You know that feeling you get the moment you step foot in a major league baseball stadium, when the whole field comes into view?
No matter how many games you've been to, that immaculate green of the outfield grass, the reddish-tan of the infield dirt, and the white of the bases and foul lines instantly transform the stadium into a wonderland.
Well, if you're visiting the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park, you can thank Heather Nabozny for that.
Ms. Nabozny is one of 30 head groundskeepers in Major League Baseball. They're all responsible for mowing, sweeping, watering, raking, fertilizing, and painting the fields on which each team plays.
Nearly everything at Comerica Park – from the fans' seating section to the playing surface – is in the hands of Ms. Nabozny and her full-time crew of six, which more than triples on game days. According to the Sports Turf Managers Association, she is the first female head groundskeeper in the modern history of Major League Baseball.
On most days during the baseball season, she arrives at the ballpark at 7 a.m., long before the coaches and players, to start the crew watering and mowing the field, which consists of a blend of three types of Kentucky bluegrass. She and the others mow the outfield grass, cutting it in two different directions to give it its characteristic checkerboard pattern. (This is called double cutting.)
Sometimes she even meets with players, such as Tigers' second baseman Placido Polanco, "to make sure the infield is OK," she says. "He mentioned that he really enjoys playing here."
Ms. Nabozny grew up in Brighton, Mich. As a kid, she worked at her dad's lawn-care company, which is where she first fell in love with grass. At the age of 10, she mowed the family's lawn with a tractor.
Yet it was a lawn-care seminar she attended with her dad that got her seriously thinking about taking care of sports fields for a profession. "I said, 'Wow! They have a school for this?' " she recalls. Years later, she graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in sports turf management.
Like professional ballplayers and umpires, groundskeepers must work their way up to the majors from the minors. Ms. Nabozny's first job in baseball was in Dunedin, Fla., where the Toronto Blue Jays spring training facility is located. She worked five years at a minor league ballpark in Michigan before joining the Tigers' staff in 1999.
She says that to be a good groundskeeper you must be organized and detail-oriented – and it helps to do well in science and math.
She encourages kids to try it. "Get a summer job mowing lawns or working at a golf course," she suggests. That way, you'll know if you enjoy the work.
The best part of her job is "when the team wins," of course. But she also enjoys arriving at the ballpark in the early morning, "when it's quiet," to begin a day's work.
But when the umpire yells, "Play ball!" she doesn't watch the game – she watches how the ball bounces and how the players' cleats move in the dirt!