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Sports Turf Manager of the Year says crew is backbone of award-winning field

December 27, 2019  - By
Hammons-field-grounds-crew-group (Photo: Springfield Cardinals)

Brock Phipps, Springfield Cardinals director of field operations, says the crew he works with on Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo., is the reason he and the field have been recognized by the Sports Turf Managers Association. (Photo: Springfield Cardinals)

Brock Phipps, Springfield Cardinals director of field operations, was named the Double-A Sports Turf Manager of the Year by the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and Minor League Baseball (MiLB), sponsored by STMA and Echo Tools.

Phipps manages Hammons Field is located in Springfield, Mo., which is the home of the Springfield Cardinals. Hammons Field has been recognized seven times as the Double-A field of the year, including 2019.

It’s no secret that there are high expectations for the field conditions, and Phipps talks about meeting those expectations year in and year out.

Brock Phipps (Photo: Springfield Cardinals)

Brock Phipps
(Photo: Springfield Cardinals)

Athletic Turf: What’s the makeup of your field’s turf (grass variety, etc)?

Brock Phipps: The turf comprises of HGT bluegrass. When we first built the field back in 2003, we sprayed it with a bermudagrass at that time. But five, six years ago, we renovated the whole field, and at that time, we switched over to bluegrass from the bermudagrass.

We actually have a college that plays here as well. And when they open up in the spring, we always having problems with just traffic issues on the bermudagrass when it was still dormant at the time they would start playing, even though we would overseed the field with ryegrass. But we did a trial probably about seven years ago, just on the infield itself with the HGT bluegrass and had really good success with that, and then we decided after that we’d go ahead and switch the entire field over. Being here in the middle of the transition zone, it’s tough to have both worlds with the bermudagrass and the bluegrass. We came up with a good management plan. It’s worked really good for us.

Athletic Turf: What’s the irrigation/drainage like?

Brock Phipps: Right now, we are running mostly a Hunter irrigation system. With that, we actually have a baseline irrigation controller, which enables us to be more mobile, and it’s got some technology that we can use too. We really have to be here at the stadium to make sure everything is running correctly. We have that technology usage from our phones as well. As far as the drainage, pretty typical for a sports field, it’s got the four-inch drain pipes running throughout the field and probably every 20 feet I believe. And it’s a pretty typical sand-based field. So, we have great drainage as well. When we renovated the field, we brought in new fresh sand at that time and laser graded the entire field, and we actually put just a little bit of slope on the field at that time

When we built the field originally, it was entirely flat, and one issue we had was with the tarp. It was just like a pond; it would just sit there and hold water. So, when we put the slope on (the field), it is a lot easier to manage as far as having the personnel and the help to remove it and put it back on.

I believe (the slope is) 0.32 (degrees), and it runs 25 feet past the edge of the infield.


Athletic Turf: What was this past year’s season like?

Brock Phipps: It was wet. We got a really wet spring. I’m trying to remember at one point we were 10 inches above average rainfall. March, April, May time frame was really wet in this period. But after that, it was kind of somewhat normal as far as temperatures and other things, which kind of averages it out over the entire year.

Almost seemed like it really worked out with the rain we did have on game days. It would stop like, 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. Usually, by game time, you’re able to get the tarp off and have the field ready to go.

I think we had just one rain out. I believe. That’s one thing we let the opposing coaches know, and most of them that’ve been around in the league for a couple of years kind of know don’t expect to go home, be ready to play.

I’ve been here long enough to know how much water the field can take, how long it takes to drain and everything. Usually, if we’re given an hour or two of clearance from the weather, we’re ready to go.

Something I kind of picked up on that we’ve kind of started doing is in probably the last four or five years. If I know it’s going to rain up to game time, we’ll go ahead and have a field prepped and have blinds down in the batter’s box and all that ready to go. That way once we do pull the tarp, we don’t have to necessarily spend that much time on that aspect of it.

Athletic Turf:  How big is your groundskeeping staff?

Brock Phipps: My staff is kind of the backbone of my division I guess you might say. I have a full-time assistant; his name is Derek Edwards.

Then usually on a game day, I’ll bring in a couple of guys early just to help to prep the field, help with mowing bullpens and jobs like that. Plus, they’ll help set up with the batting practice at that time. Then on nights that we have games, there’s usually a total of eight of us.

Athletic Turf: What does it take to make an award-winning field?

Brock Phipps: I think for one it definitely takes a combination of a great crew, which I’ve been fortunate to have over the years. We are kind of like family, and we all get along really good, and we know kind of what to expect from the other.

I couldn’t do it without my assistant. We’ve been together long enough that we know the way each other thinks. I might be thinking of something we need to do and he’s already doing it, which is great. I know it’s been taken care of and don’t have to worry about it. I think there is the pride that we take into it and the expectations we have. Sometimes you got to be lucky. Weather and stuff like that as well. I think a lot of it is just being organized going into the season, knowing what you’re going to deal with and then just kind of take it day by day.

I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now. I’m used to how everything rolls and know what the expectations are going into it.

Athletic Turf: Do you feel any pressure with the reputation Hammonds Field has year in and year out?

Brock Phipps: That’s what I expect year in, year out and is what I look forward to. Especially with the Cardinals organization, everything in needs to be top-notch. What I tried to produce here is a quality field that if they go here and then they go to AAA or they go from here straight to the majors, they’re not going to miss a beat as far as how the field performs. I believe right now, most of the fields throughout the Cardinals organization, as far as the infield mix and all that, it’s pretty well the same. And so, it’s nice just to have that playability from one class to the other.

When one of the guys from major leagues comes down for rehab, they always express how good the field looks or how it plays and all that. So that’s always a nice affirmation that we are doing it right.

(The STMA awards) are always nice for especially my crew. Everyone’s kind of had their piece of it, and it’s just nice to receive that at the end of the long season. Just for the recognition part of it and knowing that the time they put in has been worth something.

Athletic Turf: What’s one piece of equipment you can’t live without on the field?

Brock Phipps: I would like to say our sprayer, because it’s pretty detrimental, especially here in the transition zone as far as me making sure we’re getting the right treatments out and everything on the field. But at the same time, I kind of really like our mobile use of what we can do with the irrigation systems.

It’s having that freedom of being able to check on things even though we’re not here at the park. I guess just what the technology side is, how that’s advanced over the years.

Athletic Turf: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to fellow sports field managers?

Brock Phipps: I know the education part of it is very important, but also the aspect of getting out and getting your hands dirty is pretty high on my list. What I like to do is try to hire two or three freshmen (from Missouri State University) every year just to get their foot in the door and hopefully try to keep them all three, four years. By their third and fourth year, they got everything as far as training down and ready to move on.

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