BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Andy Ommen knew something had to change.
“I watched a kid get hit in the mouth with the ball on a bad hop,” Ommen said. “My son lost a championship game on a bad hop.”
So while his boys were playing youth baseball eight years ago he took over the maintenance of the PONY League fields in Bloomington. Now 16 years later, the six-field facility is a gem that attracts statewide tournaments.
And two of his Ommen’s diamonds have received awards as “fields of the year” by the Sports Turf Manager’s Association based on safety, appearance and budget. Ommen is a 28-year employee of State Farm Insurance, he’s really a volunteer groundskeeper.
“It’s the edging we do. The grass edges, how clean they are. The painting bases before games,” said Ommen, the head groundskeeper for the McLean County PONY baseball league. “All that comes down to the little things.”
Five years ago, Ommen was invited to work on the crew for the Major League Baseball All-Star game hosted by the Twins. He spent four days in Minnesota prepping the field and enjoying the experience of a lifetime.
“I actually got to change second base in the third inning. I’ve never been more nervous in my life. An amazing experience,” Ommen chuckled. “I didn’t trip and fall so that was good.”
It’s been a rainy spring in central Illinois and a challenge for Ommen to keep his fields playable. And, of course, when he comes out to work the PONY baseball fields, people want to know how he’s doing with his lawn at home.”
“My lawn looks that much better than my neighbors,” said Ommen holding his two index fingers close together. “Nobody has challenged me yet. I just make sure it looks a little bit better than my neighbors and we’re in good shape.”