Kalani Simpson Sidelines

Kalani Simpson

Toma’s turf general
a perfectionist

GEORGE Toma is so good at what he does, which is work magic on athletic fields large and small, that the famed shortstop A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez, once tried to hire Toma just to take care of his area between second and third.

Why not?

"He has a personal valet," Toma says of the $250 million man. "Personal dietitian."

Personal dirt guy.

Toma didn't take the job. A field on Maui was calling, it needed his labor of love more than A-Rod did. But Toma understands. He has them, too.

Personal dirt guys.

Guys who are so good at what they do you always want them with you.

"If I had to go to war in an AstroTurf field," Toma is fond of saying, "I always wanted Bud Garner on my side."

Garner, the industry expert on the stuff, is retired in Hilo now. And Toma, who can be found these days turning an even deeper shade of golden brown under an Aloha Stadium sun (he's like a rotisserie chicken), wouldn't have taken on this latest FieldTurf installation project without another of his guys.

He insisted.

He needed to have him.

"Everybody's after him," Toma says.

The guy is so good, the story goes, that when Toma was telling NFL VP of special events Jim Steeg about the need to sign up this MVP for the Aloha Stadium project, Steeg said, "Oh no. Not another Toma!"

Another one.

The real Toma tells a story. Seattle's stadium, with FieldTurf, was the third-rated field in the NFL (behind two with natural grass) in a player survey. Detroit, another FieldTurf surface, was No. 11.

The difference?

"Pierre wasn't there!" Toma says, and that explains it all.

IT'S A GOOD thing that this project was able to get Pierre Alarie, Toma says. Alarie's an expert. A perfectionist. The kind of guy you want on a job when the plans haven't caught up to reality. "He's an innovator," Toma says. Which is a good thing, because plans seldom do.

Already, the field has been lowered by 12 inches, so the goal posts had to be lowered, too.

Now comes the hard part. Most of the FieldTurf is laid out at Aloha Stadium, but here's where it gets tricky. Here's where another Toma, where a personal dirt guy, earns his pay. Anybody can roll out a surface. But Aloha Stadium is football/baseball and giant moving parts. It's a ground-breaking project. FieldTurf hasn't seen anything like this.

"Nobody ever did this before," Toma says. "Nobody."

So Alarie has them making movable trays and cutting rubber Geo Tile mats and working with drainage and glue and fitting it all together perfectly. Detail work. And it's even more complicated than it sounds. Even the best surface means nothing if it isn't done just right.

"It took this long," Toma says, "and you can't screw it up now."

Time for a few words from Alarie, but the man begins working at 6 a.m. and he never stops. "Hey, Pierre!" Toma says.

"I don't have time!"

Toma tells him to take a break, talk to the writer for a minute.

"I'm serious!" Alarie says in a French-sounding accent. (Where is he from? "Vancouver, British Columbia").

Toma, the world-famous Pro Football Hall of Famer with a biography (titled "The Nitty Gritty Dirt Man") coming out soon, counters, "How do you expect to be in my book?"

But Alarie never loses focus, never slackens pace, and is soon ShopVac-ing the smallest of pebbles before he lets his crew put the next square of Geo Tile in its place.

"See what I say about a perfectionist?" Toma says proudly. "He won't lay it down."

IT SHOULD BE another three weeks before the project is finally finished. By the time you read this, all the FieldTurf could be snugly fitted onto the Aloha Stadium floor. They're going to love this field, Toma promises. The players and the kids and June Jones, they're all going to love it. He'll make sure of that.

The responsibility for it weighs heavily on Toma. It's his project, the green light was given in his name.

"I'm on Pierre," Toma says. "And Pierre's on me."

Even if you're George Toma, it's good to have a personal dirt guy.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at


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