Your ‘Other’ Family

With the Holiday Season upon us, I often think of the great times I used to have with my Orioles ground crews around the holidays. We always laid our ground crew off for the winter just before Thanksgiving. From that point until March 1, it would just be myself and my assistants and we were usually eating up our vacation during that time. As many of you have realized by now, in our industry we spend a lot of hours during the growing/sports season with our “other family”, our crew. Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, my crew was made up of young inner city men. Most of whom didn’t have anything more than a high school diploma. College educated sports turf interns were just coming into the picture at that time. Some of my crew didn’t have much, but they worked really hard for me and the holidays was a chance to show them my appreciation.

Now I have always been a big fan of the holidays, so each year in mid-December I would throw a midday party for my crew at my house. I’d feed them a nice heavy lunch and then we’d get down to the main event, my Holiday Gift Giveaway. Each year I’d hit up the Orioles marketing department, our clubhouse manager, and a few other groups who would donate some things to become gifts for my crew. Gifts often included restaurant gift certificates, clothing, and tickets to big events in Baltimore, among other things. So the crew would always be very excited for the day.

Each year I’d find a different way to dole out the goods and it often involved some type of game. I remember this one year I did a roulette wheel. On the wheel the numbers matched gift numbers. There were also spots on the wheel for stealing or exchanging a gift with another crew member and then there was even a spot where you could lose everything. We were well into the game that day and the seven men on my crew had accumulated quite the haul when one of them, George, hit the “Lose your Loot” spot on the wheel. It all went back under the tree for everyone to try to win. George was left with nothing. What happened next was pretty cool though. As it came time for each of the following crew members to make their next pick, they each gave George one of their gifts they had accumulated during the game. Several of them even sacrificed one of the nicest items they had won.

There is nothing more satisfying to a leader than to see your crew bond and become tight knit and protective of each other. We were a family, forced together by the very long and demanding hours of our work, often under strict timelines and sometimes in very stressful situations. But we’d hang together, laugh, grunt, get through it and get the job done. There is nothing I wouldn’t have done for any of my crew members that served under me through my years with the Orioles. They were always right there with me whenever we had a battle to fight on the field. So take good care of your groundskeeping family this holiday season.

Happy Holidays to all of our faithful Beacon Athletics followers and we’ll be there in the New Year, ready, willing and able to help you and your crew do it all again next season.

Paul Zwaska

Paul Zwaska

A former head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles, Paul has been with Beacon Athletics for two decades. Among his many accomplishments, he authored Groundskeeper University, the first online ballfield maintenance training venue and continues to find innovative ways to help groundskeepers.