An Interview with STMA Turf Management Winners

by | Nov 19, 2017 | Harrison Huntley, MiLB, News

Each year, the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) honors the best members of their organization. Working in turf management can be a thankless job, so the STMA does their part to highlight greatness in their field. Stadium Journey got a chance to talk to three of this year’s winners from minor league baseball: Matt Parrott, the Triple-A winner from the Charlotte Knights; Mike Williams, the Single-A winner from the Charleston RiverDogs; and Ryan Olszewski, the Short Season winner from the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.

Stadium Journey (SJ): How long have you been a Sports Turf Manager? How did you get started in the business?

Matt Parrott (MP): I obtained a business degree from Appalachian State University and decided I didn’t want to spend my career in an office.  Upon graduation, I enrolled at NC State University in the 2-year turf management program, thinking I would go into the golf industry.  I decided to do an internship with a minor league baseball team instead, and everything fell into place from there.  2017 was my 17th season working in Minor League Baseball, and my 16th season as a Head Groundskeeper.

 Mike Williams (MW): I have been doing this professionally since 1993, but I began working on baseball fields when I was 7 years old…that was 1973.

 Ryan Olszewski (RO): I have been in the ‘biz’ for 7 years now.  I started with the Akron Aeros (now Rubberducks) as an intern in March 2011 and worked my way up over 4 years until I was the Assistant Director of Operations and Assistant Groundskeeper.  After my fourth year with Akron, I was offered the Head Groundskeeper, Assistant Director of Operations position with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers at Eastwood Field and have been with them for the last 3 seasons. 

SJ: What does your job look like during the offseason?

MP: It is much different now that I am working in Charlotte.  The climate during the off season is much milder that the climate in Maryland, where I worked for 13 seasons.  In Maryland we typically shut down all on field maintenance in mid-November and start back up until early March.  Our maintenance season in Charlotte can go well into December and we typically try to start back on the field in early February. 

 In Charlotte, we have the luxury of a well-equipped shop, which allows us to do a significant portion of our equipment maintenance during our slower winter months.  Though the hours are not as long in the off season, we typically still work a standard 40 hour week.  Most of our outside work is geared toward getting the field ready to open back up in the spring, as our college baseball schedule starts the first week of March.  The weather is much more predictable in the fall than in the early spring; therefore, the more projects we can get done, the easier it is to open the field back up in the spring.

Much of my other time is spent working on inventory and purchasing for the coming season, and hiring staff for the upcoming season.

My assistant and I also use this time to take longer vacations with our families and attend industry educational events. 

MW: There really is no offseason.  I have never had any down time here at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park, or what would be considered normal.  There is only about 8 weeks where the field is not used during November and December, but I am still working on the field and mowing due to the Climate.

RO: My offseason starts in mid-late November after the field is put to bed.  While I make sure to take some well-deserved vacation time and put in the necessary time planning for the next season, I also help operate our seasonal merchandise store and have been known to help with season ticket renewal calls. 

SJ: Is there anything unique about managing your specific stadium? (Non-baseball events, different materials on the field, etc.)

MP: One unique aspect of managing the playing field at BB&T Ballpark is the physical setting of the facility.  We are located in the heart of Uptown Charlotte.  As a result of this, we are a centerpiece of the city.  The expectation is for the playing field to be in as close to game ready condition as possible year round because of the number of people who look down on our facility, be it residential or commercial.

I think the biggest change that I have noticed in my two years working for the Knights is the amount of high rise construction taking place around our ballpark.  In two short years, we have noticed shade from these buildings becoming much more of an issue on our playing field.  This is especially evident in the spring and fall, and has started to become significant in the management practices on different areas of the playing surface and cultivar selection in renovation projects.

MW: Two teams share the same facility in April and May…during the overlap of the college and pro schedule.

RO: The amount of events both on field and in our facility.  On field, we went over 150 events ranging from the usual baseball activities to walks, picnics, field days, and a Halloween Trick-or-Treat experience.  But, using our facility and outside parking lots, we have hosted a Jeep mobile event, a carnival for a charity, a Colorburst run, and many other walks.  It seems like there is always something going on which makes it very fun and unique.          

SJ: What is your favorite part of the job?

MP: My favorite part of my job is that I’m still around the game of baseball on a daily basis.  I actually don’t watch as much baseball now as I used to, but there has always been a uniqueness about the interactions between staff members, players, fans, umpires, etc. about baseball.   I sometimes have to remind myself that I am part of a small fraternity that gets too go to work in a place like I do.  When people ask what I do for a living, their eyes immediately light up.  That is soon often followed by, “I would love to do that!”

In a setting like BB&T Ballpark, there is a serenity about getting to the ballpark early on a game day and being able to hear the city around you waking up.  I look around and everything around me on the field is quiet.  There is a peacefulness to it.

I think the other part of the job that all Turf Managers take pride in, is at the end of the day when everything is quiet and you’re the last one there, looking out over the playing field and knowing the time and detail that you and your staff put in making the finished product what it is. 

MW: Interaction with Managers and Umpires.

RO: I love coming to work every day and walking out onto a baseball field.  It is the best ‘office’ I could have ever imagined for myself.  

SJ: What is one thing fans may not know about your job?

MP: I don’t think many fans have any idea how many man hours go into maintaining high caliber athletic fields.  It’s not at all that they don’t appreciate it, but when I talk to people, I think the common misconception is that we get to work in the afternoon, get a field ready for that night and go home.  When the season ends, so does our work in a lot of people’s minds. 

When fans engage me about my job, and we start talking about it, they begin to understand the amount of resources that go into maintaining a professional playing surface.

MW: The amount of hours I actually spend here and that there is way more that goes into it than just managing the field.

RO: The commitment and hours that go into the field every day, game day or non- game day.  I feel like it sometimes gets lost on the spectators because we do so much behind the scenes and before they arrive that they assume it is just throwing lines down and calling it a day.  However, to get all these games and events in, it requires so much planning, effort, and just plain labor to keep a field looking and performing at its best.