If you’ve had a chance to make it down to Spring Training or to a regular season Threshers game, chances are you have seen Opie Cheek hard at work. Since 1988, Opie has worked on the grounds crew in Clearwater and currently serves as the head groundskeeper.
Cheek’s day usually starts at 7:00 a.m. His first stop is to the coach’s office to meet with Rich Dubee and get the daily itinerary. For game days, Opie and his four other employees start dragging the warning track, cutting the infield grass, chalking the lines and watering the infield in time for BP that starts at 10 a.m.
His crew also has to make sure the half-field and bullpen areas are ready (The half-field is located adjacent to the player parking lot). Every morning, pitchers use the half-field for fielding drills while the hitters are working on the regular field.
After BP, Opie’s crew has to leaf-rake the warning track to pick up all the gum and sunflower seeds discarded during BP. Once BP ends, the crew gets the field ready for game time. During the game, the infield gets dragged at the top of the 3rd and top of the 6th. After the game, the crew has to make sure all fields are good to go for the next day.
Opie often watches J Roll and the starting pitcher to see whether their actions indicate that the dirt needs hardening or softening. If they are constantly “pawing” the dirt, his crew will spring into action at the appropriate time.
In 2005, the Threshers gave away a “Opie Cheek Bobbinghead Doll”, the first honor ever bestowed on a groundskeeper at any level. When Mike Schmidt tried to tease Opie the next day about the giveaway, Cheek responded, “All my bobbing head dolls are gone but we still have a palette full of yours left over”!
Back to Bright House Field for a game with the Yankees on Thursday. Game will be televised in Philly (The Comcast Network) and also MLB.com . . . WIP’s morning show will be broadcasting live from the Tiki Bar Thursday and Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m., with Angelo Cataldi, Al Morganti, Rhea Hughes, Joe Conklin and producer Joe Weachter . . . Mike Gill from 97.3 ESPN in Atlantic City will be broadcasting both days from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m., also at the Tiki Bar . . . . . . . Group of Phillies sponsors arrives in camp Thursday for the weekend . . . Orientation will take place at 9 a.m. Thursday for all minor leaguers. They will gather on the Steve Carlton field for introductions of the entire minor league staff and numerous club executives. David Montgomery, Ruben and Charlie will speak as will Chuck LaMar . . . According to February rankings, Phillies Insider is 20th among the top 50 blog on MLB.com, the MLB Pros category. Thanks goes to you for that ranking . . . Todd Zolecki continues to hold down the top spot among MLB.com Beat Writers, which is great news.
Opening day is fast approaching. We’ve asked Alumni for their most memorable opening day moment, minor leagues or majors. From time to time we will post their memories.
Jim Bunning (RHP, 1965-67; 19970-71): “Pitching and winning the first game in Veterans Stadium in 1971 and beating my old manager, Gene Mauch.”
(John Brazer, Director, Publicity, contributed to today’s blog).