Well, you can thank Dawgs Field Maintenance Manager, Chris Friesen for that!
Chris joined the Dawgs after our first year in Okotoks thanks to the recommendation of Alberta’s “Guru of Grass”, Kenny O. Dedicated and hardworking, Chris was determined to learn his craft and paid close attention to the lessons of his mentors, first, Kenny O., then Dawgs Hall of Famer and Alberta baseball legend, Blair Kubicek, followed by the perfectionist mound and infield work of Don McLeod, affectionately known by the players he coached as “Dr. Death”.
Fans entering Seaman Stadium are astounded by the quality of the playing field. Unquestionably, it is first rate in every respect and for that, Dawgs and Dawgs fans alike owe a debt of gratitude to Chris Friesen. What follows is a short Q & Abetween Managing Director, John Ircandia and the Dawgs “Field Master”, Chris Friesen.
John: Chris, I have been to several Major League stadiums, including Wrigley Field in Chicago which has a similar northern climate to ours, and I can honestly say that Seaman Stadium takes a back seat to none. What is the secret of your success in offering Dawgs players and fans a true Big League playing field?
Chris: I am absolutely honored to hear something like “Field Master”, I’m not sure I’m worthy of this title. I think you will find that guys like Kenny, Don, Kubie and John are the true field masters. I think my success is the result of hard work and dedication to the job using the skills I’ve learned from all of the mentors I have had in the past 20 years of turf grass management. I have a great team that works with me, kids that started in the academy and are now going to university and come back in the summer to work on the field. Guys like Brett, Dayne, and Kirklon make my job easier because of their phenomenal attitude and work ethic. Whether we are on the field for 4 hours or 16 hours, they are there to share the workload so we are able to provide the best playing surface.
John: I remember the day we brought you on board thanks to your mentor Kenny O. How has working with someone with Ken’s experience and expertise in terms of grass and field management helped prepare you?
Chris: I can honestly say Ken has been the biggest influence on my life since I met him over 20 years ago. Because Ken has been one of, if not the top grass grower in Western Canada, his passion for grass growing and love of sports has rubbed off on me. He has always told me that when I look at Seaman Stadium, I am looking at myself in the mirror, so it’d better be good. I have nothing but love for him, and I would not be where I am without him.
John: You had other mentors as you took over field maintenance at Seaman Stadium. First, I recall you consulting with Kubie (Blair Kubicek), who of course is not only an Alberta coaching legend, but a true master of ballpark design and playing surfaces; not to mention a Dawgs and Seaman Stadium “Hall of Famer”. What did you learn from Kubie?
Chris: I am incredibly lucky that Kubie was a part of the design and construction of Seaman Stadium. He put everything in the field that is needed to achieve the highest standard such as the quick coupler behind the mound and the tear drop shape of home plate. There are many such design aspects of the field that he thought of that only a master grounds keeper knows. I try and learn everything I can from him when he comes to town. Not everyone understands why we need some of the special products for the field. But, if Kubie says we need them, then we’d better get it done. It is so nice to have someone with his kind of knowledge and experience to back me up on some of the specialized products we use on the field.
John: Once you had mastered grass management and had perfected that gorgeous outfield grass at the Stadium, you turned your attention to the more challenging assignment of maintaining the “perfect infield”. Now you had the shale/clay cut out and the clay mound to make pristine, no easy task. But you had a mentor in that regard as well, starting with Kubie of course, then Don McLeod. How was working with “Dr. Death” and what were the key lessons?
Chris: Don and I have had a very interesting relationship. At first, it was kind of like, ‘I’d better keep my grass off of his shale’. For a while, as I watched Don on the field it kind of looked like he was just going in circles all day. But what I learned was that he was so focused on getting every square inch of ground flat and level. He was an absolute master at work and his attention to detail was incredible. When a hall of fame director is on the grounds crew, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish. Everyone has to listen to you and help you achieve the goal of a major league field. I am honored to call him a friend and I am grateful he was there to teach me his attention to detail.
John: As someone with “some” influence on what goes on at Seaman Stadium, I have always been curious about the various designs you build into that phenomenal outfield grass? Where do you get your ideas and do you ever worry that your boss might not agree with some of your more adventurous designs….lol?
Chris: I get most of my ideas from major league fields. I remember the first time I met John, Ken asked him what he would like the field to look like. John said ‘I want it to look like Yankee Stadium’. So, I found a picture of Yankee Stadium and I did that pattern for awhile. My goal now is to try to have a pattern that highlights the field from every angle, so you get a different look of the field depending on where you are in the stands, where the sun is in the sky and what it looks like under the lights. Yes, I am always nervous the boss won’t like the pattern, however, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity and kind of job that allows me to make decisions like that, such as the field pattern. It is such a thrill to have that many people look at your work every night. But in the end, if the boss doesn’t like the pattern, you change it.
John: Chris, you do a fantastic job. Our coaches, players and fans owe you a debt of gratitude for embracing our vision. Please keep up the good work. The Dawgs were built on a selfless passion for the game and the program and you certainly are a key part of our extraordinary team. Any final words for Dawgs fans or players?
Chris: To the players I would say, there is no better place in the world to play. We have some of the most professional youth coaches in Canada who are some of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. If I was a player, I would not want to put the care and growth of my game in the hands of anyone other than the academy coaches at the Okotoks Dawgs. To the fans, I would say that there is no greater honor than getting the field ready you every night. You’re the greatest fans in all of baseball!
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