here from all the local parishes. They've brought the staff that takes care of all the local fields. This facility has got a couple pretty fields on it, so we have a chance to talk about all the different ways to tend them."
Cook, with the help of some dedicated professionals in the field, spent Wednesday in Houston and Thursday in New Orleans conducting a day-long tutorial on turf maintenance, field layouts, construction and safety tips. Cook and company underlined the finer points of keeping a field in good working order, bringing techniques and instruction to a group of people willing to learn.
The main group of students on Thursday included workers from the Parks and Recreation Department in New Orleans that take care of the local ballparks, and Cook said that it was a joy to be able to take what he's learned in the industry and pass it on to a new generation of workers.
"I come from a background working with Major League Baseball for a ton of years, taking care of Major League fields and Minor League fields," said Cook. "It's a passion to teach. I really enjoy it. It's giving back to the community, and part of our talk is about paying it forward. ... We tell them that they're protecting future Major League players by the way they take care of their fields.
"It didn't take much for this group to jump on the bandwagon. A lot of interaction, questions about how to do certain things to make the field better. They have limited resources, but that's OK, too. I started there back in the day, working on a field with a municipality. I know what they're going through."
Cook said he has conducted similar tutorials around the world, including Nicaragua, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Major League Baseball and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund have even translated field-maintenance guides into Spanish to help grow fields in Latin American nations.
MLB has also held field clinics at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., and Cook said that the day-long session is free and even includes a lunch for the students. Cook and his peers educate the masses as a community service, and they're proud to be able to give back to society.
"It doesn't cost the people anything to come. They just have to get here," said Cook. "When you talk about the grass-roots level, it can't get much more real than that."
Cook had seen the New Orleans Urban Youth Academy before, but this week was his first chance to see it as a working facility. Previously, said Cook, he had toured the grounds with Darrell Miller, MLB's vice president of youth and facility development, at an early stage of the process.
The New Orleans facility, located in Pontchartrain Park, opened in November following a $6.5 million renovation to lands that had been spoiled by Hurricane Katrina. The academy even includes a stadium seating bowl, and Cook said he was pleased with the way it turned out.
"I was with Darrell down here when we walked through and just saw the complex from the outside," said Cook of the facility's maturation. "It's really impressive what they've been able to do with Wesley Barrow Stadium. It was run down, and they did a great job of putting the structure and the stadium components in. The main field is synthetic turf, and the other two fields are natural grass."
Cook said that New Orleans got five inches of rain on Wednesday night, which could've put the Thursday tutorial in jeopardy. Everything went off without a hitch, though, and Cook said that the Urban Youth Academies in Houston and New Orleans are similar to each other.
"I can tell you field-wise -- facility-wise -- they're very comparable," said Cook. "New Orleans actually has a stadium seating bowl, whereas the one in Houston doesn't. This one has enough to seat about 500 to 700 people, maybe a thousand. On the flip side, I think the fields are really in good condition. They need a little work here because this is new, so they're working through the kinks."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com.