The Grumpy Groundskeeper

“Not on my field, you’re not!” was Joe’s response. 

The battle cry of the Funkiller… “No!” I’ve heard it so many times during my performance career. Sitting here now, that objection has inspired my theory of powerful fun. 

Today, I thank the Joe’s of the world who taught me about the barriers I needed to overcome to allow the power of fun to grow. I took me some time to learn how to win the Funkillers over but on this day in Boise, Idaho I was about to put a sledge hammer to Joe’s barrier.

The Boise Hawks is an independent minor league baseball team. Minor league baseball isn’t about wins and losses. Fans come for fun, cold beer and dollar dogs. The Hawks were experts in delivering fun to their fans. Each summer that included a dose of Phanatic Phun!

The Phanatic always brought the fans in. His green furball reputation was well known because of his antics in Philadelphia and was a universal fan favorite. They especially loved it, when he Evil Knieveled on his four-wheeler ATV. 

During my first visit to Boise, I was in a meeting with their owner and GM.  I excitedly told them my plans to ride out on the field on my ATV, just like I did in Veterans Stadium. They suddenly cowered, lowered their heads and told me that I had to clear that with Joe first. 

“Who’s Joe?” I asked. 

I assumed by their reaction, he must be a co-owner or a decision-maker. I was surprised to hear he was the groundskeeper. “The best in the business!” they said.” No worries, I will get his approval”—even though the fun-seeking rebel inside me knew I would be gone the next day, so it didn’t matter to me what I did to his field. If he was that good at growing freaking grass, then he could fix any damage I could create in one short night.

I found Joe on the field, a few minutes later. It was hot as hell and he had no shirt on. It reminded me of the movie Top Gun, and how its writers tried to have Tom Cruise pose without his shirt as much as possible. I walked across the dirt to where he was diligently watering. 

He looked at me with disdain. 

“Can’t you see that I’m watering my dirt?” he said. 

“Oh, I’m sorry but I just wanted to talk to you about my performance tonight,” I replied. 

“What performance?” he spat.

I went on to explain who I was and what the Phanatic would do throughout the game. When I mentioned the part about entering the field on the ATV, he jumped down my throat. 

“Not on my field, you’re not!” 

I mentioned that the fans were expecting a great show and the Phanatic’s ATV was always a highlight.

He just shrugged his shoulders and said that only thing he cared about was his field and there was no way he was letting some lunatic on his field with that grass-eating ATV. 

Holding my temper, I diplomatically asked what we could work out. I said I understood his fear and he had every right to be concerned about “his” field. What if I could promise to restrict my driving to the dirt warning track? Could I then use the ATV that night? After some thought, Joe rendered his decision. 

It would be all right for me to use the ATV, pre-game only, and only if I kept it on the dirt warning track, and I was not allowed anywhere grass was growing! 

Yeeesss! Finally, I had my opening to teach grumpy Joe a lesson in the Power of Phanatic Phun! 

I had become proficient at riding these ATVs. The fan’s favorite trick was watching the Phanatic jump over the pitcher’s mound, Evel Knievel style, just before the start of every game. The momentum would throw the ATV and the Phanatic about 25 feet in the air toward second base, where he would land with a thump! It was a big hit for the fans but a nightmare for the groundskeeper. 

When they introduced the Phanatic that night the stands were full. It was always a rush to come riding out, jump off the ATV, stick the Phanatic’s belly out, start dancing, and hearing the fans respond. I was careful to stay right on the dirt warning track, just like grumpy Joe had instructed. I didn’t even go very fast and when I stopped the ATV, I had it positioned just to the home plate side of the batting circle. All under the watchful eye of Joe, the groundskeeper. 

Much to my delight, I saw the owner and general manager of the team were there smiling and enjoying the Phanatic’s antics. I had a feeling they were going to enjoy the special surprise I had planned for Joe. 

The national anthem singer was announced, the umps and the Phanatic lined up and stood at attention. As soon as the anthem was over, I grabbed the umpire next to me, laid a big, wet, furry kiss on his face, then jumped on my ATV. 

I revved the engine a few times. 

The crowd was still laughing because I had just accosted the home plate umpire, but my attention was focused on Joe who was staring me down like a prison guard. 

I broke character for a moment and yelled, “Hey, Joe, you better get your hose ready!” 

I popped the ATV into first gear and jammed down on the throttle. Dirt shot up in two streams from each tire and I turned in the direction of Joe’s beloved pitcher’s mound. The ATV popped up into a wheelie and lurched toward the mound at full speed. The home team’s pitcher had just reached the mound when he saw the Phanatic coming his way. He jumped back and as the ATV hit the mound, I remember him yelling something at Joe. 

The Phanatic landed a few feet in front of second base and came to a stop in the base path between second and first. For good measure, I pretended to be Jeff Gordon after winning a NASCAR race and carved a few doughnuts behind second base before I shot off the field to a rousing ovation from the Boise Hawks faithful! The last image of Joe as I rode off of the field, and it is still seared in my mind, was of him standing there, mouth agape, fuming in disbelief. 

The owner and general manager rushed to see me in the clubhouse. They were in hysterics, laughing and slapping me on the back, both exclaiming at the same time that they knew of no one who needed a good kick in the butt more than Joe. 

Later, I heard that Joe said if I came back on the field with that ATV, he was going to grab his hunting rifle and shoot me right then and there. I had no doubt that he was serious, so I decided that my ATV fun was over for the night. 

Looking back, my reactions may have been inappropriate, but I wasn’t looking for any lessons at the time. I recognize now that “fun for fun sake” scares leadership. 

If we are going to “sell” leadership on fun we have to make sure they know we are experts in the delivery of fun. We have worked hard to create the exact kind of fun that will be appropriate and fit their needs and culture. That is powerful fun and if done well leadership will become our biggest advocates —well, unless they are Grumpy Joes!   

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