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Bermuda grass and the boys: ASU grounds crew creates perfection on the diamond

The ASU baseball grounds crew relies on years of experience to maintain the field at Phoenix Municipal Stadium

ASU baseball head groundskeeper, Jon Larson drives off the field after raking the dirt before a game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on April 4, 2023.

While the Sun Devils win games on the field, the ASU grounds crew puts countless hours into perfecting the diamond at Phoenix Municipal Stadium

Led by an industry veteran and his puppy, the grounds crew relies on years of experience to maintain a near-perfect playing surface of Bermuda grass and clay.

While he doesn’t mow grass, Dean “Deano” Short is an essential team member. Short, 77, is an ASU graduate who's been around the team for nearly 30 years. Short attends every home game in his Sun Devils jersey, cheering on his favorite team from behind home plate.  

As arguably ASU’s biggest fan, Short enjoys being at the ballpark and interacting with the players near-daily. While he is the heart of Sun Devil baseball, Short said he helps the grounds crew by maintaining the dugout railings and the area surrounding home plate. 

Reflecting on his days as a Sun Devil, head coach Willie Bloomquist said Short was vital to the team when he played at ASU from 1997 to 1999. Bloomquist said Short loves being around the team and will always be a legend to the program.

“After the game, he's all pumped to come in the dugout and high-five everybody,” Bloomquist said. “Deano is part of what we're doing. He'll always be here and part of what we're doing.” 

With Deano as the team’s ceremonial head, assistant manager of baseball grounds Jon Larson uses decades of experience to lead the grounds crew. He got his start in the industry by working on a golf course in Tucson before getting a job with the Colorado Rockies. Larson then became the assistant head groundskeeper at Coors Field in Denver but decided to move back to Arizona for family reasons in 2019. 

Besides a baseball legend and a groundskeeping expert, dogs can sometimes roam the outfield with ASU’s grounds crew. Larson’s beagle, a one-year-old named Hank, has gained popularity on the grounds crew’s Twitter page and occasionally plays on the field. Larson said Hank might make a surprise appearance at the ballpark when the weather is better this season. 

Getting down to real business, the grounds crew’s duties start each Monday when they paint the team’s logo behind home plate, the foul lines, and coaches' boxes. Throughout the week, Larson's team perfects the outfield and infield to ensure a safe playing surface for each series. With so many tasks, Larson and his crew work long hours to deliver a reliable field he’s proud of. 

Larson and his crew choose a new outfield design for each series to make the job a little more fun. Larson said his staff creates patterns by mowing the grass in different directions to create light and dark shades. When a fan looks at the field, the crew’s work creates an optical illusion with stripes or a pitchfork. 

Before ASU’s series against UA starting March 24, the grounds crew recreated the Arizona state flag in the infield and outfield. Larson said poor weather before the series made it harder to create the design, but his staff used the team’s practice field to experiment with its design.

“We’ve got to go big. We can't go normal pitchfork on the infield, stuff like that,” Larson said. “We actually wanted to do more, but we had weather and stuff like that, so we had to tarp on top of it.”

While the grass is difficult to maintain, Larson said it’s harder to take care of the infield dirt. If the crew doesn’t care for the dirt, the infield would quickly dry up and become a hard playing surface, creating poor conditions for baseball games, Larson said. He said keeping the dirt moist and nail-dragging the infield provides a reliable playing field. 

While building the infield is intricate, athletic facilities maintenance manager Ruben Rush must craft a near-perfect pitching mound before each game. Since the mound is made of solid clay, Rush has to work with different types and quantities of moisture to deliver pitchers a reliable surface. 

"Our pitchers like it on the drier side," Rush said. "You have to keep the ground moist, but on game day, we keep it dry."

In an unforgiving climate, ASU’s grounds crew has to take several precautions to keep the field alive throughout the season. To avoid brown spots, Larson said they have a fertility program in place based on soil samples and water tests. He said it's also crucial to water and aerate the field to keep oxygen flowing and the grass green.

“It's a living, breathing plant. It's an organism,” Larson said. “It's just like a human. It needs to be fed, it needs water and it needs air.”

With much work to be done, the grounds crew enjoys their day-to-day roles and the positive environment at the stadium. Rush said he enjoys getting to know the staff and team personally. 

Echoing his gratification, Larson said he doesn’t see his position as a job even though he said he spends more time on the field than at home.

“This is fun for us,” Larson said, “We come out here, and we have a good time. This is our office, and I think there's a lot of people that are jealous out there that wish they had this office.”

Edited by Walker Smith, Jasmine Kabiri and Caera Learmonth.

Reach the reporter at and follow @jackcbarron on Twitter. 

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