The rookie

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, August 2, 2017
It’s five minutes before the top of the first. The bases are not loaded, there’s no outs. Nick Heath steps up to the mound in Target Field, home to professional baseball’s the Minnesota Twins.

Heath eyeballs Twins mascot T.C. Bear at home plate. The giant brown bear stoops down and opens up his catcher’s glove. The two exchange signs.

“When I looked up there was a lot of people in the stands, whether they were paying attention or not it’s a lot of eyes on you,” admits Heath. “It was exciting and nerve wrecking all wrapped up into one.”

With that, Heath threw the ceremonial first pitch of a Major League Baseball game on Friday, July 7, right before the day’s match up between the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles.

Thanks to The Toro Company, the West Liberty Parks and Recreation Director had the opportunity to travel to Minneapolis, Minn. for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Not only did Heath get to throw the first pitch, but he also worked with Minnesota’s grounds crew several hours before the game in order to get the field into pristine condition.

“There’s a lot going on before a major league game, even for just one field,” he said. “I was on the field the whole time up until the game started.”

Heath also received official gear, toured the field, was present during batting practice and was given four tickets to the game. He took his wife and two friends along for the adventure.

As the Parks and Recreation director, Heath has done his fair share of upkeep. There are seven baseball diamonds in West Liberty, not to mention soccer fields, basketball courts and tennis courts.

West Liberty may be deemed a small city, but it’s got more than its fair share of parks, from the Dutton Sports Complex to Kimberly and Wapsie Park.

But Heath had the opportunity to take care of a baseball field at a professional level for a day, where he followed around the grounds keepers doing everything he was told.

Heath says he probably asked over a hundred questions during the field preparation, which involves everything from painting the lines to dragging the field.

“I hope to bring back some of those things and pass them on to the kids that work with me,” he says. “They might want to get into turf grass and taking care of fields some day and this is a great start as a high-schooler.”

It all started with Twitter, a popular social networking website with over 328 million active users. Every post is limited to 140 characters, forcing users to get right to the point.

On Friday, June 23, the official Minnesota Twins Twitter feed asked if anyone wanted to be a part of their grounds crew for a day. If so, respond and tell them why.

“I take care of seven fields in a small municipality in Iowa. Would love to learn from the best,” responded Nick Heath over the social platform.

A week later he received the word, just like that he had been selected. Heath had to act quick, in four days he lined up the hotel, proper babysitting and the transportation needed to go to Minneapolis.

“I didn’t know I was going to get to the throw the first pitch,” said Heath, “I thought it was just going to work there. But when they got back to me they said ‘You get to throw the first pitch.’ I was like. ‘Oh man.’”

He tried to get in some practice before the big event, but the timing just didn’t work out in his favor. Everything just happened so quickly, before he knew it the big moment had come.

“I wanted to go to the baseball field in town the morning before I left, but they had the sprinklers on,” added Heath. “My buddy and I threw the ball early in the morning, but I never got a warm up pitch.”

Ultimately, Heath’s pitch landed in the dirt. An MLB pitchers mound is elevated higher than a typical city of high school field, it’s definitely a lot different than one might expect standing out there.

Of course, Heath had the choice to throw from in front of the mount or on top of it. He chose the latter.

“My buddies said you got to go from the the top of the mount,” says Heath. “I was told just aim for the catcher’s head because your elevated, well, I didn’t do a very good job at that… I threw it in the dirt.”

But at the end of it all Heath received some valuable experience, Twins gear and watched the Twins make a big come back in the fifth inning, overtaking Manny Machado and the Orioles 9-6.

Heath may be a Cardinal’s fan, but for the day he a full-fledged Twin.

He’s learned a lot over the years 13 years he’s been a member of West Liberty’s Parks and Recreation Department, and he learned even more from Target Field.

“They obviously have a lot more people working to maintain one field than we do for seven fields,” he says. “They have more equipment and that kind of stuff, but the idea of getting a field ready is the same.”

When we watch a game on television or head out to the ballpark, we might witness the tarp crew in action due to a rain delay.

What we’re not shown are the hours of preparation that go into maintain a field. That day Heath’s game began at 7 p.m., but the ground crew arrived at 7 a.m. that morning.

Raking, leveling, dragging, mowing, painting, watering, home plate and pitchers mound maintenance, putting the bases in place…the list goes on and on.

“All you see is the guys working between the inning,” he says .”But there’s like seven full-time guys at the field long before anybody else shows up and don’t leave for several hours after the game.”

Hopefully Heath’s big day in The Show will rub off in West Liberty, where baseball remains as one of America’s pastime.
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