Ask Anything: 10 questions with Durham Bulls head groundskeeper Scott Strickland
Posted June 16, 2009
Great job – how did you get into this job, and what is required to be a head or assistant groundskeeper? – Jeff Coe, Raleigh
I started working for the Winston-Salem Warthogs, serving as assistant groundskeeper for my first ever boss, Doug Marks. I graduated from Mount Tabor High School in 2002 and then went to N.C. State for Turfgrass Management.
While at N.C. State in 2004, I was hired by then Bulls Head Groundskeeper Jimmy Simpson to be his assistant. He left the Bulls at the end of July to go to the University of South Carolina and our entire grounds crew maintained the field for the last month of the season.
Then, in January of 2005, Mike Birling and Jon Bishop gave me the dream job at 21 years of age and hired me as head groundskeeper. "In the right place at the right time" truly applies to how I got this job and I can't thank Jimmy Simpson, Mike Birling, and Jon Bishop enough for having the trust in me to get me where I am today.
A lot is required for any position in the groundskeeping side of professional baseball but the most significant is time. From March through September the "work/life balance" doesn't really exist. It's especially difficult on the folks who are married with children as 10 day homestands with 15 hour work days makes it challenging to see the people that mean the most to you.
It is what it is in that regard and having supportive/understanding friends and family is essential. Attention to detail, a love of baseball, education, an outstanding crew like the one we have here, and being able to communicate effectively are all keys to your success.
What's the weirdest thing you've had to remove from the field? – Tom, Durham
Well Tom, we haven't had anything too quirky but we have had to remove the following at certain times ... people, metal balls buried underneath the surface, dogs, fork lifts, and every Friday night the Bulls are in town, fireworks.
I've noticed that the lights are on all night after a ballgame, which seems to waste electricity. Couldn't someone turn off the lights before morning? – Dwight Koeberl, Durham
Great question that we get frequently. Our cleaning crew that is responsible for cleaning the Durham Bulls Athletic Park after every event cleans the ballpark over night and the lights are left on for them. 10,000 fans can produce a lot of trash and they work hard to keep our stadium clean. A crew of about 20 workers starts cleaning shortly after the game is over and finishes around 11 a.m.
What kind of grass or grasses is on the field, how often do you mow it, is it a reel type mower, how often and with what fertilizer do you feed it and how often is it watered? – George Noel, Sanford
North Carolina is in what is called the Transition Zone for turf. What this means is it gets too cold to grow warm season grasses all year but it gets too hot to grow cool season grasses. As a result, we have Tifsport Bermuda and it is overseeded with Perennial Ryegrass.
Currently, we are in the transition from burning out our ryegrass and shifting to all bermuda. Every bit of green grass you see in April slowly dies once the temperatures start getting over 80 and the bermuda grass takes over. Its our job to make sure you can't tell that from the stands but it is obviously very difficult.
During the season, we are mowing every morning and most of the time we are actually cutting it twice a day (two directions). We are fortunate enough to have an outstanding partnership with John Deere and they supply us with two reel mowers. We use a 26-inch walk behind greens mower for the infield and foul territory and a 72-inch wide tri-plex mower on the outfield.
We use a variety of fertilizers to achieve different goals throughout the year. Most of this is based off soil tests that tell us what condition our soil is in. Usually, we are feeding the turf with some sort of fertilizer every other week. The amount of irrigation is based off the weather conditions and changes constantly.
What is the fastest time the grounds crew has dragged the field during the 7th inning stretch? – Lindsey, Oxford
We drag the infield twice a game (after the 3rd and 6th innings). I haven't timed us lately, but on average we're probably in the 1:30 area. It all depends on how much dinner our 1 hole, Mark Phillips, (first person in the dragging line) eats. Lasagna nights usually pushes us towards the two minute area.
I was present at the "mother of all tarp pulls" at the Carolina Mudcats recently. Can you describe any Bulls tarp pulls that might compare?? – Jean Logan, Wilson
The Durham Bulls Tarp Crew is a group of seasoned veterans with an occasional young intern mixed in for energy. The hallway they run through to get to the playing surface has a "Pull Like a Champion" sign that everyone taps on the way out the door. When everyone else is running for cover, these folks are running the other way. Fortunately in my 5+ seasons with the Bulls, I haven't seen a storm this group can't handle. Hopefully, it stays that way.
Your job sounds awesome! How much does it pay? – Kyle Smith, Raleigh
Being a head groundskeeper in professional baseball pays in many ways. You "work" in a ballpark with great people and get to spend the entire day outside. What's better than that?
Do you have problems with Canadian Geese? How do you keep them off the field? – Tom Tlusty, Raleigh
We haven't had any problems with geese. Wool E. Bull keeps them away. Golf courses usually have issues with them. I'd try contacting a local course for assistance.
Do you overseed with rye in the fall, and, if so, do you spray it out when the bermuda greens up? To what height do you mow your bermuda during the season? – Joe Colandro, Chapel Hill
We overseed the last week of September and manage the rye through May. By this point of the year, we've already started pushing the bermuda by mowing at a lower height (currently 5/8s of an inch), increasing our nitrogen levels, and reducing our irrigation amounts. Over this past road trip, we sprayed out our ryegrass and replaced our wear areas with sod. We will look a little weak in some areas for the remainder of the month but will reap the benefits of it in August when the Bulls are in town 19 days. We have a 14 day break in July where we will complete our transition and our bermuda will be in perfect shape.
Hi, we live in Holly Springs on a plot of land which appears to have 1 inch of clay on top of weathered bedrock. If you lived here and wanted to install sod on the 1/5th of acre lot, how many inches of the "soil" would you replace and what kind of turf would you install? We really do not like zoysia and bermuda grass due to the brown color half of the year. Thanks, and we really think the job you do is outstanding, the field is beautiful. – Mike Bower, Holly Springs
As you know, your soil conditions are not ideal for growing turf. You will be fighting moisture issues with any type of turf you decide to plant. I would plant Tall Fescue and let it ride. If the fescue does not work you could always make a large natural area or call an agent at the Bulls official realtor, RE/MAX, and find a new home in the triangle with better soil conditions!
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