Diamond Nation maintenance staff out-duels Mother Nature

By Bob Behre | April 6, 2020

(In March of 2015, the Diamond Nation staff pulled together to turn winter into spring with 18 hours of hustle after an early spring snowstorm threatened to close the facility and cancel a tournament.

While we are all in the midst what is a much more serious crisis today, we can all be reminded what good can happen when we all pull together in the interest of all).

By Bob Behre

Rui Santos, the Diamond Nation facilities director, can only shake his head in awe now about what he and his snow removal crew achieved through the cold, dark and lonely hours of Friday evening and Saturday morning, March 20 and 21, 2015.

A late March snowstorm threatened to derail the Spring Fling Tournament at Diamond Nation in Flemington that weekend, but a Herculean effort by the facility’s maintenance staff remarkably saved the event and put players where they belong; on the field.

Few events in the 10-year history of Diamond Nation can compete with the team effort required to make the facility ready for a tournament.

“We got it done and made everyone happy,” said Santos. “There were many times during the night when I didn’t think we could get it done. My brother kept pushing me and we were able to finish the job.”

Rui Santos, 55, and his brother John, 52, each manned a plow for 16 hours, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday. The opponent was an early spring snowstorm that dropped six inches of snow on the enormous baseball/softball complex in Flemington, N.J.

A third Santos brother, Anthony, worked a third plow until it broke down at 2 a.m. “At that point, I didn’t think we were going to make it,” said Rui Santos. “But we kept pushing.”

The snow arrived late Friday morning and forced many New Jersey schools to announce early dismissals. At the same time, Diamond Nation canceled the four Spring Fling games it had scheduled for Friday night and adjusted the schedule for Saturday. The Diamond Nation staff, which included Jill Butler, vice president of operations Lynne Vellucci, assistant general manager Nick Massari and general manager Keith Dilgard, worked behind the scenes to keep the teams comprised of developments.

“Jill was calling teams at 10:30 Friday night,” said Vellucci. “We were updating everyone on Facebook and with our weather hotline.”

A plan was hatched by Santos to begin plowing the six turf fields when the storm abated, which was forecasted for about 8 p.m. Friday. The snow removal team would have roughly 12 hours to complete the monumental task in time for the tournament’s opening games at 8 a.m. on Saturday. Once the storm developed into something worse than expected, the tournament start was pushed to noon, then 1 p.m. and eventually 2 p.m.

“The park was opened at 1 p.m. and the games began at 2 p.m.,” said Vellucci.

It took quite awhile before the resilient Rui Santos was convinced the Spring Fling tournament would be played on Saturday.

“It wasn’t until about 9:30 a.m. that John and I felt like we were going to make it,” said Santos. “We plowed 15 acres of fields with two-and-a-half plows. Nobody else could have done that.”

Plowing turf fields cannot be undertaken in an aggressive manner. The Santos brothers were facing a delicate operation. Care has to be taken to be sure the artificial surface was not damaged. So, smaller plows, known as “Bobcats” were used to push the snow toward the outfield fence where the white stuff was lifted and dumped over the fence. It’s a slow, tedious process.

Meanwhile, the rest of Diamond Nation’s maintenance staff, Tommy Rock, Tyler Olivero, Cameron Fuller, Nick Favino and Alex Ortiz tended to the sidewalks and dugouts with their shovels. Dilgard and Massari would also grab shovels in an attempted to pull off the improbable.

“Nick showed up at about 5 a.m. with Dunkin Donuts coffee,” said Santos. “That helped.”

While the snow had stopped and the Santos brothers remained in superhero mode, Mother Nature remained stubborn, keeping the sun to herself until late in the morning. “Keith was stressed out because the sun wasn’t coming out and we couldn’t get the last bit of snow to melt off the fields,” said Santos.

Few were aware just how close the tournament came to being canceled at that point. Crowds of teams jammed the main Diamond Nation building, awaiting word.

“We were literally minutes away from canceling the whole event,” said Dilgard. “But everyone pulled through and we finally got a little sunshine to help melt the remaining snow off the fields. I am pretty positive we were the only place playing baseball in the northeast that weekend. It was a true testament to everyone’s hard work.”

Throughout the northeast, especially in the wake of a brutal winter and an unforgiving March, baseball and softball continued to be played that week but primarily indoors. Diamond Nation opened its fields on Saturday, March 21, less than 18 hours after a snowstorm, to 52 teams encompassing three age groups.

Take that Mother Nature!

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