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Inside Kevin Dvorak’s journey from seasonal crew member to director of grounds for the Seattle Mariners

November 16, 2023  - By
Seattle Mariners Director of Grounds Kevin Dvorak rides a Toro Sidewinder, mowing the outfield grass at T-Mobile Park. (Photo Courtesy of Seattle Mariners)

Seattle Mariners Director of Grounds Kevin Dvorak rides a Toro Sidewinder while mowing the outfield grass at T-Mobile Park. (Photo: Kevin Dvorak)

Kevin Dvorak, the newly minted director of grounds for the Seattle Mariners, didn’t have a conventional journey to becoming the leader of a major league grounds crew — if there is such a thing.

A former college first baseman at Oklahoma City University, he’s worked at ballparks at almost every level of the game — from a historic baseball cathedral to school ballfields in rural Washington — and even thrown batting practice to major leaguers (more on that later). Through all that, Dvorak — who started his journey as a player helping take care of the field — has never stopped chasing his dream of making a career in sports turf management.

Bean Town beginnings

Fresh out of college at OKC University, Dvorak landed an internship with the Boston Red Sox grounds crew. He spent two years with the Sox, including the team’s curse-breaking 2004 World Series Championship run.

“I was very spoiled,” Dvorak says. “The first time you walk in that ballpark, it gives you chills. Seeing the day-to-day operations was awesome. Back then, it still had the original field from a hundred years ago.”

A Washington native, adjusting to the East Coast climate was a challenge for Dvorak. On top of that, Fenway brought a few one-of-a-kind challenges thanks to its unique layout — notably, he explains, the turf under the 37-foot Green Monster in left field.

“You had to treat that grass differently than elsewhere on the field,” he says. “To this day, I believe that’s still the case. There are so many little microclimates inside that stadium. It’s pretty unique.”

Going back home

Following his time in Boston, Dvorak returned home to the Pacific Northwest, where he spent time in the golf industry. In 2008, he joined the Mariners’ seasonal day crew working what you could call an eventful three years. Dvorak made news in 2010 for his brief stint as the personal batting-practice (BP) pitcher for Milton Bradley.

“That was a blast,” he says. “Milton was getting pretty frustrated because he wasn’t seeing a lot of strikes. So, it was a lot of fun to jump in there and be able to help out.”

Director of Grounds Kevin Dvorak, a former college first baseman, occasionally moonlights as a batting practice thrower for the team. (Photo: Courtesy of the Seattle Mariners)

Director of Grounds Kevin Dvorak, a former college first baseman, occasionally moonlights as a batting practice thrower for the team. (Photo: Kevin Dvorak)

About Dvorak’s BP, Bradley told the Seattle Times, “He threw some very good BP. It’s not easy to go out there and keep throwing consistently in the same spot for almost a half an hour. It gets to be pretty tiring on the arm. So, you have to know what you’re doing out there.”

Dvorak’s BP-throwing days aren’t over yet. He still occasionally steps in when needed, adding that he threw a handful of times to a rehabbing Mitch Haniger during the 2022 season.

Down on the farm

Shortly after his 15 minutes of fame, Dvorak landed a gig as the head groundskeeper of the Class A Beloit Snappers. Moving from a major league franchise in Seattle to a low-A organization in southern Wisconsin was a massive change.

“The budgets are much different,” he says. “You go out there with a little major league experience and then you get one person to help you for the summer and that’s your crew. It’s very much a hands-on job. Even as the lead guy, you’re moving screens for BP. You’re doing all of it.”

After two years in Beloit, Dvorak took several years away from the profession to focus on family. He got married and took a job with the Snohomish School District north of Seattle.

“I worked with (the Snohomish) grounds team and then transitioned into carpentry and locksmithing,” he adds. “I thought that was going to be my career and that baseball was in the past.”

In 2022, he rejoined the Mariners’ staff as an assistant groundskeeper, a role that quickly evolved into something more involved.

Taking the reigns

As Dvorak returned to the Mariners, the organization prepared to host the 2023 MLB All-Star Game — and all the extracurriculars that accompany it. Shortly before the start of the 2023 season, former head groundskeeper, Tim Wilson, retired, putting him and fellow assistant Ryan Nagy, in control of the field.

“Ryan and I co-led and managed the crew and the field for the season. I worked a lot of the evening games and he worked a lot of the day games,” Dvorak explains. “Ryan is a huge asset for us. He’s very knowledgeable and brings a ton of leadership as well.”

T-Mobile Park hosted MLB's 2023 All-Star festivities including the Home Run Derby, Futures' Game, Celebrity Softball game and more. (Photo: Kevin Dvorak)

T-Mobile Park hosted MLB’s 2023 All-Star festivities including the Home Run Derby, Futures’ Game, Celebrity Softball game and more. (Photo: Kevin Dvorak)

Following the season, Dvorak interviewed for the head position. After several discussions, the organization named him head groundskeeper in mid-October.

“(Being offered the position) was very special. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It still doesn’t feel a hundred percent real yet, being that the season is over. I know next year, come Opening Day, it’s really going to sink in,” he says.

More to come

Before he gets to Opening Day in 2024, Dvorak and his team have plenty more events to come.

“T-Mobile Park has turned into an events center,” he says. “We were lucky enough not to host any big concerts (in 2023), which helped us out a ton on the field. But moving forward, we will have a handful.”

In addition to concerts, the stadium will host the 2024 NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 1, between the Seattle Kraken and the Vegas Golden Knights. In terms of what that means for Dvorak’s crew, he says the NHL will handle most of the setup. It does, however, mean the turf at T-Mobile Park will be replaced in the new year.

“I’m not overly stressed about (the turf) this winter. My focus is on the planning for the new field,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time talking with our sod vendors and getting that all lined up and coordinated for February to install that new field.”

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About the Author:

Rob DiFranco is Athletic Turf's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Athletic Turf, DiFranco was a sports reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio

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