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Chatham’s Caretaker: Robbie Grenier’s 3-decade legacy epitomizes Fred Ebbett Award selection

by Cooper Andrews
Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Chatham’s Caretaker: Robbie Grenier’s 3-decade legacy epitomizes Fred Ebbett Award selection
His smile beams across his face as he pounds the passenger’s seat of his golf cart, an invitation to hop on. When there’s a new friend to meet, no one is more excited than he is.

He takes a sip of his Dunkin’ iced coffee — he has one every day — and asks how your day is going. It doesn’t matter how you answer. He’ll still find a way to make you laugh.

He drives through the opened cart door of the outfield chain-link fence and takes you on a joyride. He bursts out stories of the old days, and may proceed to talk your ear off about NASCAR, his pet Parakeet or how he’s a former Eagle Scout. Most special of all, he tells you about his immense contributions to the ballpark.

Putting up protective netting behind, re-constructing the outfield wall, helping paint the Chatham logo behind home plate, even making sure Coca-Cola deliveries arrive on time. He goes through it all. It’s not because he’s selfish. He simply wants you to share in his unwavering passion — because he hopes you’ll love it just as much as he does.

He’s Robbie Grenier. And he’s welcoming you to Veterans Field. Who better to do the job than its loyal steward of the past three decades?

“It’s just nice being involved,” Robbie said with an ear-to-ear smile, sweat pouring down his face as he admired his baseball diamond on a cloudless late June morning.

“It’s a blast. I’m always getting to do what I love doing.”

Robbie, the Chatham Anglers’ groundskeeper, is forever embedded in the history of the organization. Robbie does it all, from preparing the entire playing field for each season to fixing every single problem that arises at the ballpark. Anglers President Steve West said every employee is replaceable, including himself. Except for Robbie. He’s irreplaceable, and a beloved member of the Chatham community.

The 52-year-old groundskeeper is unmistakably humble. Though, he’s finally earning proper recognition.

Robbie will receive the Fred Ebbett Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame this coming November for his dedication to the Anglers organization. His name will be forever included among some of the most well-renowned figures in baseball, a fitting tribute to a Chatham legend who stands in a category all by himself.

“He just does so much for the organization,” West said. “He knows where everything is, he helps the coaches out, he helps me out, he’s a great liaison with most of the people in town, he reminds me of things that I really don’t remember … And he’s done it for 30 years.”

 

Chatham groundskeeper Robbie Grenier paints red, white and blue stars around home plate at Veterans Field ahead of Chatham's July 4, 2024, matchup against Orleans / Photograph by Ella Tovey
 
News of Robbie’s honor was broken to him by West before the season. Robbie recalled a day where West entered his shed, located past the left-field corner of Veterans Field. West told him he and his wife, Susan, are making a trip from their home in Texas to Chatham in November. 

“I knew something was wrong,” Robbie remembered thinking.

He was confused. He knows the West’s are avid Texas Longhorn football fans. Why would they leave in the heart of the season? But West quelled Robbie’s concerns. He told him that he’d be receiving the Ebbett Award at the CCBL Hall of Fame breakfast.

West announced Robbie’s incoming honor from the Cape League Hall of Fame to most of the Anglers’ organization on June 22 during a team luncheon at Chatham Bars Inn. A’s players, coaches and employees alike lauded Robbie with a raucous standing ovation, to which Robbie could only react by painting a wide grin on his face.

First-year manager Jeremy “Sheets” Sheetinger took the microphone to praise him as well. This one led to an even louder reception.

“We know we’re all working for Robbie, right?” Sheetinger shouted to the crowd, who all happily turned to a gleaming Robbie in the back corner of the room.

***

Robbie remains an integral part of the A’s day-to-day field operations under Sheetinger. He even receives groundskeeping help from the new managerial staff, which he said rarely happens.

For Robbie, it’s been a fresh reminder of his early days: when Chatham all-time greats John Schiffner and Matt Fincher manned dugouts year in and year out. Those are among who he considers to be the gold standard of the organization. They’re also two of his best friends.

“He was my right-hand man for all of those 25 years,” Schiffner, the Anglers’ manager from 1993-2017, said of Robbie. “For what he's done for his age and time in Chatham, he's absolutely fantastic.”

Schiffner was integral in Robbie joining Chatham. Robbie graduated from Nauset Regional High School in Eastham, Massachusetts, and originally planned on going into the trades.

He instead enrolled in summer courses that Cape Cod Tech (Harwich, Massachusetts) offered. There, he picked up work at Chatham High School for its hockey program. He was mostly there to tape sticks. Yet he was known for doing everything that was asked of him.

That’s what got Schiffner so intrigued when a mutual friend told him about Robbie. Upon meeting the man himself, Schiffner was sold.

“‘He can be great. He’ll do anything. You ask him to do anything, he’ll love it,’” Schiffner recalls of the recommendation he received on behalf of Robbie. “He was absolutely right. From there, it was just a match made in heaven.”

Robbie hasn’t left. Schiffner said Robbie quickly became “that guy” around the organization. If anyone needed something, Robbie was there in a jiffy. He continued to improve his work on the field as the years went by — raking the infield, laying tarp, trimming the grass, fixing chains in the fence and so much more.

Fincher, an assistant coach for Chatham from 1997-2006, said Robbie bounced around the park so much that it became a joke between him and Schiffner. They never knew where Robbie was. They laughed about it, but they didn’t worry.

“If the sun comes up, you’re going to see Robbie at some point,” Fincher said.




Chatham groundskeeper Robbie Grenier poses with his broom in front of his shed, located in the left-field corner of Veterans Field / Photograph by Ella Tovey
 
His dedication to serving Veterans Field is palpable. Robbie works on the field for more than half the winter, Schiffner revealed, always finding new structures to fix, mail to retrieve and new ideas on how to improve. Sometimes, he drives around just to make sure the field looks good to him.

“He says, ‘Look, people drive up and people know they’re going to see the field,’” Schiffner said, recalling the words of Robbie, who wanted the field to sparkle during cold, overcast winters. “And I said, ‘OK, whatever you want to do.’”

As the man in charge, Robbie occasionally takes matters to unforeseen levels. Robbie’s not someone who lets limitations define him, however. Especially when it came to his cherished John Deere Gator.

He’d desired to drive a Gator for quite some time. He loved its appearance, and he adored everything about the John Deere brand and its bright green and yellow colorway. Yet what he loved the most was the Gator’s efficiency. Robbie needed something stronger and with more torque to haul equipment and materials around the field all day.

The problem was that it cost $9,000. Robbie wasn’t going to pay for it. The A’s weren’t, either.

Robbie bravely went about finding a solution on his own. His strategy was unthinkable.

He began to raise money by trading in plastic cans and glass bottles to can redemption centers. Robbie stored them in the basket of his bike. Throughout the day, he scooped up whatever he could gather, wherever he could find it. At the field, on rides back home, when he’d go grab a bite to eat at Cumberland Farms — absolutely anywhere. He was determined to make his dream come true by any means necessary.

“It was something to get the ball rolling,” Robbie said of his master plan.

He went into action right before West became the President of the Chatham Athletic Association after the 2009 season, succeeding Peter Troy. Robbie said that Troy warned him and West about his plot to buy the Gator. He didn’t express much confidence in the idea, considering how outlandish it seemed.

“Rob, are you nuts?” Robbie remembers Troy saying. “You can’t buy an expensive piece of equipment like that with soda cans and beer cans.”

Robbie proved him wrong. It took about two years filled with generating no more than a couple bucks on a good day of collection. Yet, Robbie racked up approximately $3,000, to the surprise of everyone other than himself.

Word spread of Robbie’s herculean achievement. Townsfolk came together to donate substantial amounts of money to the Anglers for Robbie to have enough funds to buy the Gator. West said community donations increased the total to about $6,000. Robbie was on the doorstep.

He didn’t have to wait much longer, though. A board member of the CAA heard about the movement as well, and offered to pay off the remainder of the price tag, according to West.

To this day, Robbie still uses his Gator whenever he’s working on Veterans Field. It came with plenty of hours and diligent trash cleanup, yet Robbie conquered a seemingly impossible task.

“The Gator is one of many of Robbie’s gifts to the organization,” West said. “We just had a golf cart before, and now that we’ve got this, it’s absolutely amazing. I don’t know how we lived without it for so long.”

 


In Chatham's 2015 Fourth of July Parade, Robbie Grenier poses with Anglers staff members on his John Deere Gator as he waves at crowd members / Photograph courtesy of Diane Donahue

The groundkeeper’s quest for the Gator showcased his everlasting adoration for the work he does. He takes immense pride in it. Everyone knows Robbie is the boss. One of Schiffner’s teams found that out the hard way.

The former Chatham skipper remembers a day with various puddles flooding the infield after a night of rainfall. Schiffner said one of his assistant coaches heard big sponges were being given away in Dennis, which he wanted to use to soak the puddles. The assistant told Schiffner and a small group of guys to get the lawn mowed, chalk the lines and fix the mound, but don’t touch the puddles until he’s back.

Robbie wasn’t there at the time. When he arrived, he was apoplectic.

“‘Get the damn water off my field!’” Schiffner recalled Robbie shouting. “‘We got a game tonight!’”

He couldn’t believe they were waiting to clear off the water. Those working on the field stopped in their tracks upon Robbie’s tirade. Whatever he says goes. Even if he makes an honest mistake.

According to Schiffner, Robbie once received a call from the Brewster Whitecaps’ groundskeeper. They asked if Robbie had any mound clay to spare. He happily answered yes as he’d just purchased a new batch. Discussion continued and Robbie ended up selling the clay to Brewster.

Schiffner then realized Chatham needed the clay. They were going on the road later that night and needed to replace the Veterans Field mound in preparation for a home game the following day. So he called Robbie, asking “What did you do?”

Robbie simply said Brewster needed the clay badly. It slipped his mind that he needed it, too. He broke down apologizing to Schiffner, who asked him how much he sold it for.

“I gave it to him for $17.95,” Robbie replied.

“Robbie, we paid $21.93 for it!” Schiffner retorted.

That moment was pure Robbie, Schiffner said. He may have felt sorry after the fact. Though Robbie didn’t think twice about his decision. He knew he could give somebody a helping hand, and that’s what mattered most.

***

Robbie’s received a trade-off for his unabating pursuit to assist others. His support system is vast. It’s not just within the Anglers, but in the Chatham community as well. That’s how he met Diane Donahue, one of his closest friends.

Donahue is a realtor in Cape Cod. She used to take her kids to Chatham A’s games. Back in 2005, she met Robbie while sitting next to each other along the third-base line. They immediately connected, Donahue said, as the two often sat together and talked at games throughout the next few years.

At the time, Robbie lived with his mother, Louise. She died just as Robbie and Donahue were getting to know each other. It left a void for Robbie. Though, in summer of 2009, Donahue was there to fill Robbie’s void.

“He became like a surrogate son,” Donahue said of Robbie.

Donahue helped him ease into life without his mother. She helped him find housing and made sure he had the proper setting to live comfortably alone. She even invited Robbie to join her family for spaghetti dinners every Wednesday.

Some of Donahue’s fondest memories of Robbie are when she sees him ride his bike over to her house while displaying a big smile.

“He’s just such a special part of my family,” Donahue said.

She said she lost some contact with Robbie in recent years. Donahue got busy with her real estate career, and Robbie was more than comfortable living on his own, with plenty of company from his beloved pet parakeet.

Its name is Poncho 2 — dubbed after Robbie’s father’s parakeet, Poncho 1, who died long ago. Robbie feeds Poncho 2 daily. He trained it to repeat certain words and phrases while it also learned how to mimic Robbie’s own actions. He got it to fly down from its perch and rest on Robbie’s shoulder, impressing each and every guest Robbie hosts.

She wishes she could see Robbie more. However, it thrills Donahue that he has something outside of just Veterans Field to provide unconditional love for.

“It’s his companion who he comes home to every day,” Donahue said. “It gives him a lot of comfort. It gives him a purpose. It’s something for him to feel good about.”

Donahue bumped into Robbie soon after he’d found out about the Ebbett Award. Of course, they ran into each other as Robbie was grabbing his morning iced coffee. Donahue said she heard Robbie screaming her name from a mile away as he told her to come talk to him. Everybody around was looking at them, Donahue said.

Robbie was too excited not to spill the good news.

“You have to come to the Hall of Fame this year,” Robbie told Donahue.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I’m getting an award,” Robbie answered with tears of joy in his eyes, proud to share the accomplishment with his motherly figure.

Donahue said she will attend the ceremony in November. She doesn’t think there will be a dry eye there. In the meantime, though, Donahue will work to bring back the tradition of Wednesday night spaghetti dinners with Robbie.




Robbie Grenier paces around Veterans Field prior to Chatham's July 4, 2024, game against Orleans. He always makes sure the playing field is in pristine condition before first pitch. / Photograph by Ella Tovey

***

Robbie gravitates toward family. He values the relationships he forges with people more than anything else in life, even more than his yearly trips to the Daytona 500. The strong kinships he’s built in Chatham resemble a real family atmosphere. A mother in Donahue. Two great friends in Schiffner and Fincher. A brother in West. It allows him to totally base his livelihood around the Anglers organization.

And Robbie’s dedication to the Chatham A’s — his family — is abundantly clear.

West said Robbie’s the instrumental piece to any major project that’s done at Veterans Field. Robbie’s there year-round, so he’s available to oversee construction that’s typically done during the offseason when West and others are back in their respective hometowns.

Robbie was there for the 2019 bleacher renovation, which was a half-million-dollar project, to make sure everything ran smoothly. He directly worked with the contractors and construction workers to ensure the renovations were up to Robbie’s standards. He did the same thing back in 2014 when new lights were installed at the ballpark.

Plus, Robbie is always around to take care of the little things. He helps get the field ready before Anglers youth baseball camps. He goes through plenty of angst when dealing with the Coca-Cola delivery people to try and fill up his soda fridge on time. He’s also the first person West calls when there’s a grease fire by the Veterans Field Snack Shack. West often sees Robbie race over to the grill during the day and pour salt on it to prevent a catastrophe.

“I don't think the word ‘No’ comes out of his mouth unless somebody says, ‘Go drag the field in a lightning storm,’” Schiffner said of Robbie. “He’s phenomenal.”

Robbie’s passion has rubbed off on the player’s he’s met over the last three decades. Schiffner said his former players constantly check in with him on how Robbie’s doing. Whether it was someone in the late 1990s or the early 2010s, Robbie made an imprint.

“He was part of the team,” Schiffner said. “They knew Robbie’s heart was deep and it was all great friendships.”

Players greet Robbie when he walks by, and shout him out if they see him riding his Gator around the warning track. Schiffner said Robbie would talk to the players about a variety of topics like golf, fishing, NASCAR and even just life on the Cape. Robbie’s approachability made him a timeless figure despite ever-changing rosters.

Even with Sheetinger’s first-year group, players are fully bought in. Unabating chants of “Robbie” break out with regularity, and each player will not hesitate to pay their respects with a simple fist-bump.




Two days before Chatham's 2024 home opener, Robbie Grenier (middle), Anglers President Steve West (left) and manager Jeremy "Sheets" Sheetinger (right) work on spray painting Chatham's logo behind home plate / Photograph by Ella Tovey

Robbie’s appreciation for everyone throughout the organization is genuine, Fincher said. Some of the best portions of Fincher’s day happened when he was chatting it up with Robbie before a game. Fincher’s players felt similarly, he said. It was a prerequisite. Everyone wanted to hear what Robbie had to say when he showed his face.

“He’s part of the make-up of Chatham,” Fincher said. “Just because he’s always there. He was one of the people that you counted on to see every single day, there’s a symmetry to it. There’s a normalcy. I always knew that at some point, I was gonna go down and talk to Robbie for a little bit. I couldn’t change that.”

Robbie’s been with the Anglers for one championship: 1998, Chatham’s last CCBL title. He still holds on tight to the ring he got from it. It’s a prideful symbol for him. He’s even used it to try and inspire the team. Robbie created a poster that he stamped to the A’s dugout, which shows his championship ring as the prize the Anglers must work toward each day.

The way Robbie marvels over his ring shows how deeply he cares about the on-field product. It led to what Robbie considers to be one of his favorite moments in Chatham — the final home game of the 2023 season.

That summer, Anglers weathered a difficult campaign. It was filled with managerial changes and ended with a missed postseason. Their season was essentially over by the A’s home finale on August 1, 2023. But on that day, Robbie chose to pump the players up the only way he knew how.

He pulled Chatham’s coaches out of the Veterans Field dugout and solely spoke to the players. He was tired of losing. So, Robbie made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

“If we win the last home game, you guys are going to dump water on me while I’m in my Gator,” Robbie recalled saying. “I’m holding you guys to that.”

The Anglers won for Robbie. They defeated Brewster 7-4, the third victory of a four-game winning streak to close the season on a high note. Robbie was enthralled. He gleefully rode the Gator that he miraculously purchased from his shed to left field, positioned in line with the Veterans Field scoreboard for his postgame bath.

Players charged at Robbie with a hoard of large Gatorade water coolers. A can’t-miss grin stayed strapped onto the groundskeeper’s face as he and his vehicle became completely drenched in water while the A’s roster jumped around to celebrate with him.

Chatham was eliminated from the playoffs by then. Normally, moral victories like that still mean business as usual afterward. Yet, the spectacle which took place after that routine win was a moment of endless euphoria.

All because of Robbie.

“It was all in recognition of him,” West said. “I know he enjoyed that very much.”




Chatham players dump water on Robbie Grenier after the Anglers beat Brewster on August 1, 2023, in their last game of the summer at Veterans Field / Photograph by Emma Connelly

***

Robbie is the lifeblood of the Chatham Anglers. His baptism at Veterans Field sealed that sentiment. His warm and refreshing personality spans a countless number of A’s players and coaches who’ve experienced his authenticity. The stories of Robbie’s run as the organizations’ devoted guardian and his own, long-winded tales of his trials and tribulations are eternal.

The future Fred Ebbett Award winner lives up to the likes of Schiffner and Fincher, who’s respective No. 23 and No. 15 are retired by the Anglers. Those guys are Chatham legends, Robbie will tell you. Ed Baird’s No. 19 and Ed Lyons’ No. 29 fit the same mold.

Though, there’s another man who’s earned the right to be hailed as a legend. He may not pitch, hit, field or manage. He may not even have a number. But Veterans Field wouldn’t be the same without him.

He’s Robbie — Chatham’s caretaker.

“You know, he’s not an on-the-field performer like these guys were,” West said as he peered his head upward to gaze at Chatham’s four retired numbers, donning a wide smile.

“If there’s an off-the-field Hall of Fame, he’s number one on my list.”