Field of Our Own

Baseball is all about the numbers. That’s what some purists love most about the game and one reason why intimate, historical ballparks like Long Beach’s Blair Field, one of the best amateur baseball facilities in the nation and home to the Long Beach State Dirtbags, are so appealing.

Behind the Scenes

“There was not a day or a game that did not go by when I didn’t appreciate and remember all the great players who had played on that same field,” said former Dirtbag and current Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. “It inspired me every time I stepped onto Blair Field. I particularly remember those Friday nights playing defense behind (current Los Angeles Angels standout) Jered Weaver. Those were special times in my life, which I will never forget.”

But behind the scenes, there are a lot of numbers players and fans may not be aware of that contribute to the field’s success.

For instance, it takes big numbers to make the grass just right. “We have 18 stations with seven to eight sprinkler heads that irrigate the whole field,” said field manager and former Dirtbag Jim Yogi. “Each sprinkler head is rated roughly 15 to 35 gallons a minute, so it’s thousands of gallons of water I can put on the field in a three- to four-hour period.” Yogi estimates that both grass and dirt areas of the field get hit with 30,000 to 50,000 gallons of water per week.

That seemingly unthinkable amount of saturation is for the field’s Tifway 419 Bermuda grass seed, which is over-seeded with a hardy rye grass during the harsher winter months and regularly cut to its ¾-inch height. Yogi estimates his crew uses 4,000 pounds of grass seed and 8,000 pounds of fertilizer during the year.

“I literally flood the field and people are like, ‘What are you doing?’” said Yogi. “The coaches always get concerned and say, ‘You’re flooding us out.’ I have to tell them not to worry, that I’m getting the field ready for the game in two days. We have a lot of what we call leaching, so the water will start at the top and work its way through, and it will pull all the nutrients down, so I have to constantly feed it as well. It all works out.”

The field, which the university manages on behalf of the city, gets roughly 260 days of usage every year, not only by Long Beach State but for local high school competitions as well, which include the prestigious Area Code games in August.

“The Area Code games can have up to five games a day,” said Yogi. “It’s a great showcase for high school kids across the nation and probably one of the better amateur tournaments there is.” But that amount of use—particularly on days when multiple games are played—creates its own challenges for Yogi’s six-person crew.

“I have a crew that’s made up of a lot of ex-baseball players so they understand the importance of how quickly we have to work,” said Yogi, who claims they can ready the field in as quickly as 20 minutes between games. “It’s kind of an orchestrated chaos; that’s the best way I can describe it.”

Since it opened in 1958, the ballpark hasn’t been limited to just baseball games. “Blair Field has character and that’s why Hollywood likes it,” said Yogi. “Those 260 days of usage also include commercial and TV programming shoots for shows like ‘Franklin and Bash,’ ‘The Ugly Truth’ and ‘The Client List.'” But he said shooting the movie “Moneyball” in 2011 was the field’s biggest Hollywood home run in recent memory.

“They transformed Blair Field into Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the Oakland A’s spring training facility,” said Yogi. “They had six days of prep and three or four days of shooting where Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman were on the field quite a bit. After they wrapped, they had some rewrites and had to come back and do some reshoots, so ‘Moneyball’ was here about 15 or 16 days.”

But the charm of an older ballpark comes at a cost, especially when facilities for players and fans need updating.

Maybe the most important numbers recently associated with Blair Field are an $18 million upgrade, which got a huge boost from Tulowitzki, who donated $1 million toward the renovation that will result in an exceptional facility in coming years.