Joshua Bertrand, director of public works, City of Glendale/Infinity Park
What path led you to a career in sports field management?
Like many people fresh out of college, I took a position that did not correspond to my degree (forestry) as a summer seasonal on the City of Boulder ball field crew. My plan was to get on with the city, and then transfer from the athletics department to the forestry crew. I turned out to be a fair hand on the crew and was fortunate enough to be in the right places at the right times as my career progressed. I never spent time and energy wondering when I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have worked hard and learned a lot in every job I’ve ever held.
What types of fields and turf areas are you responsible for?
The City of Glendale Public Works department maintains the natural grass field at Infinity Park. In addition, we maintain a synthetic practice field that is open to the public, 20 acres of grassy areas in parks, plus another 20 acres of open space and streetscapes. I am lucky to have a talented public works crew, with Noel Harryman handling the day-to-day turf operations inside the stadium.
What are the biggest challenges in maintaining the facility?
In the Public Works department, the biggest challenge is balancing the wants of the stadium facility with the needs of an urban city.
What field care product/piece of equipment could you not live without?
Nitrogen fertilizer. Without great people like Fritz Haber figuring out how to synthesize ammonia in 1909, or Carl Bosch for bringing the process to an industrial scale in the 1930s, the lush, green fields we have now that are being mowed several times each week would be a thing of dreams.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
Infinity Park flooding in 2009. Our city received a large, extremely intense downpour, but it didn’t seem any bigger or badder than past Colorado thunderstorms. When the phone call came in that Infinity Park was suffering major flooding from the surrounding area, I dismissed it as an overreaction. At the time, I was thinking: It’s a new sand-based field, how bad can it really be? When I drove up to the stadium and saw several feet of brown, muddy water pouring in, I remember thinking that the phone call description didn’t do the flooding justice.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on the job?
Bring those around you along for the ride. Strive to do great and amazing things at your place of work, but make sure to include the bosses, co-workers and staff in cool and amazing stuff. I have taken my boss and staff to tour various sports venues, trade shows, games, etc. I have given rookie crew members the chance to mow the pattern in before a big game. I have let players ride along while I sprayed fertilizer. I have taught a coach how to drive a stick shift on a utility cart. By giving people a taste of what you do, you can all celebrate the successes and support each other during challenging times.
How do you predict the sports field industry will evolve in the future?
The NFL will require all stadiums to have synthetic turf by 2025. Before I get my chair kicked out, three things. First, grass growing technology has reached a plateau during the past decade while synthetic field makers have made rapid changes in the quality and technologies used in their systems; they will continue to do so. Second, all coaches and players want consistency year-round. Synthetics offer exceptional year-round consistency. Third, if leagues like the proposed A11 take off, this nation’s love for football, and broadcast television’s love of the dollar, the NFL stadiums will host broadcast football in spring and fall. The demands of coaches, players and broadcast television will drive the change.
What do you wish spectators/players/coaches knew about your job?
I wish the spectators/players/coaches would spend the Monday morning after the big game on the surface with the turf crew just once. Walking the surface and seeing the wear and tear firsthand. It’s like a black eye, it looks real bad when it happens, but a couple days later that same black eye (now four shades of purple) looks even worse. The same is true for fields.
What is the most important quality required to be a successful field manager?
Respect. Respect for the game (simply by remembering it’s just a game), the players, the coaches, the fans, your bosses and co-workers, and, most importantly, respect for the living process that is growing grass – remember, it’s life!
Who have been your biggest influences/mentors?
My wife would say, “My wife, who has made me the man I am today, and my children, who test my strength each and every day.” She would be correctly stating their influence, but as for mentors, both Ross Kurcab and Troy Smith have shown me how to be the consummate professional in this industry. Both have a tireless work ethic, but they always make time to share with others. They understand the business side of the industry and not to take it personally when dealing with bosses or coaches. Ross and Troy are quick to admit their blunders so that others may learn. Either will gladly hand you his recipe for great turf management and practices with the caution: “Use at your own risk!”
What advice would you give aspiring field managers?
As Curly from “City Slickers” would say, it’s “just one thing.” The one thing that matters most to you. If you are good at communicating with others, strive to shine when communicating. If it’s mowing, mow the most precise patterns possible. If you love experimenting with products, conduct solid, documented and replicable trials on your fields. Focus on the one thing that you’re good at and make it the one thing that makes you great. Those around you will notice, support you and lift you up. It’s human nature to lift those up who are great among us.
Complete this sentence: “If I weren’t a field care pro, I would be …”
A bad comedian, but really funny in my own opinion.