Gozola Sr. has passion for keeping youth baseball fields in perfect shape
After spending a quarter century as the operations director for the Rochester Youth Baseball Association, Mike Gozola Sr. is stepping away from the daily volunteer duties after the 2022 season.
On a 30-degree day this past spring, Mike Gozola Sr. was at the Rochester Baseball Complex.
The wind was howling, but the fields need to be prepared for the upcoming season, so the 71-year-old was zip-tying windscreens on fences.
It was among the many taskless chores that Gozola Sr. did out of a labor of love for the Rochester Youth Baseball Association. And it was a scene that could have played out almost any spring or summer day over the past 25 years. But now after approximately 40 years of putting in time for the RYBA in one capacity or another, 2022 will be Gozola Sr.'s final year as the operations director for the youth program.
“When no one else would do it he was always the one to step up and do things beyond the call of duty,” Rochester Youth Baseball Association president Mike Vance said. “He was just able to get things done and cared about the fields, cared about the programs and cared about the kids.”
No duty was too small for the meticulous Gozola Sr. He takes enormous pride in the youth baseball fields being in great shape and ready to be played on at all times.
“That’s part of the job,” Gozola Sr. said. “When people come to the baseball field they just see the painted wall and the sheet rock. We do everything that’s behind the sheet rock. There’s just a lot that happens behind the scenes so that when people show up at the ballpark they have a nice field to play on.”
Gozola Sr. was an unpaid volunteer as the operations director for the RYBA for the past 25 years. In that position he had a wide range of responsibilities. He would oversee the hiring and training of the young staff, which included two or three full-time employees each summer and maybe up to 15 field workers to help with weekend tournaments.
He would train the staff to do weekly tasks to keep the fields in very good shape. There was also general maintenance and preparing the fields for games and of course taking care of equipment. He was also at youth tournaments held throughout the baseball season.
He developed a relationship with the Rochester Parks and Recreation Department, including Mike Scharber, to keep the fields ready for use on a daily basis. The Rochester Baseball Complex on the Rochester Community and Technical College campus features six fields of three different sizes to accommodate the level of play.
“I had an interest and I was good at it,” Gozola Sr. said. “And there was a need and it developed over time.”
Gozola Sr. grew up in the Twin Cities and was self-sufficient when it came to repairs. He has lived in Rochester since 1975 and even though he was raised in a city he said: “You have to have a little farm boy in you to do this.”
Besides keeping the fields groomed for games during the regular season, the RYBA also puts on about five to seven tournaments each year and another one or two state tournaments. And during long tournament hours spent at a baseball complex over the years, he often received compliments on the great conditions of the fields.
“My only big claim to fame is we have never canceled a tournament because of weather,” he said. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in looking Mother Nature in the eye.”
Gozola Sr. even invented a machine — "The Dorothy" — to help with water maintenance to make it easier to dry out after a rainfall. He has built four for baseball fields and another for the Rochester youth softball program.
“You have to get the water off the field,” he said. “If all you do is push it around, all you do is make oatmeal.
“But we always managed to pull it off,” he added. “We learned how to tame the elements a little bit to keep that going.”
Gozola Sr. said working with the young employees and dealing with the challenging weather have been the most satisfying part of his job over the years.
“He’s going to be dearly missed,” Vance said.
Gozola Sr. is not stepping down completely, however. He will remain on the RYBA Board of Directors, train new employees and maintain equipment so it is ready to go each spring. But he will not oversee the daily operations or put in long grueling hours on the weekends.
“I probably won’t be showing up at tournaments anymore, I’m too old for that,” he said. “It’s time to let the young guys come up to do it.”