By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Maintaining the playing surface at Everett Memorial Stadium has always been a challenge, given its heavy usage and the wet Puget Sound weather conditions.
But the Everett AquaSox can take solace that the field is now in the hands of a man with a World Series ring.
Brian Cool took over the Everett Memorial Stadium groundskeeping duties for the Sox this season, and he’s using the expertise he picked up over the years — including a stint with Major League Baseball’s Florida Marlins — to keep the field in shape.
Cool, 54, worked as both an assistant groundskeeper and the head groundskeeper for the Marlins’ spring-training complex in Melbourne, Florida, from 1993-98, meaning he was a member of the organization when the Marlins won the World Series in 1997. The main stadium at the complex also served as the home field of the Marlins’ affiliate in the Class A Florida State League.
But Florida is just one of the stops on Cool’s lengthy journey that now finds him in Everett.
Cool, who hails from the small town of Drain. Ore., outside of Eugene, spent the first 13 years of his professional career as teacher, coach and athletic director in his hometown. But by 1989 he had an itch.
“I ran a summer rec program in Drain, and I decided one year I was going to apply to the Class A club there, the Eugene Emeralds, for a ticket or sales job,” Cool recalled. “The general manager said, ‘I got everybody hired, but I need a groundskeeper.’ I said, ‘Well that sounds good to me.’ I’d been a baseball coach and I always liked to take care of my own field. So I went to work for him.”
That got the mower rolling for Cool. Cool spent five seasons with Eugene, winning the Northwest League’s groundskeeper of the year award in 1992 and 1993. Eugene was an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals at the time, and in 1993 Cool was invited to spring training with the Royals. That turned out to be Cool’s big break as it introduced him to one of his mentors, the legendary George Toma, who’s in charge of the field for the Super Bowl.
“I remember vividly being outside the Baseball City Stadium and hearing George had just arrived and wanted to meet everybody,” Cool said. “We went to the stadium and I introduced myself to George and he goes, ‘Brian Cool, you have that beautiful field in Eugene, but your dirt is horse(expletive).’ I laughed and said, ‘That’s why I’m here, I want to learn.’ So I did. That was my first exposure to how you really maintain a big-league playing surface and that was valuable to me.”
Cool returned to Eugene for one more season, then that fall he received a call out of the blue from the Marlins, who needed help with their spring-training complex. Cool was hired sight unseen over the phone. He served as an assistant for two years, then took over as the head man in 1996.
Therefore, he had a first-hand look at the 1997 World Series champions.
“They were all very appreciative of the work you do,” Cool said of the players. “I can remember Gary Sheffield, the team had gone to play an exhibition game and Sheffield and (Bobby) Bonilla stayed behind as veterans of the club, and they just took hitting work on the field at the stadium. After they were done I was edging the warning track in the outfield, and Sheffield took the time to walk over and say, ‘Hey Brian, you’re doing a great job, thanks so much for what you’re doing.’ Sheffield didn’t have a great reputation in the media, but I just found him very appreciative.
“That’s what I like about the game, the little associations,” Cool continued. “They see your face and become familiar and comfortable with you, and that’s pretty neat having a working relationship like that. I’ve enjoyed every minute of all the associations I’ve had.”
After his time with the Marlins, Cool worked for several other institutions, including the University of Delaware, Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, and Southern Oregon University. While doing contract work for Southern Oregon two years ago, Cool married his wife, Melanie, who lived in Bellingham. Therefore, he began looking for work in this area. The groundskeeping job with the AquaSox was vacated by Brian Burroughs last August, and Cool is related to Burroughs through marriage, so he was informed of the opening. Cool contacted the Sox in the fall and was hired in March.
Cool had his work cut out for him when he began working for the Sox on April 1. Everett Memorial Stadium is an Everett School District facility that receives heavy use. In addition to the Sox, the field also serves as the home for Everett High School, Everett Community College and the Everett Merchants.
Between the time Burroughs resigned last August and Cool took over in April, there was no one in the Everett School District who’s specific duty was maintaining the Everett Memorial Stadium playing surface. Therefore, the field took a beating during the winter and was virtually unusable this spring. Cool had major work to do to get the field ready for the Northwest League season.
“It’s been a challenge,” he said. “The weather was a little bit of a challenge just because of the rainy spring. But more than that is the fact that Everett High School and Everett CC play their home games and practice here. There wasn’t much time to overhaul this field, and it needed it. It was a hardship field, I feel. I don’t think it was a minor-league quality field when I came on. I knew some things had to take place, so I chipped away at a few things, like rebuilding the mound. The big problem was the unevenness of the infield, and the buildup of the grass edge was real problematic.
“I just did what I learned from past experience,” Cool added. “It’s still a work in progress here, there’s going to have to be some issues addressed because this place needs some TLC. I’ll just do the best I can with the resources we have and go from there.”