Methodically, George Spooner goes around the base paths on Jim Moran Field at Hidden Valley Park, giving it a manicure to get it ready for the 30th annual Wood Bat Invitational, which gets underway at 11 a.m. today.
Spooner is edging the base baths while a glaring sun turns the soil into a rock-hard substance that once resembled turf and dirt.
“It gets hot out here,” said Spooner, the head groundskeeper at Hidden Valley Park, who has been part of the crew that gets the field in shape for the Wood Bat Invitational the past four years, “but it’s all worth it.
“This is a showcase for Blue Springs and Eastern Jackson County, for Fike baseball and our American Legion teams. It’s such an honor to work with my crew to get it ready for the tournament.”
While he is putting the final touches on all three fields at Hidden Valley, work actually began a month ago.
That’s when Spooner and his crew manicured the infield and outfield grass areas, fertilized the field, worked on all infield and outfield sprinkler heads and designed the starburst grass pattern that starts behind second base and goes on into the outfield.
“We have started using all the sprinkler system, in the infield and the outfield, and had to replace about 40 percent of the sprinkler heads,” he said. “I don’t really know why they hadn’t been using the outfield sprinklers, but it’s really made a difference.
“And we got a mower that cuts the grass one way, and rolls it in a direction that creates the starburst pattern. I think people are really going to enjoy it when they see it. We’re sure proud of it.”
Spooner and his five-person crew are responsible for the three baseball fields at Hidden Valley, along with the football fields north of the baseball field and the softball fields on the east end of the park.
“We have enough to do to pretty much keep us busy year around,” Spooner said. “We do a lot of field repair after all the games are played, repair fences and things like that.”
Because of the preparation for the tournament, he said this week’s forecast for heat index temperatures in triple digits will pose no problems to the turf.
“The fields should be fine,” he said, with a chuckle, “now, the guys working the fields, that could be a different story.”
• Games begin at 11 a.m. today at four area sites — Hidden Valley, Blue Springs and Blue Springs South high schools and Grain Valley High School.
•The Opening Ceremonies begin at 7:15 p.m. with the introduction of the newest member of the Wood Bat Invitational Hall of Fame, opening pitch ceremony, the recipient of the $1,000 Jimmy Meyers American Legion Scholarship and a new event — a Home Run Derby.
“We’re excited about the Home Run Derby,” tournament co-founder and director Jim Moran said. “It will be at Field 3, behind the main field, because fans can line up along the fences to see all the action. It should start about 15 minutes after the Opening Ceremonies are finished. Each participant will supply his own pitcher and get 12 swings.
“It’s basically the same format at the major leagues’ Home Run Derby. It should be a lot of fun.”