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Sports Turf Manager of the Year shares one thing he can’t live without

December 20, 2019  - By
Mitch Hooten, the head groundskeeper of the West Michigan Whitecaps (Photo: West Michigan Whitecaps)

Mitch Hooten, the head groundskeeper of the West Michigan Whitecaps, was recently recognized as a Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and Minor League Baseball Sports Field Manager of the Year. (Photo: West Michigan Whitecaps)

Mitch Hooten, the head groundskeeper of the West Michigan Whitecaps, was recently recognized as one of the Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) and Minor League Baseball Sports Field Managers of the Year.

Mitch Hooten (Photo: West Michigan Whitecaps)

Mitch Hooten
(Photo: West Michigan Whitecaps)

The West Michigan Whitecaps are the Class A Minor League Baseball team, affiliated with the Detroit Tigers in the Midwest League. Hooten manages the grounds of Fifth Third Ballpark, the team’s home field, in Comstock Park, Mich.

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

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

Hooten: It’s an older field, so I know we’re straight Kentucky bluegrass, but the varieties of it is really a mixture of everything.

AT: What’s the irrigation/drainage like?

Hooten: When the field was redone in 2008, we have Hunter heads there. They’re a combination of I35s and I40s, but the I35s were discontinued several years ago. So, when they break, we’re updating them to the new I40s.

And then our drainage system is your classic drainage herringbone system. But it all drains into several crocs that we have behind our outfield wall, which are not flowing properly. So, drainage becomes somewhat of an issue on really, really heavy rain days. But, it drains really pretty well for the most part.

AT: What was this year’s season like?

Hooten: It’s Michigan. You deal with your four seasons plus, you got your second summer, your third summer, your first fall, your third, your false fall. This past spring, we opened up with that polar vortex that lasted to probably about the beginning of March. And then every year, we always have to shovel snow about the second homestand of the year. This year we got about five, six inches of heavy wet snow that we had to get off the field for a game.

And then spring was on a Tuesday, I think like the first week of June. It was for between the hours of like one and four and then it went straight to summer.

Summer entails high humidity, high temperatures and no rain for about three months. And then, September rolls around, and then it doesn’t quit raining basically all the way up until about mid-October, early November and then turns into snow.

So it’s a fun time. And then we get lake effect. Everything is based off Lake Michigan, so it makes it for a very interesting growing season every year.

We maybe once or twice a year, we’ll cancel a game and have a doubleheader. The thing about the Midwest League too, is that I have a friend who works for the Great Lakes Loons [in Midland, Mich.]. They get lake effect snow. So, there’ll be times where they’ll get lake effect, and they’ll have to move a doubleheader over to our place just because we play them next week. That’s always a risk that we always have to play too because you’ve got to get the games in.

We run 70 games and we have about 40 on-field events, between picnics, concerts, high school baseball games, football games, different charity walks. We have a lot that goes on here. It’s a very busy, busy growing season.

AT: How big is your groundskeeping staff? 

Hooten: Currently it’s myself, my assistant, Ian Williamson, and then we have about seven game-day guys that come in. We typically have about four guys that come in on a given game day.

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

Hooten: This one totally surprised me. I just go out. I take care of the field to the best of my abilities. And, you really get lucky. Everybody else in the Midwest League, and all of minor league baseball, we all try to achieve the best playing surface that we’re capable of. And this year, I honestly say I just, I got lucky this year. It just worked out in my favor.

You come up with a plan, and you execute your plan, and you get lucky. Especially in our league, there’s a lot of great fields in our league. And honestly, I thought this year, we had a good field, but I thought some of my friends in this league had better fields. But the coaches, the managers of the teams thought different.

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

Hooten: My Toro ProCore 648 aerator. If I didn’t have that, my job would be a lot harder.

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

Hooten: The biggest piece of advice is to make reachable goals, and keep reaching, keep achieving your goals. I have golf course buddies, everybody can grow grass, everybody can do this job. It’s just, set goals for yourself personally and for the field life, reachable goals and then hit your goals. Eventually, everything will come together. And like this year, you get lucky and you win field of the year. That’s probably my biggest advice, is just keep making those reachable goals in life.

And then aerify, aerify, aerify. That’d be my second piece of advice. You can never aerify enough.

Interview by Christina Herrick

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