Lynchburg, VA - The Lynchburg Hillcats filled the stands at Calvin Falwell Field on the Fourth of July. Yes, there were fireworks after the game. Fans also witnessed the debut of an unexpected guest who, as it turns out, is now a recurring visitor at City Stadium...whether they like it or not.
The job of head groundskeeper could include about anything.
"Most of the time, it's just getting the field ready for the guys,"said Hillcats Grounds Manager Darren Johnson.Lately, it's been more interesting.
See, Hillcats claw their way to the top. Skunks take a different route."They burrow up underneath the concrete like that," said Johnson. The skunk got his first on-field action last Thursday.
After three straight home games, he's competing for a spot in the outfield. "It's not uncommon down the right field line for the kids to get rowdy and yell at me to get a ball on the field or something -- or that they threw on the field,"said Hillcats Outfielder David Rohm.
Saturday, Rohm thought he saw a football in right field."I looked back to see the pitch, and then I looked over there again and I realized it started hopping at me. I was like, 'Well, what do I do now? If the guy hits it over there, I'm definitely not going to go running over there into it," said Rohm.
"There's a whole lot of things I'd rather run into than the business end of a skunk, but baseball must go on, and I'm the guy that has to do it," said Johnson.So it was, in the ninth inning, that Johnson ran out for the first time, batting clean-up, from right field."There was no danger in it, as far as we know. So, we might as well have fun with it, you know?"said Hillcats Assistant General Manager Ronnie Roberts.
The fans took note."Our on-field guy had the mic, and he started getting the crowd into it," said Roberts.
Armed with a towel and bucket, Johnson gave it a go.Johnson - "I can't tell you the adrenaline wasn't rushing. They were cheering me on. I really should have grabbed two towels, because they sprayed through that first towel,"said Johnson
In the end, an unlikely hero bore the smell of victory."One of the pitchers from the other team walked out there and stuck a glove on it,"said Rohm.
"He didn't know exactly what he was getting into until it got him," said Johnson. "He said he thought it was a cat," said Rohm. For now, the only cats wear green.
Somewhere, there's a friend in black-and-white. That visiting skunk has appeared for three of the last four home games. Officials with the Hillcats are hoping he'll will move on with time.
If not, they won't be taking action into their own hands. They say they'll be seeking advise from professionals.