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061219 Rhodes

Head groundskeeper Brian Rhodes tends to the field at Falcon Park June 12.

AUBURN — Brian Rhodes' job title hasn't changed.

The Auburn native is still the head groundskeeper at Falcon Park, the longtime home of the Auburn Doubledays. The facility is now shared with Cayuga Community College, which will hold baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer games there.

But now, with a turf surface instead of natural grass, Rhodes' day-to-day responsibilities are quite different. No more lawnmowers.

"Basically, everybody says 'You don't mow the grass now, what do you do?'" Rhodes said. "Actually grooming (the turf) takes longer than mowing."

Rhodes and his small crew deal with three types of groomers. There's the one that basically combs the turf, a speed cleaner to sift out debris and a turf vacuum.

While most people assume his job has become vastly easier, Rhodes said it has become more time consuming.

"Every time he's walking from the mound he's transferring clay from his cleats into the turf. That doesn't wash away. It just sits there," Rhodes said of a Doubledays pitcher during practice. "So I have to get that out. With all that rubber in-fill mixing with that clay, it's a huge job and we haven't figured it out yet."

Rhodes has reached out for tips from other groundskeepers, whether they're from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse or Toronto. Still, it seems maintaining a turf facility isn't an exact science.

"I reached out to the guy from AstroTurf to ask if there was a tip to get the clay out of turf and he said 'No, but if you find out let me know,'" Rhodes said.

Rhodes won the groundskeeper of the year award for the New York-Penn League in 2015, and the change to turf hasn't made him any less passionate about how Leo Pinckney Field looks.

"If you look at a couple unkempt turf stadiums ... and there's a dirt ring around home plate and the mound and it looks horrible. That's what I'm trying to steer clear of," Rhodes said. "We have different tools and ideas we're going to implement throughout the year. It's going to be a lot of getting the kinks out."

One change that fans may not notice is a different clay for the mound and around home plate. It has received a thumbs up from the players, and it also better matches the color of the brown infield on the new turf.

"The pitching coach came up to me to say his pitchers loved it," Rhodes said. "It holds up a lot better."

For Rhodes, the switch to turf was bittersweet.

"I definitely miss the mowing, the edging, and watering and grooming the infield," Rhodes said. "But this is something new and exciting, and I know it's going to be great for years to come."

And there's still a lot to perfect before the Doubledays open up their home slate Sunday afternoon against State College.

"It's going to be an interesting year with a learning curve," Rhodes said.

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Sports writer Jeremy Houghtaling can be reached at 315-282-2256 or at jeremy.houghtaling@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenHough.

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