Almost one year ago, our own Liz Roscher perused the merchandise on offer at the Phillies.com shop, and, wisely, asked, "Who the hell would buy that!" At the time, the enormous travel mug and ridiculous Cliff Lee t-shirt were soundly and deservedly mocked. "Buried" in their midst, though, was the "Chase Utley Dirt Plaque," which begat the question, how much of a markup are they charging on this dirt? Our own Cormican offered that Turface retailed for about $50 the bag, but passed on the math. Me, being the proper kind of nerd to pursue this further, not only did that math, I also called the Phillies. Specifically, the guy who would actually know: Head Groundskeeper Mike Boekholder.
Apart from some censoring and some guesses of otherwise unintelligible phrases, this is a real, honest-to-god interview with Boekholder. He has held the position since 2003, when the Phils moved to Citizens' Bank Park. He also has the best office in the world.
Phrozen: Thanks for returning my call, Mr. Boekholder. I honestly didn’t expect to hear from you directly, figured you’d have some lackey call me.
Mike: Call me Mike. No problem—I’m the lackey. I gotta ask you one thing first, though. Your area code is in Alaska. How the hell did you become a Phillies fan?
P: Long story; but my family is from Quakertown.
M: I figured it’d be something like that. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska. Maybe do some hunting and fishing. How easy is that to do, you know, for an out-of-state guy?
P: No kidding? You’re my kind of people. Depends on what you’re after. Let me tell you…
The conversation continued on this vein for some time.
P: So, Mike, I’m a contributor to a Phillies-centric blog, TheGoodPhight.com; and we got ourselves into a discussion earlier in the offseason about field construction and maintenance. The primary question was what you use for infield dirt, and what it costs; remember, we’re nerds.
M: Oh, yeah. We used to use a product that comes from Tennessee, which was mined from a stone pit and graded and processed, but now we get it from a guy in Slippery Rock, PA, called Natural Sand Duraedge Pro—right now, I think 12 teams use it; it’s sort of the standard mix for professional infields. Top of the line mixture.
P: Is the new stuff a mined and screened mixture or is it artificial?
M: You said you were an engineer; are you familiar with gradation sizes of rock particles?
P: Yeah—it’s what I deal with at work all the time.
M: Great. So they mine the Duraedge from a bank there, it’s I think the only place in the country where the right mixture of clay is naturally occurring; and they screen off the coarse sizes, anything over about a half inch. Then they mix different blends together, screening off more particles, and there you go.
P: What does—this was the inspiration for the interview, actually—what does the stuff cost?
M: It’s about two grand per load, give or take. We get 23.5 tons at a time, shipped directly from the site.
P: Ok, so walk me through building an infield with Duraedge.
M: Well, we start with a clay base, real fine clay. Then we layer some sand on top of that, and then start heaping the Duraedge. Then the sod guys come in, and there you go.
P: You’ve got to use tractors for that, right? What sort of equipment do you have?
M: We have a 23HP John Deere tractor with a 6’ box blade with laser leveling on it. The field has to be real precise, obviously, and we started using the laser a few years back. It takes about an hour and a half to grade out the infield.
P: Call this a bonus question, maybe, but where is your office at? Do you have a view from there or are you tucked away in the bowels of the building?
M: Are you familiar with the layout of Citizen’s Bank Park?
P: On a cursory level, yeah.
M: On the right field line, near the outfield corner, there’s a small window close to the base of the wall. That’s my office window.
P: Oh, man, I am so jealous. That’s amazing.
M: Yeah it is. Best office, other than Muffins and Sarge and the broadcasters, I suppose.
P: Muffins? You mean...
M: Yeah. Don't tell him I said that. Haha.
P: So, are you enjoying the holidays? I imagine it’s an easy time of the year for you and your crew.
M: Well, normally, yeah, but right now they’ve built a fu---ng ice rink on my infield, and so I’ve gotta put up with all that.
P: Forgot about that. Sounds like fun.
M: No, not really. The refrigerator system, the insulation, they’re totally messing up my foundation right now. This is gonna take a lot of work to clean up.
P: Last question, and I’ll let you go. Favorite rain delay?
M: 2008 Game Five. No question.
P: Alright, Mike, thanks for your time. I really appreciate the insight!
M: Anytime. Absolutely.
So, in conclusion, long after the fact, long after everyone involved has forgotten, nearly in time for the inevitable 2013 edition of the inspirational post, the little bit of dirt in the Chase Utley plaque is worth about $0.000596, or about one sixteenth of a cent, sold for a 2,500,000% markup.
Yes, I am a nerd. And I love this bolg.