Source: South Williamsport, Pa.
Date/Time: Friday, August 26, 2011
The Fowler twins have never asked for anything.
No money, no affection. Nothing.
And even though few know their names or faces, they are the men who, with rakes in hand, have helped the Little League Baseball World Series become the fantastic spectacle it is today. These are the guys behind the scenes who build the platform that allows the show to hit Broadway.
Dave and Don Fowler, 73, are a part of the grounds crew, and for two weeks every August since 1995, the ball fields that host the Little League World Series—Howard J. Lamade and Volunteer Stadium—have felt the Fowlers’ touch and expertise.
It started in 1995, after Don, who at the time worked for field renovation company Alpine Services Inc., had a hand in re-modeling the field at Lamade Stadium for the Little League World Series’ 50th anniversary. He was asked to stay on and tend to the field after its completion.
Brother Dave followed the next year, and every year since, both have been back to work the dirt, mow the grass, come in to work at 7:30 a.m. and sometimes stay until 1 a.m. the next morning… whatever it takes to keep the world’s most famous little league field also one of the world’s most well-kept.
And every second on the clock has been as an unpaid volunteer.
For their unflinching dedication and hard work, Dave and Don have been named recipients of the 2011 W. Howard Hartman Friendship Award, presented annually to an individual or organization who has demonstrated a similar loyalty and relationship to Little League that Hartman, one on of the organization’s most loyal supporters, had.
Dave is certainly grateful and honored with the award. But it’s what happened just after receiving it that has stuck with him.
Walking off the field after receiving the honor, he found every player from the Southeast regional champion Warner Robins team waiting for him to shake his hand and say thank you.
“It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” Dave said. “That’s all the reward we ever need, an occasional ‘thank you and a job well done.’”
And volunteering seems to be in the Fowler genes.
Dave’s son, Jeff, 47, and grandson, Evan, 17, have also joined the grounds crew. Evan’s first year with the team? When he was three years old.
Jeff, who is on the board of directors for the National Sports Turf Manager’s Association, along with Dave and Don, have also volunteered to help with some 4-H organizations in the area.
“We recognize the value of a volunteer,” Jeff said. “Baseball has done a lot for the family, and it’s kind of our way of giving back to the game.”
It’s not just the quantity of their volunteer work, it’s the quality.
Don has been building fields since 1986, and it’s been his (and his family’s) ability to adapt to new technology that’s made the Fowlers a cornerstone in field maintenance in South Williamsport.
“The technology has improved so much over the last 20 years that what was acceptable back then would be totally unacceptable now,” Don said.
Lamade Stadium is no exception.
In 1995, Lamade would have been considered state of the art. Back then, the base underneath the field was made of clay.
“It was so mucky in ’95, we literally had to haul the dirt out and lay it out in piles to dry,” Don said. “What you think is state-of-the-art now may be obsolete in three years.”
The base of the field is now an advanced sand-based mixture that Don says has made the field “100 percent” better.
The other major improvement has been the use of laser grading, a tool used to level the playing surface.
“Twenty years ago, we didn’t know what laser grading was,” Dave said. “Now each of these fields has state-of-the-air slopes. When we finished laser grading Lamade, there was a quarter of an inch difference in the two foul poles, which is pretty close.”
Despite all the advancements in technology, most of the work is still done with a rake and a lawn mower, albeit an expensive one. And, the work never ends.
“There are some extremely late nights with spraying or fertilizing the fields,” Evan said. “We’ll sometimes stay here until 1 a.m. mowing. It’s a 24/7 process, there’s always something that needs to be done.”
“Usually if you look out here around midnight, you can see someone mowing or doing something,” Dave said, agreeing with his grandson.
But nobody ever does see, because nobody is ever around Lamade Stadium at midnight.
They don’t see the Fowlers—the invisible servicemen who don’t work for money.
They work for the love of the game, and a job well done.