Women lead when it comes to maintaining two of the nicest baseball fields in the world.
GroundskeepHERS, if you will.
The Detroit Tigers made Heather Nabozny the first female head groundskeeper in Major League Baseball history in 1999, the team's final season at historic Tiger Stadium, and she's kept the field at Comerica Park looking as nice since it opened. That includes the major-league All-Star game in 2005 and the World Series in '06.
In 2007, the Baltimore Orioles named Nicole Sherry the head groundskeeper at Camden Yards, regarded by many as the best ballpark in the majors. And so appreciated was Sherry at her previous job with the Trenton Thunder (the Double-A team of the New York Yankees in the Eastern League), the team gave away a bobblehead doll of her.
Not only do these women have dream jobs in a male-dominated industry, they're excelling at them, and ESPN's Amanda Rykoff wrote a terrific profile of both. Nabozny, like most major-league players, got her professional start in the minors. For her, that meant the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps of the Midwest League:
Scott Lane, the Whitecaps' president, said Nabozny's work at the minor league level caught the eye of the Tigers' major league staff.
"Randy Smith was general manager at the time for the Tigers. Steve Lubratich [now the Indians' director of player personnel] was their director of player development, so he was kind of a head guy at the minor leagues," Lane said. "They are up in the owner's suite level, and they are sitting there talking. Randy looks at Steve and says, 'Why doesn't our field at Tiger Stadium look this good?' And he said, 'I don't know. Maybe it's the groundskeeper.' Shortly thereafter, they offered her the position."
Nabozny's first bobblehead doll has yet to be made, but she is one of the few non-players in the Whitecaps' hall of fame. She's definitely leaving a legacy.
Sherry's first contact with a front office happened in college. She explained the neat, yet kind-of-nerdy way she got her foot in the door with the Orioles:
"Our irrigation class at Delaware took a field trip to Camden Yards to look at their irrigation system," Sherry said. "[Two years later] I still had the head groundskeeper's business card. So I just called him up and said, 'I am interested in pursuing something like this. Do you have any jobs open?' And they did, so I made the move to Baltimore right then and there."
"Irrigation class"! So that's how you get a job in the majors. And don't be fooled. It's a job, and the work is plenty difficult.
• Nabozny notes that "80 percent of the game" happens in the infield, so most of her work is with clay, not grass.
• There's always work to do at the ballpark, even when the players are on road trips.
• The hardest part of being a groundskeeper might be predicting the weather.
• They get requests from players:
"Everybody is different, but Brandon Inge used to give me feedback all the time," Nabozny said of the former Tigers third baseman, who is now with Oakland. "I can see how the ball is playing but he just liked it really soft, which meant a lot of water. I'd have to tell him sometimes 'Brandon, I cannot water it too much because then someone running around third base can slip!'"
Now there's something you probably didn't consider when a player changes teams: His working relationship with the groundskeeper.
There's one aspect of their stories I'd like to read more about: Until Nabozny, it was evident that MLB didn't think women could do, or should do, this job. What changed? Was it a coincidence that the Tigers hired Nabozny and that she's a she? By the time she was hired, did it actually help her, because her gender brought her attention? Even if it wasn't a positive, being a woman stopped being a negative at some point. Why?
In a Q&A on MLB.com in 2007, reporter Spencer Fordin asked Sherry what she thought:
It never seemed odd to me. But then when I started, [former groundskeeper] Al Capitos told me I was one of the few women in the industry. And I was kind of confused, because in the golf course industry, there's a ton of women as superintendents and assistant superintendents. I never really thought about it.
I just don't think it's really known as a career. Courses are more for agriculture in general, so people think about horticulture and things like that. I just don't think it's out there yet. I'm not the first woman. But I'm not going to be the last, either.
In the meantime, read the entirety of Rykoff's profile.