Pull up the online softball and baseball schedules for Janesville Parker or Janesville Craig, and the page is about as red as a stop sign.
Tricky, ever-changing weather conditions throughout this spring season left teams with about as many games postponed as there were games played on their originally scheduled dates.
But the city’s teams still got the green light more often than many of their area counterparts. And, unlike other programs, Janesville’s baseball and softball teams eventually got all, or very nearly all, of their games played.
Much of that credit goes to Bob Schenck and his grounds crew. Schenck coordinates efforts at both Veteran’s Field at Riverside Park and at the Janesville Youth Sports Complex.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have a guy like that, because there were numerous times where a lot of games weren’t played, but ours were,” Parker baseball coach Brian Martin said. “The main reason why is because of the preparation, the care and the want to get games in.
“We even had one spot where Beloit and Madison East moved their game here from Beloit to play at our place. That doesn’t just happen because they put in work one day. That’s from hours and hours of prepping the fields and making sure they’re in great shape in the first place.”
Schenck said he has been keeping up the field at Riverside for 15 years, all on a volunteer basis.
He has been employed by Janesville Youth Baseball and Softball Association for three seasons, where he and a crew of eight or 10 high school- and college-aged kids tend to 10 diamonds.
Spring weather in Wisconsin is often volatile, but this year’s changing conditions were particularly challenging.
“We went from snow and us putting heating blankets down to melt ice on the backs of fields so they could play on it, to dandelions blooming the next week,” Schenck said. “Then the rains came. And it always seemed to rain all night long until 7 in the morning. And people think because it hasn’t rained all day that you snap your fingers and the fields dry out. But it’s a tremendous amount of work to get a field ready after it rains.
“The softball teams played in late March, but then the cold and snow hit, and it’s been catch-up ever since then.”
When it rains, Schenck and at least one member of his crew can often be found at the diamonds by 4 or 5 a.m. They use puddle sponges to soak up standing water.
Schenck typically starts at Riverside then drives across town to the Janesville Youth Sports Complex. He’ll made the drive back and forth several times during work days that can span from before the sun rises until after it sets.
“I make the 6.2-mile trip sometimes four or five times a day,” he said.
Schenck, who has been certified and taken online classes through the Sports Turf Managers Association, doesn’t want the credit, even though the high school coaches say they don’t know where their seasons would be without him.
Schenck said none of the fields would be ready without help. That includes his son, Ben, who especially helps out at Riverside.
And his crew of students at JYBSA helps make sure diamonds are ready for 1-2 games per night, apiece, as well as weekend tournaments. Four age levels played tournaments all day Saturday, and the crew prepped each diamond anew before every game.
“We’ve got a good group of kids,” Schenck said. “I’ll always check up on them until I know I don’t have to check on them, because a lot of them it’s their first time doing it. My expectations are probably too high for a complex like this.”
Those high expectations, however, have led to a complex JYBSA can be proud of.
“We’re always getting compliments on it from out-of-town teams,” said JYBSA president Doug Madsen. “Mother’s Day weekend, we played on Saturday, and nobody else around here played on that Saturday. He (Schenck) was there at 5 o’clock in the morning when it stopped raining to start clearing the fields.”
Riverside will host five more baseball games this season—two regional finals Thursday and three sectional games June 5. The Janesville Aces and the city’s Legion baseball program will continue to use the field throughout the summer.
JYBSA will continue to host games and tournaments throughout the summer, as well.
So while the spring and its frenzy of postponements now gives way to summer heat and rain. And all along, Schenck and his crew will keep Janesville ball clubs as close to on schedule as possible.