How do you describe your work to the average person?
It’s hard to describe! I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of people out there that think we’re weird. [They’re] like, ‘You guys sit there and watch grass grow?’ Yeah, actually, if you want to say it that way, sure. I mean, I’ve been looking at the grass [as we’re talking now], seeing how it’s looking, the direction of the mowing pattern, and if there’s grass that needs to be tended to yet today. So I’m pretty sure people think we’re really out in left field a lot of the time with the stuff that we focus on and what we do every day. But I’m fine with that.
Baseball can be a highly superstitious sport. Does any of that carry over?
We want to have as limited an impact on the game as possible in terms of the field… but if we’re winning, yeah, there’s certain things that we’ll do. We’ll say, ‘We’re on a 3-game win streak. Who’s patched the mound on those games? Steve! You’re going to patch the mound again because we’ve got three wins on you.’ We try to have as much fun with it as we can because if you don’t, the 81 [home] games a season really start to drag out.
You are the successor of two Groundskeeper Hall of Fame members, Gary VandenBerg and Harry Gill. How do you continue that tradition here?
Nobody ever really sets out to be a hall-of-famer. They just worked in a profession that they loved. My goal is simply to try to do what they used to do: produce a quality surface, have an impact on tomorrow’s turf managers, and have some fun along the way.
You worked under Gary during your internship in 2004. How did you eventually get the job here?[While working at a cattle farm in southwest Wisconsin], I called Gary and Miranda [his first assistant] and said, ‘Hey, I’m willing to go anywhere in the country. Are there any open positions?’ They said, ‘Well, we’ve actually really been trying to get in contact with you. We have an open position here in Milwaukee.’ That was March 2009. I was 25; I’ve been here since. It’s even better that it’s right here for me in Wisconsin, where I was born and raised.
What makes Milwaukee so special?
Beyond everything else, it’s the people’s love of baseball. With the size of the city and the amount of attendance we get every year, it’s incredible. There’s so many teams out there that are way bigger markets and populations and they struggle with people coming out to the games. That’s the cool thing. We come out here every night and prepare the field and when the players get out here, they see the fans in the stands.
I know there’s a lot of noise and hard work involved, but now that you’ve been doing this for so long, is any aspect of it starting to become Zen?
Some people like the full stadium, the rush of the crowd. This morning I came out and watered the infield and foul territory, nobody around. Just me, the grass, and Mother Nature. You get to really have that time at some points, and that’s the Zen you look for. Some people want it every single day. I fortunately get it at my job.