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Meet Murray Cook, MLB's Go-To Stadium Savant

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Pre-game at Fort Bragg. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Whether Major League Baseball is building a stadium in Europe, the Far East, Latin America or Fort Bragg, one constant has been Murray Cook.

Major League Baseball’s field coordinator and consultant has spent the better part of 30 years traveling to more than 60 countries.

“This world is really small and it’s definitely not flat,” said Cook, on a phone call from Tokyo. “I know that because I’m able to fly east, and I can go all the way back around to where I was.”

He got his first taste of international travel in 1989 when as a groundskeeper in the minors he was asked to go with a group of players from the Double-A Eastern League to Russia, when it was still the U.S.S.R. At one stop, he had to build a pitcher’s mound on the fly.

“I fell in love with the international part of doing this stuff,” Cook said. “And one thing led to another.”

Cook is now the president of BrightView’s Sports Turf Division and MLB’s right-hand man on stadium building both domestically and around the world. He has assisted on projects for the Olympics, the World Baseball Classic, and he also travels to evaluate facilities wherever major or minor league players are playing – whether it’s winter ball or the Pan American games.

“Let’s just say this, I know how to get around an airport,” he said.

Cook grew up in the shadow of the minor league ballpark in Salem, Va., The Single-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates got smart and hired him at age 13, after he ran up a big bill selling them home run balls he’d caught in a neighbor’s yard behind the outfield fence.

He started out as a ball boy before finding his passion with the grounds crew and has been working on baseball fields since. He spent seven years looking after the spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla. for the Braves and Expos, when MLB first made him a consultant.

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Cook spear-headed the effort to build a 12,500 seat stadium on an abandoned golf course on Fort Bragg in a 120-day period for a July 3rd 2016 game between the Braves and Marlins. He’s pieced together sod delivered mistakenly in 4-by-4 inch pieces to Havana, Cuba for the 2016 exhibition series there with secret service from both the U.S. and Cuba looking on.

He and his BrightView team resurfaced the National Mall in Washington, D.C., prepping it for the traffic of some 25 million visitors. Lately, he’s spent the spring jet-setting back and forth to Monterrey, Tokyo and London for MLB’s international series this season.

MLB has a tremendous resource in Cook, said MLB’s senior vice president for international business Jim Small, who first collaborated with Cook on a minor league exhibition game in London in 1993.

“Murray has the technical knowledge and the cultural sensitivity,” Small said. “What makes Murray special is that he’s done it in so many places. He has the cultural element down. We have to be careful when we do things, like in the Tokyo Dome. They have groundskeepers who have been there for years, and they’re very good at what they do. We have to respect that and not just come in and say, ‘We’re Major League Baseball, get out of the way.’ Murray is great at that, and he does it here (in Japan.) He does it in Mexico. He’s doing it in London.”

Cook is quick to credit the crews he works with both locally and abroad. He also points to all the advancements in technology for making his job easier. Cook said education in sports field management has come a long way, as have improvements in everything from both synthetic and Bermuda grasses to laser tools for grading.

“They keep throwing you curveballs and the industry comes up with these solutions,” Cook said. “The evolution of all that is really cool.”

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