Hartman finds his true calling

Former Triton works field for Houston Astros, earns World Series ring

HOUSTON – Ben Hartman knew there was no chance he would ever step on a professional baseball field as a player.

But that didn’t keep him from achieving his dream.

Hartman, a 2017 graduate of Iowa Central, was a member of the Houston Astros’ grounds crew as an intern last season as the team captured their first-ever World Series title by defeating the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. He landed a position back with the franchise this season, and recently was given a ring from the historic run.

“It still feels like a dream,” Hartman said. “Honestly, it hasn’t set in yet that I have a World Series ring.”

After graduating from Smithville High School just outside of Kansas City, Hartman came to the Tritons and was a member of the 2016 baseball team. Injuries, though, called a halt to his playing days, but the transition had already started by that time.

“My sophomore year at Iowa Central I was able to take off with my true passion and that was taking care of the baseball field,” Hartman said. “I was still very much involved with the baseball team, just in a different way.

“Scott Birdsell couldn’t have been a better advisor and teacher for myself and the turf program. The amount of information and skills we learned in just a two-year program was huge. I also was able to work on the grounds crew under Toby Beneke for the school and that was also extremely beneficial to me. Being able to go to school and work in my (profession) at the same time was key. Also, the relationships I built and experiences I gained were very rewarding.”

Upon graduating from Iowa Central, Hartman applied for a fall internship with the Astros that would see him work with the team from September through December last year. He arrived just one week after Hurricane Harvey struck the area and right in time for the postseason run.

The Astros, who won 101 games and the American League West division title, won both of their American League Division Series games at Minute Maid Park over the Red Sox in front of 43,000-plus fans. They also went 4-0 in the AL Championship Series vs. the Yankees, including a 4-0 victory in Game 7 to clinch a spot in the World Series.

In the World Series, Houston went 2-1 at home, claiming a Game 5 victory in 10 innings, 13-12. That was a moment that Hartman will never forget as the game featured two elite pitchers in Dallas Keuchel for the Astros and Clayton Kershaw for the Dodgers.

“That was just a roller-coaster of emotions over five-plus hours,” said Hartman, who celebrated the clinching game with his co-workers while the team was in Los Angeles. “If you would’ve told me a Keuchel-Kershaw matchup would’ve ended in a combined 25 runs, I would have said you’re crazy. I was expecting to be out of there by 10 p.m. after a quick 1-0 game, but that wasn’t the case at all.”

Hartman heads to the ballpark late in the afternoon for games to being pre-game work with the other crew members. When he was working as an intern, he would be there from early in the morning until well after the final pitch, helping with everything from the base lines to batting practice cages to in-game work.

“I don’t think people realize how much dirt work we do,” Hartman said. “Our goal is to make the field level. We want the transition from grass to dirt to be seamless. It needs to be perfect – if you don’t get it right the first time, we do it again until it’s right.”

The experience of working with the organization has also given Hartman the opportunity to get to know some of the top players in the game today.

“When people don’t see is that these are just real dudes too,” he said. “All the guys are great. I’ve had a conversation about a ‘Juicy Lucy’ (a famous cheeseburger) with Evan Gattis. Lance McCullers will chat with us right before he’s about to go out and pitch. Dallas Keuchel and I have talked about snowboarding.

“It’s just random stuff like that and it’s not always about baseball. It’s cool because the guys appreciate us and realize what we do is important.”

Houston is currently hosting the Texas Rangers in the Lone Star Series. The two teams play Sunday night in the featured game at night on ESPN.