Keith Winter, head groundskeeper, Parkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps Baseball
Despite being relatively new to the world of professional sports field management (starting with the TinCaps in 2010), Keith Winter has already made a big mark on the industry. He was recently named the 2013 Midwest League Sports Turf Manager/Grounds Crew of the Year (his third time receiving the honor) and the STMA’s Sports Turf Manager of the Year. Here’s a little more about Keith, in his own words.
What path led you to a career in sports field management?
As a high school and college baseball player, I always had an interest in field maintenance. While spending 25 years working in television and raising three baseball-playing sons, I coached and worked on their fields starting in Little League and progressing all the way through their high school and college careers. After taking several amateur facilities as far as I could, I decided to change careers and go to work in professional baseball. I transferred my passion for working on baseball fields into a full-time job.
What are the biggest challenges in maintaining your field?
At the minor league level, the developmental element and the amount of early work is hard on a field. When you start setting up for extra hitting, infield, outfield, etc. at 2:30 p.m. and the field is used through the completion of the game at 10:30, that day in, day out wear and tear adds up in damage and increases the need for creativity in how you maintain your field.
What field care product/piece of equipment could you not live without?
During the growing season, I would have to say it’s our Jacobsen Tri-King reel mower. When you have to mow 88,000 square feet of turf each day, you need something reliable that will get the job done. On game days, a close second would be our Smithco three-wheel field groomer with its spring-tine belly scarifier, which we use daily on our infield skin and warning track. Right behind them is our Toro ProCore 648 aerifier to pull cores and solid tine in the ongoing fight against turf compaction.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
Renovating/replacing our field in the fall of 2012 is the most memorable point of my baseball groundskeeping career. Coordinating and assisting in replacing 88,000 square feet of sod trucked in from northern Colorado, reshaping our infield horn, and creating every new clay and warning track edge, was a huge, yet satisfying, work experience.
If you had an unlimited budget, what changes would you make to your field care program?
My budget is far from “unlimited,” but we have everything we need in terms of fertility and baseball-related supplies. What I could use more of is equipment. We are in need of another utility vehicle, and I would love to have a ride-on rotary mower to alternate with our reel mower in the outfield.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on the job?
I have learned that professional baseball is, first and foremost, a business. In this business environment, the field maintenance aspect of it is important, but we generate no revenue, we only spend money. Therefore, as a head groundskeeper, my job is to be a team player and adjust and adapt to the overall philosophy of the organization.
How do you predict the sports field industry will evolve in the future?
I am concerned about the work ethic of the current college-educated workforce. They all have some knowledge and want jobs, but I don’t see an active interest in working hard to elevate them in the profession. It is incredibly hard to find good interns and game day staff because few want to grind out the hours it takes to succeed in this business.
What do you wish spectators/players/coaches knew about your job?
I wish they had a better understanding of the hours and commitment it takes to take care of a professional baseball field. While it is our job to prepare a facility that the players take for granted, it would be helpful if they likewise took some pride in “their office.” Few do, most do not.
What is the most important quality required to be a successful field manager?
I think that attention to detail and organization are two qualities that are easily visible when you look at an athletic field. If the field manager is paying attention to the little things and is organized in his approach, you can see it as soon as you walk into a stadium.
What advice would you give aspiring field managers?
I always pass on my three pillars of being a successful field manager: 1) hard work 2) knowledge 3) resources. If you can get these three things in line, you will have an outstanding athletic field.
Complete this sentence: “If I weren’t a field care pro, I would be …”
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