In another plug for my stories on going behind the scenes in a variety of sports jobs, here are some details that didn't make the package:
Pit crew: Hours spent at the track go by in a flash – there’s so much work to be done. Constant work on the cars, meeting race fans, signing autographs, cleaning the trailers, and, of course, keeping the frigs stocked with water and Gatorade and snack trays filled with chips, granola bars, fruit. Seconds really do make a difference - as I learned the hard way. Everyone has a job. The time between pit stops gets filled with snacking and watching the race on pit box monitors. As the “deadman” you really are thatclose to the gas – you’re standing under a 55-gallon drum suspended on a metal scissor stand. I just didn’t think about my proximity to the gas.
Grounds crew: What this very busy crew at Sun Life Stadium does can’t be overstated. These people work hard to create a pitch perfect field for both baseball and football. As one of only two professional stadiums left in the country that host both football and baseball on natural grass, these people are busy. The grass gets mowed every day. There are the summer rains. The endzone and center logo replacements between Dolphins and University of Miami games. Lowering and raising the pitcher’s mound when football and baseball overlap. And the difference between football and baseball is stark, head groundskeeper Alan Sigwardt explains: football is all about the grass and how it holds up against the different players – the 350-pound lineman versus the speedy receivers. Meanwhile, baseball is about the dirt – with only three players doing their job on the grass, the vast majority of the work is done on the infield dirt. “It’s two totally different sciences,” Sigwardt says. Watch video of my turn at the job below.
Zamboni driving: Top speed is 9 mph, but you’re typically driving slower than that. In a giant contraption with a sensitive turning radius. The red line at BankAtlantic Center is dotted with prints of Panthers paws – which you can see when you’re on the ice, but they’re difficult to make out otherwise. Driving the Zamboni satisfies both sides of head ice technician Graham Caplinger’s brain. He’s a perfectionist, fascinated by the science and math of the job. But he’s also a musician – a drummer – so he has learned to let go. He knows he creates a perfect sheet of ice only to see the players mess it up with their skates. “Everything’s as best as I know how to do it, I’ve checked and checked and rechecked and checked and checked, then it’s up to the players, the artists, if you will, to go out carve up their masterpiece,” Caplinger says. He also says the iPod is the greatest invention – it helps him pass the time spent on the slow-moving Zamboni.
Mascots: It takes a special person to be a mascot. There’s a mascot creed and rules. Never reveal your identity. No talking. Don’t seek permission – ask forgiveness later. Have fun. Grown-ups become big kids as soon as they see a mascot – they cheer, they yell, they pose for photos, they high five, they act silly. And the mascot loves it – he, too, acts silly with no – or few - consequences. “It’s like Batman Superman status. Nobody knows who you are. They think they’re laughing at me, but I’m actually laughing at them. I’m getting them out of their character,” Burnie the Heat mascot says.