Harpers' labor of love

Walt Harper and Ty Harper like to get dirty on the Corona del Mar High baseball field.

Walt doesn't play baseball. Ty last played for the Sea Kings 13 years ago.

That hasn't stopped the father and son from their labor of love: maintaining the CdM field. These groundskeepers deserve an episode on the "Dirty Jobs" show.

Thanks to the tandem, the Sea Kings have a home-field advantage. They tend to win more often than they lose at home.

The field is also a winner. CdM earned the Field of the Year in the western region by the National High School Baseball Coaches Assn., Coach John Emme said.

At the team's banquet earlier this month, Emme gave all the credit to two guys. Walt and Ty are responsible for working on the field throughout the season and in the off-season.

They don't take days off, not even on Walt's 60th birthday. He planned to celebrate his special day last week the best way he knows how, by getting dirty.

"You tend to downplay your birthdays the older you get," Walt said while laughing.

Walt prefers to spend his birthdays on the field. That is where he watched Ty and his other son, Aaron, fall in love with the game of baseball and become men.

Ty and Aaron also helped the Sea Kings win CIF Southern Section Division IV titles in separate years. How many dads can say their two sons claimed section crowns while playing at Angel Stadium and Dodger Stadium?

Not many.

"Those are probably the biggest highs I've ever had," Walt said of seeing Ty and Aaron win section titles in 1999 and 2004, respectively.

The Sea Kings grew accustom to performing on a big-league field. Walt designed it that way on their high school field.

For seven years, Walt said he learned how to keep up a field from a guy who worked on the Angels' field. Walt said he went to work for the guy for free.

"I had the day off," said Walt, who delivered newspapers early in the mornings, clearing his schedule to become an apprentice. "It was something I always wanted to do, work on fields. My kids were playing on them and I wanted to make them better."

Walt wasn't kidding.

Once he figured out how to upgrade and replace fields, he became his own boss in the early 1990s. By the way, he bought the house and all the heavy equipment from the man who taught him everything.

"The equipment we have is straight from Angel Stadium," said Walt, who has a couple of tractors and a mower that costs as much as a new Toyota Prius, but it uses way more fuel than the hybrid car. "It's our job to keep the field as pristine as possible. The hard work is gratifying."

The CdM field looks as impressive as Ty did playing on it during his heyday, when he shared the CIF Southern Section Division IV Player of the Year award in 1999 after he batted .505 with 12 home runs and 37 runs batted in and went 7-1 with two saves and a 2.81 earned-run average.

Ty said he always appreciated the amount of work his dad put into the field.

Back when Ty suited up for the Sea Kings, his dad didn't just show up to watch him play. Hours before Ty took the field, his father sweated on it. He mowed the grass, dragged the dirt, swept the infield, and chalked the batter's box and the first- and third-base lines.

The guy doing much of that work now is Ty, a 31-year-old.

Ty never really saw himself working for his dad after college. He said he graduated from Pepperdine nine years ago with a degree in kinesiology.

He was no longer a baseball player, so he needed a new job, possibly as a teacher.

But being in a classroom wasn't in his future. His father offered the best alternative: a job outside with him on the fields.

"Baseball has given me my life, all of my opportunities," Ty said while working on a field in Newport Coast one afternoon. "I'm still a part of the game [as a freshmen coach at CdM] and me and my dad give back to the community by making the city's baseball fields better."

The two maintain many fields in the area, from Little League, to high schools ones at Sage Hill and Estancia.

The crown jewel is at CdM. Emme said the field is now up for the national award from the National High School Baseball Coaches Assn.

To see why that is, you just have to look at all the stains on the clothes worn by Walt and Ty at the end of the day. Getting dirty is worth it to the father and son.

david.carrillo@latimes.com

Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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