The grass was always greener wherever Bruce Bates had been.
That’s because it was his job in the sports turf industry to make sure that the fields players from the Marlins and Dolphins and University of Miami Hurricanes played on were in great shape on game days.
Coaches and athletes relied on Bates and his work crews and colleagues to make sure that Marlins Park in Miami, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park at UM in Coral Gables and scores of high school football and baseball fields in the tri-county area were just so. That meant proper sodding, ensuring that end zones and 50-yard lines were dry, that paint and stenciling were clear and that the fields proved safe for play.
“He would get out there and he would help educate coaches on the way to do things … on the latest stuff they are doing in field repair and maintenance,” said Kevin Hardy, owner of Ballpark Maintenance, a Falls-area sports industry business next door to Bates’ Pro-Grounds Products company. Hardy and Bates teamed to service playing fields for the major sports franchises, high schools and parks.
“He was one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever known and had passion for his work,” Hardy said of Bates, who died Dec. 30 after battling lung cancer. Bates was 63.
Hardy met Bates about 20 years ago when Hardy was groundskeeper at UM. He turned to Bates’ Pro-Grounds for supplies.
Bates, who served as secretary/treasurer for Sports Turf Managers Association, provided products like Rapid Dry, a granular drying agent to wick away excess water from infields, along with premium mound clay. When Miami’s baseball franchise opened its Marlins Park stadium, which has a retractable roof, Rapid Dry wasn’t necessary. But Bates often could be found at baseball games helping pull a tarp out on the field so the pitching diamond and baselines wouldn’t get wet before the roof rolled overhead.
“He really enjoyed it; he enjoyed talking with the players,” said his wife, Barbara Bates.
“I used to buy sand and clay and athletic field materials from Bruce and got to know him well,” Hardy said. “Even with the countless hours he put in at work, his relaxation was working on the ground crew for the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium (now Hard Rock) and the Dolphins. He just loved that atmosphere and being around those guys.”
Bates, born Aug. 1, 1953, in Middletown, Connecticut, moved to Miami as a toddler. In addition to his fondness for the sports industry, and dedication to the Miami Elks Lodge, he returned to another love later in life, his wife said: Music.
“In the last three years he turned a new leaf. He grew his beard long and turned to his guitar,” she said.
Bates was an old-time rock ’n’ roller and Beatles fan, added Hardy.
“If he had time on weekends, he would work with us still — between his new passion for the guitar. He’s already sorely missed. You don’t realize all the things he did until after he is gone. He would work 12 hours a day, five days a week, and at least eight on Saturday and cut it back to four on Sunday. But that is what he’d like to do.”
Bates is also survived by his two daughters Amanda and Carla and five siblings. Services will be at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 8, at Sunset Congregational Church, 9025 SW 72nd St., Miami.