As youth sports has grown over the last 20 years, so has the demand for good winter locations to host tournaments. Enter Las Vegas, a destination city fun for mom and dad, with plenty of hotel rooms — and now sports fields — to host large tournaments.
A prime example of the success Las Vegas sports has witnessed: the Mayor’s Cup, a youth soccer tournament that started in 1990. That first year there were 56 local teams competing. Now, the tournament hosts more than 900 teams from all over the world.
The City of Las Vegas Park Maintenance Field Supervisor is Ronald Baum. A transplant from South Dakota, Baum moved to Las Vegas to be closer to his parents in 1990. Then a certified arborist, the youth sports explosion in the area had him change his career path to athletic turf.
“I came to work for the city as a temporary worker and started taking classes in horticulture,” Baum says. “Once the sports industry — youth sports, youth soccer — exploded in the early 2000s, that’s when my career changed.”
Today Baum manages 27 baseball fields, 26 soccer fields and 12 softball fields. His crew is 32 people strong and they keep plenty busy, Baum says.
“Out here in the desert, people come in Christmastime all through winter, there are a lot of tournaments,” he says. “I attend the STMA conferences, read the magazines and try to stay on top. We’re cutting-edge.”
Recently Baum started using a drone to manage wear along with wet and dry spots. He’s also excited about the success he’s had using a fraze mower over the last three years.
“I use it mainly for turf removal, each year I try to give (the athletes) a brand new infield. It’s easy with that machine,” Baum says. “We can come in and plane out a 90-foot infield and laser level it and have sod on it and have it ready to play in three days. Roll it in, wet it down. We have the tools now.”
Rosa Cortez, Park Maintenance Manager, City of Las Vegas, admires Baum’s passion for learning the newest methods to keep the fields looking their best. She has worked for the city for 15 years, in her current position since September 2015. She has long admired how good the soccer pitches have looked, with daughters who previously played the game in Las Vegas.
“Ron is exceptional, he has a lot of passion and drive and he cares about turf maintenance,” Cortez says. “He’s constantly looking at new technologies and ways to better grow grass. Even in his 27 years he still has that drive and that passion, and that’s what makes him a good field supervisor.”
Baum thinks back to when he was getting started and laughs about the missteps he took early in his career. He remembers when he would let the ryegrass grow too tall, and all the bermudagrass he lost in those early days.
But that’s also the best part of the job — the many curveballs he has thrown at him on a regular basis. He’s already thinking about how he’ll adjust to the new soccer field dimensions they’ve made for seven on seven. Now he can get three short fields on one standard field, but what will those new wear patterns do to the fields?
He thinks back to a last winter’s curveball: an unusually warm October made the bermudagrass grow uncharacteristically in advance of the Mayor’s Cup. He had to make a plan. He decided to hedge his bets — this is Las Vegas after all — and seeded some fields, painted some and used turf blankets on others.
The painted fields and blanketed fields came back great, with the painted fields looking best for the Cup.
“The paint started warming the grass up, and greened up three weeks faster,” Baum says. “Everyone was like, ‘what’d you put on it?’ It was paint! They were playing on it the next weekend. It’s rewarding when it works. Hopefully we don’t have to use it again, but that’s just another tool in the toolbox if we need it.”