09/23/2009 8:50 AM -
The way a baseball field looks is one of the first impressions fans have of a team. It’s expected to be aesthetically pleasing, while also being functional so players can perform at their highest level. Luckily, the T-Bones' Head Groundskeeper and Facilities Manager, Joey Fitzgerald, makes sure both criteria are always met at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
Joey was like many students when he went to college. He didn't know what he wanted to study but knew he wanted to play baseball. In his junior year, he realized he enjoyed groundskeeping and wanted to work toward a career in the field. This decision led him to leave Kansas City and transfer to the University of Minnesota-Crookston to join the Golf Facilities and Turf Systems Management program.
"I love everything about it [groundskeeping]," he said, "but my favorite part is being around baseball."
Joey has been around baseball most of his life. He pitched in college and in 2005, led the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in innings thrown and complete games. After graduating from Crookston, he joined the grounds crew at CommunityAmerica Ballpark as an intern. In 2006, Joey left Kansas City again, this time for a groundskeeping internship at Fenway Park, but returned home following the season. He split time between Kauffman Stadium and the Shadow Glen Golf Club in 2007 while also working at CommunityAmerica Ballpark. He has been the head groundskeeper for the T-Bones since April 2008.
Rylan D. Brody handles the daily stadium operations at CommunityAmerica Ballpark and shares an office with Joey. He said it would be hard to find a person with a better work ethic than the groundskeeper and loves how light-hearted the atmosphere is in their office. The two get along so well, Rylan even joked about the infield dirt and grass that is often on their floor.
"Joey is a very hard worker who isn't afraid to share what he has," Rylan said with a smile. "He's so in tune with the field that it even follows him into our office."
According to Joey, Rylan and the rest of the staff are important to the maintenance of the field as well. The head groundskeeper said he is very thankful to the staff for pulling tarp even when they don't want to be standing outside in the bad weather. He thinks rain is the worst, but believes there is no better feeling than when everyone thinks there won't be a game, and then he gets the field ready so they can still play ball.
Joey is always one of the first people at the park and is usually one of the last to go home. This leaves him with little time to spend with his wife, Shannon, and friends during the season, but he tries to make up for the lost time during the winter. In the offseason, Joey said his job is following KU basketball, but also finds time to do construction driving and play some golf.
Someday, Joey might like to work in a larger setting, but he's happy where he is now. He's the kind of guy who will work hard everyday just because he enjoys the park, enjoys the people and enjoys the work.
"It's just something special because you can make the field look perfect," he said. "You can picture it in your mind and then make it happen."