I am the… Head Groundskeeper
What piece of equipment could you not live without? Our mower is the backbone of our fleet. In our case, it’s one of our oldest pieces [of equipment] and something that I hope to replace in the next year or two — a 2006 Toro Groundsmaster 3500-D rotary deck sidewinder. We mow the outfield with it at either 0.75 or 1 inch, depending on [the month].
“If I weren’t a field care pro, I would be …” Either a sound engineer or production/stage manager with a band, music venue or theater. I spent four-plus years on the road with a band called Red Wanting Blue while I was in college. Not only do I love music, but I love all the production that goes into putting on a show. The same can be said for the theatre. I saw “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Pantages Theater in Toronto when I was young — I’d love to work behind the scenes on a high-end production like that.
What path led you to a career in sports turf? Ever since I was old enough to push a roller, I would mow and then roll patterns into our yard and my grandma’s yard. Growing up, I helped take care of local little league baseball fields and our high school field. I received a degree in turfgrass science at Ohio State and have worked on professional baseball fields for 17 years now.
What are the biggest challenges in maintaining Huntington Park? Managing people — whether it’s keeping the staff happy and productive on a daily basis, or hiring to fill the staff in the offseason. I’m incredibly lucky to have hired a fantastic assistant, Dalton, last February.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on the job? There’s more to our job than the field. Yes, we care greatly about the grass and our field. It’s incredibly important to us, but to everyone else, it’s just a small part of the big picture. It’s important for us to realize that and make sure we’re working towards that big picture, instead of only caring about the field.
How do you predict the sports field industry will evolve in the future? The sports turf industry has come such an incredibly long way. If you look back at videos as recent as the 90s or early 2000s, you can see a marked difference in the quality of fields. So I believe that our focus, education, and development from the perspective of field quality has been and continues to excel. But, to put it bluntly, we’re failing from the perspective as people. We’re an industry that’s often described as unbelievably hard working, dedicated, tireless individuals. Unfortunately, the cost is that we often work incredibly long hours for days, weeks, or even months at a time. Because of that, we’re losing some excellent people. Additionally, we’re recruiting less and less young men and women into the industry, as they look at the hours and pay, and choose to pursue a different line of work. We must learn to find a new way to approach our jobs. We must learn to properly communicate with the people we work for. We must remember that we’re human beings who need to separate ourselves from our work and have time to do so. I’m not always the best at those things. Jake Tyler in Toledo is leading the way in Triple-A baseball, and I hope to learn from him and others to develop and better approach to scheduling and creating more time away from the facility for my crew and myself, while still meeting all of our expectations for the playing surface.
What advice would you give aspiring field managers? The older I get and the more time I spend in the industry, the more I realize just how much I still have to learn. And that’s something I explain to everyone who will listen. You must realize that you don’t know it all. You must be willing to listen and learn. You must have that passion, dedication, and drive to succeed every single day. Understand that people aren’t out to get you, torture you, or make your life miserable. Rather, we are trying to teach you and help you understand every little detail that goes into maintaining these fields. Sometimes, it’s Groundhog Day. You’ll do the same thing over and over for two or three weeks at a time. You can get bored with it and lose quality after the first few days. Or, you can realize the importance of those tasks and work harder each day to improve from the day before. Along those lines, in our industry, someone is always watching. We work at facilities that are built for the sole purpose of hosting large groups of people to watch other people. Any number of people can see you at any given time. Whether it’s our upper management coming out for a visit, or a client doing a walkthrough before an event. People are always watching. So it’s is important to maintain a professional demeanor at all times. But aside from that, people like myself — who have been around for quite a few years — know more than you think. We’ve been there and done that. We don’t have to physically watch you to know what kind of effort you put into a task. We can walk up to a finished product afterwards and know exactly how you approached the job. So always work hard. Always care about what you’re doing, even if you think it’s a small and meaningless task. And always be willing to learn from everything you do.
Who have been your biggest influences/mentors? My parents. Neither of them has anything to do with the sports turf industry. But for their whole lives, they’ve worked incredibly hard. They’ve made sure that our family has always had what it needed. At the same time, they’ve always treated people with respect and been good hearted people. Regardless of where we come from or what we do, those are the important things. And I feel grateful for learning that from loving and supporting parents.