CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- The sun finally returned across Chattanooga Monday afternoon, a welcome sight for a city soaked by four straight days of rain.
But as a hot and humid afternoon wore on, Joey Fitzgerald couldn't help but think a little more rain would be nice.
"It's funny. People think when it's raining my job is hard," AT&T Field's head groundskeeper said while pushing a rake across the infield. "When it's raining hard, there's nothing to do. The tarp is on the field. All my bases are covered."
Groundskeeper humor aside, Fitzgerald and his crew put their efforts in overdrive during the recent five-game homestand. Steady rains started to fall early Thursday on the Fourth of July, and continued through Monday morning.
It was Fitzgerald's job to ensure the Lookouts and Suns were able to play as much baseball as possible despite the conditions, hoping to avoid a series of makeup doubleheaders late in the season.
"It's a 'put dinner on hold' type of time, all of those games," Fitzgerald said. "While most of what we do is dictated by the umpires, there isn't much time to sit back and enjoy the game.
"We'll look back on it and think it was fun (to be that busy), but at the time you're doing it it's brutal."
Getting to the five-inning mark is the key to make a game official, and the Lookouts were able to make it that far with Fitzgerald's help in Thursday's series-opener.
However, there's a limit to Fitzgerald's magic.
Games on Friday and Sunday were suspended when puddles started to form across the infield, and Saturday's contests were washed out completely.
"It's always about the safety of the players. That's priority number one," said Lookouts' manager Jody Reed, who with the umpires and opposing manager makes the decision on when to stop play. "Look, we'd love to get five innings in and make it official, but the field progressively got slicker and a little sloshy and it just wasn't safe for the players."
Fitzgerald thought Friday's game could have continues for another inning or two, but understood the decision to pull the players and roll out the tarp with so much baseball left in the series and the forecast bringing more moisture.
Once drier weather came, the work was far from finished.
The grounds crew dumped, spread and raked countless pounds of drying powder across a four-day span in hopes of delaying Mother Nature's attempts to delay the game.
Reversing those efforts became the primary focus of Monday's pre-game maintenance.
"We're kind of undoing what we did for the rain," Fitzgerald said. "We put out a drying agent to soak up the moisture, so now we have to go across the field and take that drying agent off to get it back where it was before the rain."
Somehow the teams managed to fit in four games in the five-day stretch despite AT&T Field absorbing more than eight inches of rain. That fact made Fitzgerald extremely proud, especially considering AT&T Field's 12-year-old drainage system is far older than others in the Southern League.
"Usually the rule of thumb is to replace it every ten years," Fitzgerald said. "This system definitely isn't one of the best in the league, but we managed."
Fitzgerald's reward is a two-week break between contests.
Sure, he and his crew will continue day-to-day maintenance on the field, but the Lookouts' two-week road trip allows time to regroup after an historically soggy series.
"It's definitely been the most difficult homestand I've ever been a part of," Fitzgerald said. "When it just goes on and there are no breaks in the rain at all, it's definitely got really tough."
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