Q&A with Nicole Sherry
Head groundskeeper discusses her position, responsibilities
Nicole Sherry, who recently signed on as Baltimore's head groundskeeper, sat down with MLB.com for an interview about the complexities of her job. Sherry is just the second woman to hold that post in the Major Leagues and just finished a tour as the head groundskeeper for the Double-A Trenton Thunder, where she was the first to hold that job in the history of the Eastern League.
In a wide-ranging interview, the University of Delaware graduate -- who spent three years with Baltimore as an assistant before going to Trenton -- talked about some little-known aspects of the job and her status as a groundbreaking groundskeeper.
MLB.com: How time-consuming is this job? Does anybody really understand?
Sherry: It's a tough job. When the team's in town, you're going from 9 o'clock in the morning to an hour-and-a-half after every game. And you know as well as I do that they can last until midnight -- and some nights, even later. Weather's a big factor, so you're constantly dealing with rain and any other condition you can think of.
And you're dealing with that on the non-game days, as well. That's when you schedule all your big maintenance stuff, and weather plays an important part in that. They could go away for three days and be back the fourth day, but if it rains those three days, you can't really do anything. You have to get your stuff in a row as best you can. It's a lot of scheduling and administrative stuff in addition to all the hands-on work.
MLB.com How much did your job with the Orioles and your stint in the Minor Leagues prepare you?
Sherry: In order to get to the Major League level, you have to prove yourself in the Minors, and that's why I decided to leave. I thought that this was a career I wanted to pursue. I didn't think I'd get back here as quickly as I did, because these opportunities don't come open all that often. But being at the Minor League level really prepared me for everything.
I had a minimal budget. I had to really work closely with the organization to get everything done. And I had to work with their events that they had scheduled for the field, along with baseball. I had a three-person staff -- me and two guys pretty much did the whole field every day. Now, we have a crew of 26.
That's a big deal when you're setting up the field for batting practice and everything. In the Minors, it's just you and two other people. Up here, I can pretty much tell everyone else what to do. I still have plenty of work, but there's a lot less running around to get to where you need to be, because you can send people to do other stuff.
Now, we're on TV every night. At the Minor League level, we had four TV games per season. Even though you wanted to make it look good for the fans, that wasn't a big stress. On TV every night, everybody's critiquing your field, because everybody sees it. In the Minors, it's just the 6,000 people who come to the game. It's a lot different.
MLB.com: Was it a tough decision to leave the Orioles and go down there?
Sherry: People looked at me like I was crazy. They said, 'You're already there! Why are you leaving?' But it was something I needed to prove to myself -- that I could really do this job and that I'd have the same feelings about it.
And my family was a little concerned about the hours. We do work over 100-hour weeks. They're always concerned that I need to take a break and that I'm working too much. It's a lot of work, but it's fun. I love this job, and I don't see myself in any other position. This is what I want to do. I'd love to stay here as long as possible.
MLB.com: Why do you think women are so rare in this profession?
Sherry: When I first got into it, I never thought about being one of the few women who does this job, because in all my classes -- and I had everything from horticulture to gardening and production of agriculture -- there was a ton of women.
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.
MLB.com: When you talk to people and you tell them what you do, how interested are they?
Sherry: They're very interested. Often, they don't realize that this is a career and that we're here year-round. A lot of people come out and think we just cut grass and rake dirt. But when you don't see us, we're doing tests on stuff and doing research. We do a lot of scientific stuff that people aren't necessarily aware of.
You get all the questions, like, 'How do you get the grass mowed in that pattern?' It's repetitive, but you have to understand the enthusiasm that they're coming to you with. They're really interested in what we do, and if I can shed some light on the profession, that's only going to help out in the future.
|"When I first got into it, I never thought about being one of the few women who does this job, because in all my classes ... there was a ton of women."|
MLB.com: What happens in the winter? How do you take care of the field then?
Sherry: There's a big misconception that we don't do anything in the wintertime, but the grass is still growing until the first frost, which can happen around here in late November. But this winter has been pretty warm, so the grass is still kind of alive and still growing. We need to feed it in the fall to make sure it's ready for when it bounces back in the spring.
We're doing that up until November and early December. The team comes into town a little bit. People work out in the tunnels, and we take care of the tunnels, which are real clay. In winter time, when there's nothing going on on the field, I'm still ordering all the supplies for the spring and getting my crew in shape. It's non-stop.
MLB.com The weather is so unpredictable. How do you guys stay on top of when it's going to rain?
Sherry: You can have all the assets you need -- radar and whatever -- but Mother Nature's still going to do what it needs to do. We have a very high-tech radar system, so we can monitor it as it's getting closer or going away. We keep the umpires up-to-date about what's going to happen and whether it's going to be a heavy rain or a light rain.
You pretty much just cross your fingers and hope you're going to get the game in. Your crew is always on standby, and they're ready to go at a moment's notice.
MLB.com: How much harder would it be to take care of a multi-sport facility?
Sherry: It would be really hard to keep it up to the pristine level you think it should, with all that wear-and-tear. Just think about football and all the play you have right in the middle of the field. All those guys running up and down and tearing divots. It's pretty tough, and I give their groundskeepers a lot of credit.
I think we'd have to go to synthetic turf if we had a multi-use field here. And that takes a lot of maintenance, too. People think, 'Oh, it's fake, we'll just throw it down.' But you have to think about all the other things that go into it.
MLB.com: Do you think that's the future of the game? Will most people be playing on it in 25 years?
Sherry: I hope not, just because of job security for me and people in the industry. We like grass, and I think a lot of the athletes prefer real turf to synthetic. Unfortunately, the Ravens didn't have a choice because of the way the sun was positioned with the stadium. They couldn't get sun on most of their field the whole time, and it's hard to grow Bermuda grass in the shade. They tried to keep real turf, but unfortunately, it didn't work.
For high schools and colleges, I can see the money-saving standpoint and why they want to go synthetic. Maybe they don't have a full-time grounds crew, or their grounds crew has to take care of other campus-related issues. That I can understand, but people really need to educate themselves about synthetic and what you have to do to take care of it.
I don't know abut injuries on the athletes, and that's something to keep researching. I just really hope that it stays on real turf. The sciences are really coming out with good genetics of turf, and if the research and everything stays the way it should be, turf's here to stay. I think, at least. I'm not a scientist.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.