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Sports Turf Manager of the Year says experience is key

December 19, 2019  - By
Ross Baron, head groundskeeper of the Vancouver Canadians (Photo: Ross Baron)

Ross Baron, head groundskeeper of the Vancouver Canadians was selected the winner in the short-season or rookie category of Sports Turf Managers Association and Minor League Baseball’s Sports Field Managers of the Year. (Photo: Ross Baron)

The Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and Minor League Baseball (MiLB) recently awarded the Sports Field Managers of the Year awards, which were presented at the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings and are sponsored by STMA and Echo Tools.

Vancouver Canadians’ Head Groundskeeper Ross Baron was selected as the winner in the short-season (or rookie) category. Baron and his grounds crew work at Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, which was built in 1951.

The Canadians play in the Northwest League and Baron’s win is the first in the franchise’s history.

Athletic Turf had a chance to talk to Baron about his win:

Athletic Turf: What’s the makeup of your field’s turf?

Baron: Before I came on in 2017, the field was made up primarily of Lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass), some fescues, Poa annua which is native in the Northwest and a variety of invasive weeds. Since then, we have stripped the infield and foul areas and replaced them with Kentucky bluegrass sod, which is overseeded with a 60/40 KBG/PRG blend semi-annually. To remediate the outfield without stripping it completely, we instilled a very aggressive cultural program, the program included repeated procedures of deep-tine core aerations, verticutting, top-dressing with 3 millimeters washed sand, and aggressive over-seeding of 60/40 KBG/PRG blends multiple times a year. After three seasons our contrasts between the outfield and infield and foul territories are getting very close and still improving every year.

Vancouver Canadians Nat Bailey field (Photo: Ross Baron)

Baron says his grounds crew consists of four people, including himself, who work from May to the end of September. “I share this award with them as much as myself as we all work countless hours in order to achieve the conditions we strive for during the season.” (Photo: Ross Baron)

AT: What’s the irrigation and drainage like?

Baron: The drainage and irrigation systems at Nat Bailey were two of my biggest problems to overcome when I arrived. Being an extremely old building (built in 1951) current systems were either extremely old or completely non-existent. Our irrigation system is a very dated hydraulic system operating on an ancient Toro Monitor 2 (the pin type).

The stadium was originally a rugby field, and later added onto to become a baseball stadium, so sprinkler head spacing and coverage was an immediate issue for me that had never been addressed. It was not unusual in seasons past to have complete areas of the field fall dormant due to insufficient coverage during the season. I was able to work with partners and contractors in the area to add multiple heads all over the field to our current system that helped alleviate that problem, although we are still hand watering hot-spots throughout the summer on a regular basis to ensure consistent turf quality.

In terms of drainage systems, there isn’t one, and I understood that we could not afford to install one so our only option was to make our soil profile and sub-soil drain as efficient as possible. We achieved this through multiple deep-tine core aerations and top-dressing to increase porosity and decrease soil density. We also used the DryJect system in any areas we had continuous issues with. With over 100 inches of rain per year in Vancouver, the drainage of the field was very important, our cultural practices have helped greatly in the efficiency of the drainage capabilities here at Nat Bailey.

AT: What was this year’s season like?

Baron: Having won the Northwest Championship in my first season here in 2017, the last two seasons haven’t been as successful in terms of our franchise, however, I feel like this season was without a doubt our strongest in terms of playing conditions. From our infield skin performance to turf density, color, mowing patterns, and even painting I couldn’t have been happier with how this year went. I was lucky enough to have two returning grounds crew who have a real passion for the job and players and coaches alike let us know often they were more than pleased, which we were all very excited about.

In terms of weather this season, we were pretty lucky besides a couple of pretty heavy rain events that had us putting the tarp on and off up until game time. We do our best to be prepared for weather events and are constantly monitoring the weather via radar. Over my three seasons, we have never had a rainout or lost a game due to weather, and now I’m knocking on wood!

AT: How big is your groundskeeping staff?

Baron: Our grounds crew consists of four people including myself. My crew usually begins in May and works until the end of September. I share this award with them as much as myself as we all work countless hours in order to achieve the conditions we strive for during the season. In rain events, which we practice regularly, we call on the ranks of the front office to get the tarp on as quickly as possible.

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

Baron: For me, I feel it takes a good balance of understanding the conditions from a playability standpoint as a player, and what they look for, and understanding the science in terms of turf and infield materials. Combine those two things with thousands of hours of work and a minor case of OCD and I think you’re on your way!

AT: What’s one piece of equipment that you couldn’t live without?

Baron: For us, it would definitely be our infield groomer. Being a minor league team with limited equipment, we use it literally every day for a variety of different jobs. If it’s not nailing or dragging the infield, it’s dragging the track, pulling the sprayer, or dragging in topdressing sand on the infield and outfield.

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

Baron: I’d actually give them two pieces of advice:

First, get your experience and don’t expect to get rich off it, not financially anyway. There are numerous internships all over the world every year offering experience working under some of the best sports turf managers around. Take those jobs however you can get them, even if it means working for free for a while. Follow those people closely and study how they work and what their processes are so you can apply them yourself later.

Second, don’t necessarily shoot for the dream job location right from the start. It’s a lot harder making a name for yourself in the industry when everything is already perfect and you can’t make an immediate impact. Use the experience you acquired and apply it to a program that could really use your help. This way you can make some real strides in improvement to a facility if you commit yourself.

Interview by Christina Herrick

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