Whether it’s a practice or game day, Raye Calderon and his crew are always first to arrive at Pomona’s Alumni Field. During the season, daily maintenance of the ballpark requires about as much time as it takes to play a game. Scrape, pack, rake, repeat. Grooming the field just right helps prevent bad hops of the ball that can lead to injuries. “We’re trying to keep our players in good condition without any black eyes or fat lips,” says Calderon, who has been maintaining the field for more than three decades.
Work begins at home plate, which today is a mess after an April shower. Somebody played ball in the mud after the rain, leaving imprints for Calderon and Co. to fill in. Then it’s on to the pitcher’s mound, packed hard with clay that arrives by truck from Corona. Next he works the base paths, groomed with crushed red brick—but not too much. Calderon doesn’t want the infield to feel “like a litter box.” He aims to make Alumni Field, where the oak-studded Wash provides a bucolic backdrop, the kind of diamond he would want to play on.
Calderon was a ballplayer himself while growing up in Claremont, playing Little League and later as an infielder for the Claremont High team. He started working at the College as a summer job at the age of 18. Then a supervisor asked him to stay on full time in the Grounds Department. Later, in 1982, when another worker was out with an injury, Calderon landed his spot maintaining the sports fields. Then baseball coach Mike Riskas taught him about tending the diamond, and Calderon has attended field-grooming seminars at Dodger Stadium and minor league parks. He also visits other schools’ ball fields.
Nowadays, when Calderon goes to a ball game, he still can’t help but notice the condition of the grass. The payoff for all his diamond-polishing: When the players reach the field, Calderon gets his share of compliments. There also are times when he gets a bit of ribbing for all the work he puts into the field. “A lot of people say ‘you’re spoiling them, you’re spoiling them,’” says Calderon. “I’m just doing my job.” That’s what I’m supposed to do.”