SportsField Management’s new Editorial Advisory Board shares how they attempt to balance career and family.

Brett Tanner, CSFM
Assistant Groundskeeper
Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati, Ohio)

“This has been one of the more difficult tasks in relation to our profession. Trusting in my co-workers/assistants to be able to do the job in my absence is critical. It has allowed me to attend family functions, or just take a normal vacation and not have to worry about the day-to-day tasks at our facility. By doing this, I have been able to give the attention to my family that they deserve, and it has also helped build confidence and trust in my employees and co-workers. You have to be willing/able to separate yourself. Of course you are always available if needed, but you’re not constantly checking in. You’ll never be able to do it all, and the more you delegate it will help the entire organization in the long run and build your reputation as a leader.”

Editor’s Note: When Tanner answered this question, he was the athletic grounds superintendent at the University of Akron (Ohio).

Patrick Coakley, CSFM
Sports Turf Superintendent
Ripken Stadium (Aberdeen, Maryland)

“It took me over 20 years to figure out the proper work/family balance. When I started, there was no balance. Working [ for a minor league baseball organization], you worked — that’s it. It’s a way of life. You work ungodly hours and then get together at winter meetings or the STMA Conference and brag about it. Changing that pattern was up to me. No employer was going to tell me to work less. I finally made the decision to work less and give my family the time it needs and deserves. This has to be done tactfully and with recognition of the environment of your company and your relationship with your superiors. An open, honest conversation will always do wonders. Chances are, the people you’re working for need some balance too. You might end up figuring it out together. The more years I put into this career, the better and the more efficient I become. From my experience, I’ve learned when I need to be at work and recognize when I’m there just to say I’m there. I recommend learning the difference early on to figure out that balance.”

Joey Fitzgerald
Superintendent
Camelback Ranch (Phoenix, Arizona)

“When “it” matters, family wins out. That’s how I balance my career and family. You might ask, what is “it”? Well, the answer to that question, for me, has changed drastically with every different stop along the way in my groundskeeping journey. While I was taking care of fields in the minor leagues, I had an incredibly understanding wife and no kids. “It” didn’t take on quite the importance that “it” does for me today. Because of that, I was able to pour everything that I had into making those fields as good as I possibly could. With a 3-year-old son, a baby girl on the way and still having an understanding wife, my definition of “it” has dramatically changed from what it was then. Even though I love what I do, I love being with my family more. Thankfully, we have a more than capable grounds crew at Camelback Ranch that I’m able to trust and lean on, allowing me to be around whenever “it” may happen.”

Heather Nabozny
Head Groundskeeper
Comerica Park (Detroit, Michigan)

“Balancing my busy schedule can be difficult and requires some discipline. I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else — but the amount of hours that sports turf managers put in can put a strain on families and loved ones. Over the years, I’ve learned to lean on my assistant so that we can divide our time wisely. This has helped immensely in my personal life and in turn has helped my assistant have more time off as well. Secondly, I’m so fortunate to have a crew that’s loyal and a crew I can absolutely trust. This means I can be away from the park and trust the field will be in the best care. At the same time, I knew what I was getting into when I started working in baseball. I’m programmed for this type of work and the amount of hours that come with it. Fortunately, there’s an offseason for me living in a cold-weather climate (not too many events take place in the winter in Detroit). I take that time to spend with loved ones that I may not see so much during the season.”

Chris Ball
Head Groundskeeper
Coolray Field (Gwinnett, Georgia)

Each time the team is on the road, I make sure that I totally remove myself from the stadium for at least one 24-hour period. I found long ago that it’s extremely important to have a hobby and make sure you make time each week to pursue some activity related to that hobby. I love to play golf, shoot skeet, fish, hunt and train my bird dog, Rosey. So I make sure that each time I have a personal day, I make sure that it’s spent on one of my leisure pursuits. I also make time to visit and stay connected with my parents, siblings and extended family. I make sure that I take a true vacation every year. I’m also in a very unique situation, as I get to bring my dog to the ballpark every day. Having Rosey with me provides a great stress relief on a daily basis. She’s taken ownership of this stadium as much as I have. Dogs are great listeners, and make you laugh. Also, I’m guilty of being too reliant on my cellphone. So when the team is on the road and I have a weekend with no events, I’ll turn the cellphone off.

Having his dog Rosey at the ballpark is a great stress relief for Chris Ball.

Brian Winka, CSFM
Parks Supervisor (Chesterfield, Missouri) and President of the Gateway Chapter of the STMA

“The hard part for me is that I coach and play at the same facility that I manage, so sometimes work/family separation can be tough — I find myself coaching third base noticing if the infield edges need work, or I look for weeds in the warning track when I should be keeping track of outs. Having friends and family constantly playing at my facility, I get to hear the good and the bad, whether I’m at work or not. I do let people know that when I’m off the clock, I’m a spectator just like them (even if I am making mental notes the entire time). Being able to mentally check out for the evening is important. I found when I worked in golf, I worried more about stuff that I couldn’t control — like the weather — and worked way too many hours. I was younger and didn’t have kids so I didn’t think about it as much. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve put things in perspective and I know now the most important thing is my family. Being organized and having multiple plans in place make it easy to not sweat the small stuff. And it’s all small stuff.”

Matt Hollan
Head Groundskeeper
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles, California)

“Balancing career and fami ly can be challenging at times. We deal with intricate and delicate living systems that can change quickly. But in the same way our fields need recovery time to perform at their best, we as field managers also need time with our loved ones to unwind and perform at our best. I recommend the following: Surround yourself with great people (it’s ironic how much time you lose from the people you love when you’re in a poorly functioning crew); automate as many systems as possible (take the cost of a network irrigation controller with soil sensors vs. your time away from family on weekends, holidays and nights before games monitoring moisture); find an activity or place that makes you forget about the field (it’s amazing how fast you’ll find a solution to that problem when you quit thinking about it); make sure to take care of your loved ones just as well — and even better — than your field.”