Q&A with Roger Bossard
Longtime White Sox groundskeeper carries on a family tradition
Now in his 46th season with the White Sox, Head Groundskeeper Roger Bossard —known as the “Sodfather” for his widely acclaimed expertise — is the man responsible for the impeccable condition of the playing field at U.S Cellular Field. But the Lemont resident’s influence and contributions extend far beyond Chicago’s South Side to ballparks across the country and playing fields as far away as Saudi Arabia. The revolutionary drainage and irrigation system Bossard developed for U.S. Cellular has been used in the creation or renovation of numerous stadiums, including the crosstown rival Cubs’ Wrigley Field. Nineteen of the 30 major league teams now use the system for their regular and/or spring training facilities. Bossard also helped design and build the first natural turf soccer field in Saudi Arabia for the Royal Family.
Bossard’s roots in groundskeeping run unusually deep. His grandfather, Emil, served as head groundskeeper for the Cleveland Indians from 1932 to 1968, and his father preceded him in his role with the White Sox from 1940 to 1983. Roger worked as an assistant for his dad for 16 years, before taking over the top job. Three other members of the extended family have also been involved in the business, combining for more than 250 years of groundskeeping experience. Bossard is considered such an integral part of the White Sox organization, that the team even featured him in one of its special bobble-head day promotions.
First things first: Where did the name “The Sodfather” come from and do you like it?
Roger Bossard: It was given to me by Chicago Tribune sportswriter Paul Sullivan, who covers the Cubs. And yes, I like it.
You come from a long line of groundskeepers, with your grandfather, Emil, and father, Gene, also having been famed groundskeepers. Was it a given that you would get into the family business or did you ever have other ideas of what you wanted to do?
RB: You know what, it wasn’t a given. But when I was 9 years old, I remember coming out with my dad and pulling the hoses around and him talking to me, even at that time, about grass and dirt. And you have to understand, too, that when our family would get together at Christmas, you’ve got my grandpa, my dad, two uncles, and cousin — who was the head groundskeeper with the Padres — and so, groundskeeping was all we used to hear. My mom and my aunts used to complain and moan and tell the guys “quit talking about dirt and turf.” But I remembered those days. My dad actually never came to the point where he would push me, but I knew what I was going to do.
What is your biggest nemesis as a groundskeeper — too much rain, really hot weather, crabgrass — and what do you do to combat those problems?
RB: There’s no question, the biggest one is rain. But my biggest challenge — and the most horrible experience I’ve had here — was definitely Disco Demolition night with Bill Veeck.
How did you feel when old Comiskey Park was torn down? You and your father worked on that field for so many years.
RB: I was raised there, however, this place was the new house. And the old park had run the gambit and seen its lifetime. I remember a lot of things there — the old aisles, the old walkways, the pitch of the field. I liked the old park, but I was happy to come here, to be honest with you.
A few years back, you installed your patented irrigation system as part of the renovation of Wrigley Field. Any reservations about helping out the crosstown rivals?
RB: No, not at all. I know the head groundskeeper there, Roger Baird, really well. We’re actually fairly close. He was all for it. They needed a new field and they called me and I worked very well with them and they treated me very well.
Sox fans old and new were overjoyed when the team finally won the World Series back in 2005. What was that moment like for you, having been part of the team for so long?
RB: It was a great experience. I’ve had four or five really great years here. In 1977, we had the “Big White Machine.” That was a lot of fun. Then in ‘83, of course, we had Ron Kittle and the boys hitting the ball onto the roof of the old park. 1994 was also a great year. But one of my proudest moments was when I got called out there on Opening Day to receive the championship ring. I will never forget that.
You’re known as one of the true go-to guys in the world of groundskeeping. You’ve consulted on multiple major league baseball and NFL fields and even built the first natural turf soccer fields in Saudi Arabia. Any accomplishment you are especially proud of?
RB: Saudi Arabia is an experience I will never forget — working with royalty. And they treated me royally as well. But with the exception of the births of my children, getting the championship ring was probably the most special.
At Opening Day this year, you actually received one of the loudest ovations.
RB: Yeah, I’ve got the fans tricked. They think I know what I’m doing.
Many Sox fans were introduced to you as “The Sodfather” for the first time during the team’s “Traditions” commercial a few years ago. You also had your own bobblehead night. What is that kind of attention like for you?
RB: You know, I’m not a big attention grabber. I didn’t even know all that promotional stuff was going on, to be honest with you. Someone told me in the spring, “Do you know we’re having a bobblehead day for you?” I had no idea. But I thought it was kind of cool.
You have a son and a daughter. Do either have any interest in following in your footsteps or is the future of the Bossard groundskeeping dynasty at risk?
RB: Brandon comes out and he helps me the way I did with my dad. In fact, there are a lot of very emotional times for me when I bring him out here and he’ll help me with the hoses and all that, because it reminds me of when I was with my dad.
1. Your feelings about Astroturf and other synthetic field surfaces?
One part of me hates it, however, it’s needed for the little leagues.
2. Favorite ballplayers you’ve gotten to know over the years?
No question, if I had to pick five, Robin Ventura is first. Even when he was not with the Sox for those years, I always kept in touch with him. I know his family, his mom and dad really well. Tommy John. I’ll never forget Tommy John. I’m very close with him. Tony LaRussa. He and I are very close. We’ll always be friends. Ozzie Guillen, of course, how can I not say Ozzie Guillen.
3. Favorite film/TV show of all time?
Movie, Indiana Jones
TV Show, Hogan’s Heroes
4. Three to five words that best describe you?
Type A person.
5. Best advice you were ever given and by whom?
“Don’t believe the hype,” from my dad.
6. Favorite sports team other than the Sox?
It would have to be the Purdue Boilermakers, my alma mater, and that’d be it. That or the UCLA Bruins.
7. Hobbies outside of work?
8. Favorite places to go, things to do, in Lemont and the western suburbs?
My wife and I go out to dinner quite a bit. Different restaurants all over.