Driving a truck with the words “Storm Chasers” emblazoned on its side around Tornado Alley can cause some awkward interactions for staff members of the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, the Omaha (Neb.) Storm Chasers.
“Someone would take the truck to get some gas and people would ask if a storm was coming. They all think you’re out chasing storms,” says Noah Diercks, the Storm Chasers’ head groundskeeper. “It used to happen once a month but it’s a lot less frequent now.”
The confusion is understandable when you consider the Storm Chaser were originally named the Royals in 1969 and were known as such for 39 year of the team’s 47 year history (there was a three year stint from 1999 to 2001 they tried out the name Golden Spikes but returned to the original name before the 2002 season).
The switch to Storm Chasers coincided with the franchise’s 2011 move to the newly constructed Werner Park in Papillion, Neb., about 20 minutes from the its former home Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, shared with the College World Series, in downtown Omaha.
Diercks, a South Dakota native, joined the team that same year as the assistant groundskeeper, but he started in turf maintenance in high school working for the local parks and recreation. A career in turf was never his plan entering college, where he started as a Sports Management major.
It was the sport of baseball, his fandom of the Minnesota Twins and a distain for a desk job that influenced him to move over to sports turf. He eventually graduated with a degree in turf management from Southeast Tech, Sioux Falls, S.D., in 2009.
“I knew I wanted a job in baseball but I had never heard of groundskeepers jobs until my sophomore year in college,” says Diercks. “Around that time the Twins were building their new stadium and working on that field became my dream job.”
He has not had the chance to work at the Twins’ Target Field but he has worked at one of Major League Baseball’s historic stadiums.
During part of the 2008 season Diercks was an intern at the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park but it was the next two seasons working for the Milwaukee Brewers that he learned the most. At that time the Brewers’ head groundskeeper was Gary Vanden Berg and Diercks says the late Hall of Fame groundskeeper taught him everything he knows.
“From day one of my internship Gary took the time to teach me different skills one-on-one and if you were doing something wrong he would tell you,” says Diercks. “Overall he was a teacher in every sense of the word and that’s that how I hope to influence my interns too.”
After more than one year at Werner Park the then-head groundskeeper Mitch McClary made the decision to move back to his home state of Colorado and Diercks was offered the job. Although McClary has moved away Diercks knows he can still reach out to his former boss for any advice.
Midway through the 2012 season Diercks became the proud head groundskeeper of 98,000 square feet of Bluegrass overseeded with ryegrass. In that first year as head groundskeeper Diercks says they saw some summer patch pop-up but the strict two-week spray program they follow has prevented any other disease pressure.
One challenge that Vanden Berg couldn’t prepare his pupil for at the indoor Miller Park was the winds that whip across the field. There is very little development around Werner Park and the flat landscape allows for the winds to build up to 20 to 30 mph. This makes it difficult to water the field with the irrigation system and forces Diercks to either arrive to the field early in the morning or stay late in the evening to hand water the turf.
Another headache the winds provide — the storage for the infield and warning track mixes are on the outside the maintenance building. Tarps cover each of the five spaces to prevent those mixes from constantly being blown around.
Overall, Diercks says he feels lucky for the field budget the team has provided him and the staff he has behind him. His assistant, Scott Rowedder, was an intern in 2012 and also received a promotion with Diercks. He also has two seasonal interns and on game day another five to six grounds crew members round out the staff.
Recently Diercks has had some very good baseball to watch too. The Royals took home the 2015 World Series, but even before that the Storm Chasers won the 2013 and 2014 Triple-A Baseball National Championships. That’s what he says is his favorite part of his job.
“I just love baseball and being outside,” says Diercks. “We’re hosting Triple-A baseball, seeing these guys come though to the major leagues and some star players come down too. It’s a really cool experience to be a part of.”