What path led you to a career in sports field management?
I followed my older brothers to college at Texas A&M University, where I was going to major in agricultural economics and was hoping to work with the baseball team in some capacity. When I got there I contacted the athletic department about being a baseball manager and was hired on. They had just opened up a new baseball stadium and were handling the field maintenance in-house. Since I had worked on the baseball field back home I was a logical choice to handle the duties there. Working with the maintenance crew, I started taking care of other fields, including football, softball and track, and the rest is history.
What types of fields and turf areas are you responsible for?
I oversee approximately 14 acres of natural turf playing surfaces and 5 acres of outside lawn areas. The 14 acres of playing surfaces are spread over six different facilities: football stadium, practice football complex with two fields and an indoor artificial surface, baseball stadium, softball stadium, soccer stadium and a track stadium. My staff consists of an assistant, three second assistants and eight student workers.
What are the biggest challenges in maintaining the facility?
Surprisingly I have very few challenges in maintaining our facilities. Agronomically the biggest challenge would be our irrigation water. Our water contains large amounts of salt, so over a long, dry summer of irrigating our pH can go up to 8.9 or higher. Fortunately all of our fields are sand-based, so we can easily flush them with gypsum or apply sulfur to lower the pH. The other big challenge would be the desire of the teams to use the fields year-round for games and camps.
What field care product/piece of equipment could you not live without?
That would be the aerator. With sand-based fields, to me the most important thing is aerification; and with aerification quantity is more important than quality. Any type or size of hole is good and important, but the more holes there are the better. The key is to get as many holes through the organic layer as possible to maintain drainage and reduce thatch.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
Wow, with 34 years in the sports turf business I have had many moments. When George H.W. Bush was president, he was on campus and came by to visit the baseball team and I had a chance to visit with him and talk about the field and stadium. The other would be when we hosted the Houston Astros in an exhibition game. It was interesting to visit with the different players – Nolan Ryan and Yogi Berra – and hear their comments and compliments about the field.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on the job?
Take nothing for granted. “A pat on the back is only 12 inches away from an ass chewing.” A quality turf field can turn on a dime and become an embarrassment overnight. Don’t stop learning. If you think you know it all, then it’s time to get out of the business.
How do you predict the sports field industry will evolve in the future?
I think there will be huge challenges ahead for sports turf mangers. Water issues, chemical issues and environmental issues to name a few. However, I think the industry will grow and change to meet those challenges. Grass has been around longer than man. Just like everything in life runs in cycles, I think things will come full circle and natural turf will come back in style and artificial turf will take a back seat.
What do you wish spectators/players/coaches knew about your job?
Two things. First, grass is a living, breathing entity. Just like an athlete, it needs time to recover and recuperate. It needs all the essentials to sustain life: food, water, air and recovery time. Second, everything takes time. Nothing happens in a snap of the fingers. Anything is possible as long as we have time to work through the issue.
What is the most important quality required to be a successful field manger?
Patience and attention to details. The one thing that separates each of us is how we pay attention to details. As we move further up the ladder the more important it is to pay attention to little things. The top of the mountain is seen by more people than the base. More people means more eyes, which means more scrutiny.
What advice would you give aspiring field managers?
Every day I try to live by these three adages:
1. The two best teachers in life are experience and mistakes.
2. In some small way I can improve on yesterday today.
3. Nothing is always wrong, even a clock that is broken is right twice a day.
Our job gives us the unique opportunity at the end of the day to stop, turn around and see what we have done that day. Don’t be afraid to stop, turn around and admire that work.
Who have been your biggest influences/mentors?
I would have to say my fellow STMA members. I joined STMA in 1988, back then it was a struggling group of energetic sports turf managers. We were 150 in number and now there is close to 2,500 members. Interacting with these individuals over the years, whether through conferences, field days or just phone calls, has been a tremendous influence on my career.
Complete this sentence: “If I weren’t a field care pro, I would be …”
A construction/landscape contractor. I have always been an outside person. From mowing my grandparents’ lawn to being active in Boy Scouts, I have always liked to do and build things in the outdoors. Over my 30 years at Texas A&M University, I have had the opportunity to be involved with many field and stadium construction projects. It has been quite interesting to see how things come together. Matter of fact, I’m in the middle of my biggest project ever, the $450 million redevelopment of our football stadium.